Foods You Think Are Good For You – But Aren’t: Part 1

So, you’ve decided to get back on the program, buckle down and start eating better. The first course of action is to begin buying and eating “healthier” foods. Problem is, there are some fakers out there – foods that seem healthy, look healthy, or even sound healthy – but in the end, will sabotage your efforts. Here are foods that wear an unwarranted health “halo.”

1. Reduced-Fat Foods. Remember, the percentage of fat on the label is by weight. But your body responds to calories, not weight, and when the actual caloric breakdown is calculated the food can look much different. So, that “90% fat-free” ground turkey? It has 190 calories per 4 oz. serving, with a whopping 100 of those coming from fat. Yeah, that’s right: What was 10% fat by weight is all of a sudden 53% fat by caloric content. Same thing with “low fat” (2%) milk; when calculated by calories it is 18% fat.

2. Sports Drinks. They are often loaded with sugar. Sure, you need the electrolytes. But look closely at the label. A 20 oz. serving of Gatorade’s Thirst Quencher contains 36 grams of sugar. That’s not much better than a standard soft drink. Your best bet is to dilute most sugar-laded sports drinks with water.

3. Salad. You can’t beat a healthy salad, right? The issue is, of course, what goes on the salad. Consider that 2 tablespoons of Thousand Island dressing is 120 calories of fat and sugar. And who uses just two tablespoons? Often, restaurant salads are insidious. Applebee’s Oriental Chicken Salad has 1430 calories, of which 870 calories come from fat. Food porn.

4. Multi-Grain Bread. I know, it sounds so nutrient-dense and healthy, right? Read the label or look up the nutrition information. What is the first ingredient? Many multi-grain breads will list unbleached enriched wheat flour first, which means it is the most prevalent ingredient by weight. In addition, other breads such as “honey wheat” can contain high fructose corn syrup. Look for breads that list whole grains, like whole wheat, as the first ingredient.

5. Crunchy Snacks. You just want something crunchy, I get it; I do too. The problem is that too often the snacks we are crunching have a lot of calories while offering little nutrition. Look at the label on those pretzels, sweet potato chips, or veggie chips. Many of these snacks are highly refined grains. Choose raw vegetables with hummus or peanut butter instead.

6. Flat Carbs. Hey, it’s flat, how caloric can it be? Believe it or not, the flatbread, wrap, or tortilla you’ve chosen is actually higher in calories than two slices of regular sandwich bread. Here’s why: They tend to be not only bigger, but also they are void of yeast that makes regular bread rise and gives it air. They are denser calorically.

7. Yogurt. There is a huge spectrum of healthfulness when it comes to yogurt. On the positive end, flavored yogurt and frozen yogurt can be filled with probiotics, protein, and easy-to-digest dairy. On the negative end, some of these same yogurt products are no healthier than a large ice-cream sundae; it’s the sugar content that puts some yogurts in the dessert category. Read the label, and avoid toppings such as Heath bars, Oreo cookies, pretzels, and gummy bears. In addition, flavored yogurts contain what is nothing more than a sugary fruit compote at the bottom. Avoid mixing that in. A healthier alternative is to choose plain low-fat Greek yogurt and flavor with a small amount of fresh fruit.

8. Bars. Sure, most bars sound healthy – chock full of nuts, rolled oats, dried fruit, seeds, and maybe even dark chocolate, so what’s not to like, right? Problem is, many bars are loaded not just with sugar, but also with fat. After perusing all the healthy-sounding ingredients on the label, check out how all those ingredients are kept together in one bar. Most bars are coated with a sweetener; sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and molasses are common. And then to top off the insult, many manufacturers then bake their bars in hydrogenated oil. Look for a bar that has unsweetened ingredients that you can find in your own kitchen.

9. Deli Meats. At lunch, you figure a turkey club sandwich has got to be better than a meatball or chicken parmesan sub, right? Uh, no. The majority of deli meats are packed with sodium, saturated fat, nitrates, and fillers. Processed meats, defined as any meat that is preserved by salting, smoking, curing, or adding any chemical preservative, is linked to a higher risk of colon cancer. In addition, the sodium in one small serving of lunch meat (one slice of bologna or five slices of salami) ranges from 310 to 480 milligrams. Choose instead the grilled chicken from free-range sources, or even plant-based protein.

10. Instant Oatmeal. So, here’s the dilemma. In order to make oatmeal “instant,” it has to be processed to cook more quickly. Unfortunately, that means it will also be broken down and digested more quickly by your body, giving it a higher glycemic index. And that wouldn’t be so bad if most instant oatmeal packets weren’t also filled with sugar. A typical flavored brand will set you back at least 3 to 4 teaspoons of added sweeteners. Maple Brown Sugar Instant Oatmeal contains 12g of sugar and 32g of carbohydrates. Instead, opt for a homemade bowl of oatmeal using 1/2 cup of instant oats containing less than half a gram of sugar and add in a lean protein (low-fat or fat-free milk or a half-scoop of protein powder after cooking) or healthy fat (chopped nuts and seeds).

For Part 2: Click Here.

About the Author: Bob LeFavi

Bob LeFavi, PhD, is a professor of sports medicine and Dean of the Beaufort Campus at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. He has been department head of health sciences and sports medicine at Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University, Savannah, GA. Bob won the bantamweight class at the IFBB NorthAmerican Bodybuilding Championship and was runner-up at both the USA and National Championships. He also competed in the CrossFit Games as a Master’s athlete and has written over 750 articles in the popular press on training, diet, and fitness.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.