Within the past few years getting healthy and being fit has become a focus for a lot of households across the nation. With this change, people have been making healthier choices when it comes to both fitness and nutrition and food companies have responded by trying to meet the needs of the growing majority of health-conscious people. Sounds great, huh? Unfortunately, these company's foods aren't really getting any healthier, they're just claiming to be. So to help lessen some of this confusion about what's actually healthy or not, I've compiled a list of unhealthy health food or "food fakers", as I like to call them.
Food Faker #1: Foods Making Health Claims
I'm sure you see these products all the time. They claim to be "all natural", "heart healthy", "made with whole grains" and a "good source of vitamins and minerals".
The problem with claims such as these is that they're not regulated by the FDA in the same way as foods trying to get the "organic" label. For example, the FDA has not defined the term "natural" and only requires that a food not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances. This is how food products such as "All Natural Dole Fruit Cups" can get the "natural label despite have a laundry list of ingredients including: carrageenan, locust bean gum, cochineal extract, malic acid, fumaric acid, sodium citrate etc. Yep, sounds all natural to me. Just like eating a fresh peach.
My Suggestion: eat the fresh peach. Eat real food that you know has vitamins and minerals, foods that really are natural and heart healthy.
Food Faker #2: "Free" Foods
These are the foods labeled as "calorie free", "sugar free", "fat free" etc. While these labels are regulated by the FDA and are in fact true, this still doesn't mean they are healthy for you. When making a product "free" of something, companies must replace that something with something else. Sugar free products are usually higher in fat, fat free products are usually higher in carbs and chemicals, and calorie free products are all chemicals.
Have you ever looked at the ingredients for fat free cheese vs. its traditional counterpart? While the calories may be lower and yes, it is fat free, the ingredients are much longer! In order to compensate for flavor and texture, they had to add in a bunch of junk. You're better off just having a smaller portion of the regular cheese.
My suggestion: stick to the traditional counterpart and limit your portion. There's nothing wrong with having one cookie every once in awhile, compared to 3 "sugar free" cookies every night because you think they're better for you.
Food Faker #3: Prepared Foods
While grabbing a smoothie from the smoothie bar or ordering a salad at a restaurant instead of that burger you really wanted seems like a good choice, it isn't always. When faced with these seemingly healthy foods, we often overindulge because "they're so healthy, I can't eat as much as I want" mindset kicks in. However, often times you may have been better off ordering what you really wanted and sticking to a more reasonable portion.
Smoothies are often portrayed as being super healthy and full of fruits and sometimes vegetables. While this may be true at some places, unless you know exactly what the person behind the counter is putting in the blender, you never know what you could be ordering. Sometimes they don't even have real fruit, just juice! And other times they put in things like ice cream or added sugar. There's a reason they taste so good people!
Salads (especially those at restaurants) can be equally deceptive. A salad made at home that's full of veggies and lean protein is a great lunch, but often times that's not what you get when you eat out. The croutons, cheese, bacon, nuts, fried chicken and creamy dressings all add up and they add up FAST. You're super healthy salad may have a bunch of delicious toppings, but now it's probably not as good for you as you'd like to believe.
My suggestion: make these foods at home and order what you really want when you're out. At home you can control exactly what goes into your food and you know it's healthy. When you're out you're probably better off ordering what you really want and enjoying yourself rather than overeating something because you assume it's healthy. Overeating is still overeating.
Food Faker #4: Yogurt & Froyo
Yogurt is one of those foods that everyone seems to associate with eating healthy. As a result, over the past few years foryo (frozen yogurt) has taken off as the new "healthy" alternative to going out for ice cream. Unfortunately yogurt and froyo aren't as great as they seem to be unless you choose very wisely.
Traditional yogurt isn't necessarily bad for you , but many people assume it is much better for you than it actually is when in reality, most are full of sugar and other added ingredients. Now, sugar is naturally occurring in all dairy products, but yogurt companies also add sugar to their products as well. Yoplait, for example has a whopping 18g of sugar per little cup - that's 72% of the recommended daily allowance in one cup!
My suggestion: stick to plain greek yogurt and sweeten it yourself. This would not only reduce the sugar, but greek yogurt is inherently higher in protein and will help you feel fuller longer. And if you go out to froyo, stick to a reasonable portion and limit the toppings. Adding reeses cups and cookie dough is not healthy, no matter how hard you try and justify it ;)
Food Faker #5: Nuts, Dried Fruit, Granola etc.
In comparison to the foods discussed previously, these foods actually ARE good for you. They're actually all natural, full of healthy fats, fiber, vitamins and minerals. So why are they on the list? Unfortunately they are much to easy to over do.
Have you ever looked at the serving size for any of these foods? Often they are about 1/4 cup or less! I don't know about you, but sticking to just a 1/4 cup of almonds is hard. If I'm not mindful, I could easily eat 3-4 servings in one sitting. That adds up to about 600-800 calories for a little snack that didn't even really fill me up!
My suggestion: divide these snacks out into single serving portions to help keep yourself from mindlessly snacking. While these foods are healthy, they can still do some damage to your waistline if you aren't careful.
Take home point: All of these foods have their place and they can certainly be enjoyed in moderation. Yes, even the poptart full of vitamins and minerals. The trick is to not let yourself fall into the trap of believing that you can eat as much of it as you want because it's "healthy". Anything eaten in excess can become unhealthy. Listen to your body, feed it well, and treat yourself. Just don't go overboard :)