I’ve heard that not all “health foods” are created equal. Any advice for navigating the health food aisle?
Product marketing can be sneaky and persuasive—with some carefully placed words (i.e. “organic” anything), it’s easy to be tricked into believing that the snack you are enjoying is healthy when in fact it is loaded with sugar and calories. Here are foods for which you should be extra vigilant in reading those ingredient labels:
Yogurt: In its essence a healthy, fermented natural food, yogurt seems to have crossed the line into dessert. The yogurt category is full of sugar-laden and artificially flavored products that bear no resemblance to the natural yogurts filled with healthy-gut-promoting probiotics. Look for plain, unflavored, unsweetened yogurts containing live active bacteria cultures. If it’s fruit-flavored, make sure it actually contains real fruit.
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Granola bars: Oats have enjoyed the limelight as a healthful component in many diets. The marketing logic is that granola bars also confer these same benefits. But if you look closely at the nutrition label you’ll notice that most contain a substantial amount of sugar (including high-fructose corn syrup) as well as industrially produced oils, synthetic additives and flavors. Look for bars made from fruits and nuts with as few ingredients as possible, such as Larabars or Clif’s C bars.
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Iced tea: Tea certainly has positive health associations because of the anti-inflammatory flavonoids, but these benefits do not extend to most of the prepackaged sweetened beverages. Sweetened iced tea contains as much sugar as a soda drink. Look for unsweetened, natural iced teas such as Tejava or Honest Tea. Or brew your own pot for a healthy, refreshing and calorie-free drink—green tea contains the most antioxidants.
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Trail mix: At its best, trail mix contains nuts and dried fruits, which although calorically dense, can be a convenient form of beneficial nutrients and energy. But be weary of refined oils, which can make trail mix just as unhealthy as snacking on candy. Try making your own mix with whole-grain cereal, nuts, popcorn and dried fruit.
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Fruit juices: Even juice from freshly squeezed fruit is still just sugar. Unless you are in the post-workout phase, this enormous dose of sugar is not only unnecessary—it also prompts an insulin spike that can boost fat storage and potentially increase insulin resistance. Plus, most juices have preservatives and additional flavorings, further eroding any of the nutrients. Instead, eat whole fresh fruit with fiber included to blunt the insulin response, fill you up and provide maximum nutrients. Or if you must have fruit juice, consider squeezing your own so you know exactly what’s in it.