Pick any fruit and you know it’s good for you. It’s the same with vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein foods. They deserve their nutritional halos.
Some foods, however, have gotten the healthy thumbs up, when they’re actually loaded with fat, sugar, or both. That’s why you should always read the nutrition label, and ingredients list. Here are seven items that you may think are good snacks, but you would be better off not consuming.
Granola bars got their wholesome, outdoorsy reputation as the hiker’s snack of choice. They’re filled with whole oats, nuts, seeds, and specks of dried fruit so how could that be a bad thing?
The downside: Many granola bars are dipped in sugary syrups or loaded with chips, highly processed or artificial ingredients, and aren’t much better than candy bars. Even the lower sugar varieties have only a little protein, a smidgen of fiber, and a small amount of vitamins and minerals.
If you can’t resist: Purchase bars with a short ingredient list, essentially whole grains, nuts, seeds, and real fruit. Pick granola bars with 4 or more grams of fiber, less than 150 calories per serving, and no more than 6 grams of added sugars. Better yet, make your own trail mix with whole-grain, ready-to-eat cereals, such as shredded wheat, with nuts, seeds, and chunks of unsweetened, dried fruit.
Pretzels the go-to snack food for many people and kids. One serving of pretzels contains 1 gram of fat, compared to potato chips’ 10 grams.
The downside: Pretzels are mostly nutritionally empty. Sure, they’re lower in calories and fat compared to chips, but they really are not a healthy snack. One serving provides nearly a quarter of the sodium a person needs each day. Because pretzels are basically bland, seasoned varieties pump up the flavor, but also the calories, sodium, and fat content.
If you can’t resist: Pick a whole-wheat brand. How about a handful of nuts, instead? They offer a variety of vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients, plus they pack some protein and fiber. Seeds, such as sunflower or pumpkin, are another option. Alternatively, try subbing-in veggie sticks and a spoonful of zesty dip.
The word ‘muffin’ evokes homemade goodness. The bran or berry varieties give them the image of a nutritious breakfast.
The downside: The sheer size of today’s muffins. Years ago, one muffin was 150 to 170 calories, 5 grams of fat, and about the size of a racquetball. Today’s muffin averages 500 calories, 20-plus grams of fat, and are huge.
If you can’t resist: If you must have the baked variety, pick a small muffin or split one of the overgrown ones with a couple of friends. Opt for one that contains real fruit and is made from whole-grain flour, corn meal, or bran.
Better yet eat a different kind of muffin – a whole-grain English muffin. Spread a light layer of peanut butter on a toasted half, and then top with fruit. That’ll set you back only about 150 calories, plus you’ll have some healthy nutrients to show for it.
Rice cakes are low-fat, low-cholesterol, virtually tasteless – they must be good for you, right? After all, one lightly salted, large-sized cake contains a mere 50 calories, no fat, and no cholesterol.
The downside: Light and airy describes their taste and their nutritional content. You won’t find much on the nutrition facts label beyond calories and sodium. Even those that boast whole grains typically remove the germ, one of the more nutritious parts of a whole-grain kernel. Check the label to make sure flavored cakes don’t contain trans fat.
If you can’t resist: Choose a plain version, add hummus spread and sliced veggies on top. A little peanut butter adds healthy protein.
The packaging leads you to believe colorful fruits lie within. The extra vitamin C (some offering 100 percent of the recommended daily amount) is a healthy bonus.
The downside: The first ingredient listed is a fruit, but it’s often a concentrate made from boiled-down juices rich in sugar and lacking the phytonutrients and vitamins found in whole fruits. Added sugars overwhelm any of the fruit benefits. Plus, you’ll find plenty of additives, artificial ingredients, and possibly even hydrogenated oils, or trans fats, rounding out the list of ingredients.
If you can’t resist: There is no substitute for whole fruit. Eat dried fruit bites instead. There are several varieties such as apples, peaches, and pears, perfect for smaller fingers. Fruit leathers are a good substitute because they’re usually made from whole fruit purees with no added sugars or complicated ingredients.
Yogurt is nutrient-rich. Live and active cultures are beneficial for the intestines and immune system.
The downside: Some frozen yogurts contain live, active cultures; others do not. Unless labeled fat-free, many frozen yogurts contain nearly the same amount of fat as a reduced-fat ice cream, as well as the same number of calories.
If you can’t resist: Find lower-fat frozen yogurts that have live, active cultures. Some brands carry the “Live & Active” seal from the National Yogurt Association which ensures the product contained a certain amount of beneficial bacteria when it was produced.
Tea has been praised for its antioxidant power. The phytonutrients in tea leaves may help reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke. Tea leaves can calm inflammation in the body and may slow the growth of cancer cells.
The downside: Tea drinks are not the same as brewed tea leaves. Many bottled varieties contain little brewed tea, but plenty of added sugars, enough to rival pop. A Consumer Reports review found that all bottled tea beverages had fewer antioxidants than brewed teas. Some of them were made from “concentrates” or “essences,” and likely lack the touted benefits.
If you can’t resist: Brew your own beverage. Chill and flavor it with fruit and a small amount of sugar, if necessary. If you pick a bottled tea, choose one that lists brewed tea as the first ingredient and no more than 4 grams of added sugars per serving.
You don’t need to give up snacking, yet making minor changes can drastically alter the nutrition of your snacks and help you to be healthy.
Source: Susan Moores, R.D. for The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics