When you’re trying to make healthy food choices, it seems like there are things that can derail you at every turn — a mouthwatering, greasy slice (or three!) of pizza, that jar of cookies you know you shouldn’t have in the house, or those chips and candy calling your name from the vending machine.
We hate to be the bearer of bad news, but there are even more tempting foods out there — foods that may seem like they’re healthy (thanks to clever marketing), but really aren’t. We’re here to call a few of them out — and suggest some healthy alternatives instead.
Protein or energy bars
If you spend a lot of time on the go, replacing breakfast or lunch with an energy bar might seem better than eating a fast-food sandwich. However, nutritionally speaking, many of these options are like candy bars when it comes to their sugar, calorie, and fat content. And, don’t fall for the sugar-free or low-carb options, either — research has linked artificial sweeteners External Site to increased risk for weight gain and sugar cravings.
Look for energy bars that contain a mix of ingredients you’re likely to find in your kitchen. These include healthy nuts and seeds, honey, unsweetened dried fruit, dates, coconut oil, and eggs — not brown rice syrup, artificial colors, and hydrogenated oils. You can also try one of these recipes for a healthy, energizing snack.
There’s no doubt about it — wheat bread is definitely a better choice than white. But, even multi-grain loaves can contain hidden sugar and enriched wheat flour (which means the grains were stripped of nutrients and added back later), making them a less-than-healthy choice.
Look for breads that have whole grains (like whole wheat) as the first ingredient or sprouted spreads to make sure you’re getting all the nutrients without the sugar.
All fruit is created equal, right? Unfortunately, wrong. Foods with a lot of water — like fruit — have a low caloric density, meaning you can feel fuller on fewer calories. Dried fruit, on the other hand, is calorie dense and typically doesn’t have the nutrients that you’ll find in fresh, canned, or even frozen fruit. Plus, it’s often loaded with sugar External Site — a serving of dried mango, for example, has 27 grams!
Grab whole fruits to snack on like apples, bananas, or grapes . (Bonus: These are easy to stash in your bag and eat on the go.)
Yogurt is often touted as a health food because it’s naturally high in probiotics — good bacteria that can support your digestive health. But, with endless varieties available at your local supermarket, it can be challenging to find one that lives up to its health claims — without all the added sugar and artificial flavors. (The same goes for frozen yogurt, which really isn’t that different from ice cream.)
Skip the yogurt with flavors or toppings (yes, even the kind with fruit on the bottom) and grab plain Greek yogurt for the most health benefits. If you want a hint of sweetness, top or mix in fresh berries, bananas, or your favorite whole fruit.
Starting your day with a bowl of oatmeal is a good choice — unless you have packets of instant flavored oatmeal, which are loaded with sugar and carbs.
Stick to the plain stuff (which you can still make in the microwave) or try whipping up a batch of overnight oats, which are made by soaking rolled oats in liquid overnight and flavored with fresh fruit and other healthy toppings, like chia seeds and peanut butter.
Whether you buy them by the bottle or order them at your local smoothie shop External Site, smoothies can mask a ton of sugar and calories under a healthy label — comparable to what you might find in soda and milkshakes. Some don’t even use real fruit!
If you have the time, try making smoothies at home — this gives you complete control over the ingredients. Or, order a smoothie that has water or almond milk as the base — not frozen yogurt or fruit juice — to cut back on sugar.
That salad you just ordered may be green, but what else does it have on it? Salads available at restaurants or even fast-food places can seem healthy, but usually aren’t. Many are doused in dressing and packed with ingredients that are full of sodium, sugar, and preservatives.
If you’re ordering a restaurant salad, choose a vinaigrette-based dressing over a creamy one and ask for it on the side, so you can control the amount you eat. If you’re making one at home, don’t overload it. Chopped veggies, fruit, nuts and seeds (in moderation) are great, but things like carb-heavy croutons, cheese, or bacon can quickly tip the scales from healthy to unhealthy when it comes to toppings.
Making healthy changes
It can be hard to change your eating habits, especially if you thought you were eating healthier foods to begin with. But, after a few weeks of eating fresh, whole foods and cutting back on added sugars, preservatives, and other ingredients that tend to derail any healthy eating goal, you’ll probably find you have more energy, are less tired, and feel better overall.
- HenryFord.com — 10 Foods That Seem Healthy But Aren't External Site
- EatThis.com — 68 "Healthy" Foods That Are Terrible for You External Site
- NutritionStripped.com — 16 Foods You Think Are Healthy But Really Aren’t External Site
- Healthline.com — 15 ‘Health Foods’ That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise External Site