If some company is telling me their product is healthy, I know it probably isn't.
We all know intuitively what a healthy food is. For example, no one has to take out an advertisement in a magazine to convince us to eat apples and that they are a healthy choice -- we already know that in our hearts. Similarly, we're not seeing commercials for cantaloupe or eggplant or bell peppers on primetime TV. No one is trying to convince us an eggplant is healthy and we should eat it...
Don't be fooled by clever marketing. So many foods touted as "healthy" aren't. Packaging, magazines, commercials -- they're all deceptive. It's an ADVERTISEMENT after all.
Snack foods seem to be the worst offenders -- so many snack foods get a gold star when they shouldn't. We offer a comprehensive list of 50-calorie and 100-calorie snacks on the meal plans, but you won't find brand names and packaged foods in a box. Rather you'll get simple, whole food suggestions like celery and hummus, apple slices and peanut butter, roasted chickpeas with spices, baby carrots and dip, sweet potatoes baked with cinnamon, whole-wheat bread with applesauce, and so on.
Do your snacks deserve a gold star? Find out! Shape magazine recently compiled a list of 50 Seemingly Healthy Foods that are Bad for You and here are the highlights (you might be surprised!):
25 Not-so-Healthy "health" foods:
1. Microwave Popcorn - high levels of sodium and the chemical diacetyl. Use our oil-free popcorn brown bag method instead.
2. Yogurt - we already know dairy is bad for the bod, but even non-dairy yogurts can be loaded with sugar. Buy plain, unsweetened varities whenever you can and add your own fresh fruit (i.e. blueberries) with a drizzle of maple, agave, or honey if desired.
3. Flavored Milks - soy milk, almond milk, etc. are so much better for us than dairy milk but some of the flavored varities (like the dark chocolate almond milk that's been all the rave lately) are like a candy bar in a glass. They're tasty, but they're also full of sugar, fat and calories and you can drink them down faster than you can eat a candy bar. These are fine for an occassional treat (think of it as a dessert), but when purchasing your non-dairy milk, opt for unsweetened and plain or vanilla if you can.
4. Dried Fruit - Dried fruits can be sneaky calorie bombs (you can eat 200 calories of raisins easily, but it's hard to swallow 200 calories worth of grapes that fast!) but they're also typically loaded with added sugar, oil and sulfur. If you must eat dried fruit, look for unsweetened and unsulfured varieties -- choosing fresh fruit instead whenever possible.
5. Trail Mix - nuts and dried fruit can be sneaky calorie bombs. You can easily gobble up a few hundred calories in the blink of an eye. Worse still, most trail mixes use nuts that have been salted and roasted and dried fruits that have added sugar and oil. All of that is unnecessary junk. If you must eat trail mix, elect for mixes using raw nuts and dried fruits with no additives and measure out a serving size.
6. Granola - Most granolas, even "low fat" granolas are loaded with fat (oil), sugar and calories. Toast oats and make your own granola.
7. Corn Chips - even "baked" corn chips are still high in fat and salt. Cut a corn tortilla into triangles using a pizza cutter or knife and bake your triangles for a few minutes at 350F until they're crispy. It's so easy!
8. "Gluten-Free" - "Gluten-free" is all the rage right now, but this term doesn't mean it's automatically healthy. After all, there are "gluten-free" potato chips, cookies, and candies. If it's packaged or processed -- gluten or no gluten -- it's not as healthy as a whole food like fresh vegetables, fruits, legumes or whole (naturally gluten-free) grains. If you need to follow a gluten-free diet due to allergies or sensitivities, by all means do it, but make sure you're gluten-free convenience foods are still healthy choices. A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie!
9. Frozen Dinners - even vegan/vegetarian frozen dinners leave much to be desired in the nutrition department. They're easy, but so is a bean burrito. Avoid preservatives and truckloads of sodium and try our meal plans. You can prepare all 3 meals for the day in as little as 15-20 minutes, or you cook all your meals once for the whole week in 2-3 hours and reheat all week long.
10. Vegetable Pizza - Going cheeseless is awesome, but make sure the vegetables haven't been soaked or sauteed in oil before they're loaded onto the crust. Keep an eye on vegan cheeses too. They're often loaded with fat (oil) and calories. If you must use faux cheese, try to stick to a bare sprinkling or use Happy Herbivore's Tofu Ricotta.
12. Canned Soups - even organic, vegan, "low sodium" canned soups can have upwards of 400mg of sodium per cup. Throw some vegetables in a pot with broth and let it simmer while you watch TV or fold laundry if you can. Then you have enough soup for several meals and without the sodium. Or try our 3-ingredient vegetable soup. It takes seconds!
13. Vegetable Pastas - vegetable-based pastas, like spinach pasta (which is green), look lovely but aren't much healthier than white pasta. The amount of spinach included in the pasta is so small it doesn't add up to much benefit. Stick to whole grain pastas (like 100% whole-wheat or brown rice pasta) and add some spinach to your dish instead.
14. Wheat Bread - make sure your "wheat" bread is 100% whole-wheat and not white bread with a tan. If it doesn't specifically say "100% whole-wheat" it's not whole wheat. Also check the ingredients and nutritional information. There should be at least 2g of fiber if it's whole wheat.
15. Reduced Fat Peanut Butter - Low fat peanut butters are rarely a nutritional bargain. The fat is processed out, but the calories remain the same because sugar and other fillers are added. Ick! Buy a natural peanut butter that is just peanuts (no oil and preferably no salt or sweetener added) and use it sparingly.
16. Fruit Cocktail - loaded with sugar and syrups -- eat fresh fruit instead.
17. Fruit Juice - Quoting Dr. Essy "It's like dumping the sugar bowl down your throat." Some juices are higher in calories than soda!
18. Pretzels - pretzels might be lower in fat than potato chips but they're nothing but white flour and salt - empty calories. Use crunchy vegetables like celery and carrots as a dipper or snack instead.
19. Kale Chips - most commercial kale chips are coated in nuts or seeds so it's like eating a little bit of kale with a big helping of nut butter. Kale is healthy, true, but don't drench it in fat with extra calories. Try Happy Herbivore's oil-free kale chips instead -- tasty, healthy, low cal and low fat!
20. "Raw" Foods - At the core raw foods are great -- whole fruits, whole vegetables, greens, but packaged "raw" products are often sneaky calorie bombs high in fat and calories. I recently picked up a "raw" cheesecake and it had over 1,000 calories - in a single slice! It may be raw, but I shouldn't eat a dessert that high in calories, period. Have raw banana ice cream instead.
21. Protein & Meal Bars - even vegan brands like Luna and Cliff have alarming lists of ingredients. They're easy, but so is a bean burrito, yet it's much healthier and satisfying. If you're super busy and pressed for time, consider using our meal plans. You can prepare a days worth of meals in 15-20 minutes, or do all your cooking for the entire week in 2-3 hours. If you must buy protein and meal replacement bars, make sure they're less than 200 calories and have no more than 8g of sugar.
22. Sushi - Have you ever eaten 3 rolls of sushi than wondered why you're starving an hour later? That's because sushi is typically made with white rice which is full of calories but provides little long-term satiety. Opt for brown rice sushi (filled with vegetables, not fish or avocado) for the healthiest option. Also be wary if some of the sauces (they contain mayo) and tempura - it's fried.
23. Veggie Burgers - Although a veggie burger is healthier than a meat patty, nothing beats homemade in terms of taste or nutrition. Try Happy Herbivore's 6-ingredient bean burgers. They only take 15 minutes!
24. Multi-Grain Chips - a step up from potato chips, but these snacks are still processed, not 100% whole-grain (meaning they contain processed white flours) and they're often high in salt and fat (oil). Try baking a whole-wheat pita or tortilla into chips (see #7 for directions) or choose cooked whole grains instead.
25. "Organic" - Just because it's "organic" doesn't mean it's automatically healthy. One trip to the health food store and you'll find "organic" chips, cookies, candies and other junk foods. Don't let buzz words fool you! A conventional apple is still a better choice than "organic" potato chips.
Need healthy snack and meal ideas? Try our meal plans. We include healthy snacks into the plan each day plus provide additional healthy snack ideas.