As you get closer to a healthier lifestyle, it can be a challenge to distinguish which foods are truly healthy and which ones you should avoid at all costs.
Many well-known “health” foods are actually filled with empty calories and loaded with sugar and fat.
Here is a list of sneaky diet saboteurs you should avoid, plus healthier ways to replace them in your diet.
Fruit and Vegetable Juices
Don’t let the words “fruit” and “vegetable” on juice labels fool you! Fruit juices, including ones made from 100% fruit juice, are high in calories and sugar, which causes swings in blood sugar and leads to cravings. And while vegetable juices are a good way to get more vegetables into your diet, the process of juicing strips the fiber from whole vegetables, which is also filled with plenty of antioxidants and essential nutrients. Juicing can also be expensive (and a lot of work!) as most juicers range from $50-100.
Remember, store-bought vegetable juices can also be loaded with fruit to enhance the flavor, but it becomes a calorie-dense drink. Whole fruits and vegetables are your best bet because they provide all the nutrients you need with a fraction of the cost and calories.
Made with rolled oats, dried fruit, and nuts, granola bars may seem like healthy on-the-go snacks. But if you don’t read the labels carefully, some bars are packed with so much sugar that they’re not so much different from eating a candy bar. If you’re looking for a protein- and fiber-rich snack, have a low-fat cheese stick and an apple, or a cup of plain, nonfat Greek yogurt and fresh fruit and nuts. Granola and energy bars should only be eaten occasionally if you don’t have any healthier food options available; whole foods should always be your first choice.
Foods Labeled “Made with Whole Grain”
Whether you’re shopping for bread, cereal, or crackers, it’s important to read ingredient lists for products that say “made with whole grain,” “has whole grains,” or “multi-grain.” Many times, these foods are not made with 100% whole grains and have refined grains in the mix, so you’re not getting the full nutritional benefit of whole grains. The first flour on the ingredient list should say 100% whole whole wheat. If you see “bleached” or “unbleached enriched wheat flour,” you are not eating a 100% whole-grain product.
Smoothies make delicious and refreshing on-the-go-breakfasts, but beware that some premade smoothies or smoothies purchased at chain stores can be calorie landmines. Most premade smoothies are made with canned fruit with added sugars, simple syrups, full-fat yogurt, whole milk, and sometimes even ice cream or frozen yogurt. You can prepare a nutritious and flavorful homemade smoothie by combining fresh or frozen fruit, low-fat or 0% milk, plain, nonfat Greek yogurt, natural peanut butter, and chia or flax seeds in a blender. I am a big fan of the Vitamix blender.
Frozen yogurt may seem like a healthier alternative to ice cream or gelato, and it’s lower in saturated fat in most cases, but regarding calories and sugar, they’re all not much different than you think. And when you add toppings like semi-sweet chocolate chips, granola, mochi, and sprinkles, a cup of frozen yogurt is equivalent to eating a bowl of ice cream and then some! As a healthier alternative, combine some frozen banana slices and a tablespoon of natural peanut butter in a blender. The mixture turns into a smooth texture; top it with some fresh fruit, or dark chocolate bark crumbles or semi-sweet chocolate chips.
Frozen Diet Entrées
While frozen diet entrées are low in calories, they tend to be high in sodium. But, they Can also be made with refined grains and ingredients, which can cause swings in blood-sugar levels. I recommend you eat frozen diet entrées only on occasion when you are completely strapped for time and can’t prepare a wholesome meal. If you have a busy schedule, prepare a make-ahead meal that you can store in the refrigerator and reheat when you’re ready to eat. Or, cook a double batch of a recipe, so you can cook once and eat twice.
Gluten-Free Sweets and Snacks
Just because an item is gluten-free doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Gluten is a major protein found in wheat, rye, and barley; people who are sensitive to gluten follow a gluten-free diet. While there are plenty of healthy gluten-free foods out there, some gluten-free snacks and sweets are loaded with sugar with fat to make up for the flavor and texture. Avoid all gluten-free cookies, crackers, and chips made with white potato starch or white rice flour, which can cause cravings.
Whether you’re lactose intolerant, prefer not to eat dairy products, or are following a vegetarian or vegan diet, there are plenty of nondairy milk alternatives to enjoy, such as almond, soy, coconut, and rice milk. But be sure to purchase the unsweetened varieties of these milks. The regular versions have added sugars, which can cause swings in blood sugar and lead to weight gain. For me, I drink unsweetened vanilla almond milk.