Health & Wellness
12 “Healthy” Foods That Could Be Wrecking Your Diet
All of these foods might "seem" healthy, but are they really wrecking your diet?
Sometimes we assume a food is healthy–perhaps it has a healthy-sounding name or a marketed as a health food–when it’s actually wreaking havoc on our diet, making us gain weight or otherwise harming our health. They’re known as foods with a “healthy halo” because we imagine them to be good for us (like these superfoods for your brain), and here are the ones that could very well be wrecking your diet.
Many energy bars are nothing more than candy bars wearing a “healthy halo.” Take a look at this Caramel Nut Blast Balance Bar, for example. It looks kind of like a Snickers bar and has roughly the same number of calories. It might be fortified with vitamins and have 15 grams of protein, but it also contains 14 grams of total sugar (and look at that list of ingredients!). Snickers isn’t much higher in sugar, coming in at 20 grams.
Tip: Feeling tired? Consider eating these foods that can boost your energy in a healthy way.
There are few foods as nutritionally packed as vegetables and fruits. But depending on the ingredients in your smoothie, it can contain far more calories than you’d imagine, up to 1,500, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And many smoothies are super-high in sugar but offer little in the way of protein and therefore can lead to a sugar-crash.
Tip: Craving a milkshake? Skip the daily smoothie (that’s pretending to be a milk shake) and make yourself a real one once in a while.
What are sports drinks other than water with sugar, flavoring and nutritional additives like vitamins and minerals? If you’re engaging in endurance training (such as long distance biking or running), sports drinks can be useful for rehydrating and restoring electrolytes. But, for most of us, our go-to hydrator should be good ‘ol H2O.
Tip: You probably need more water every day than you think. Find out how much.
Sugary soda is full of empty calories, but diet soda isn’t much better. For example, in one study from the University of Texas, people who drank diet soda gained an average of 1.83 inches in waist circumference over nearly a decade compared to just .8 inches gained for those that didn’t drink diet soda. And those who reported drinking diet soda every day gained more than 3 inches during the same time. While this study didn’t show that diet soda itself cause the weight gain, it’s enough to question whether a daily diet soda is a smart choice. Try infused water instead.
You’re probably already aware that fancy coffee drinks are inevitably high in fat, sugar and calories. (A 16 oz. latte can add up to almost 300 calories before the whipped cream!) What you may not realize is that in some people, caffeine can interfere with blood sugar metabolism, according to a study published in the journal Diabetes Care, particularly in those who have already been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes.
Tip: Go with straight coffee instead of a fancy drink to save calories (and cash). And consider keeping your caffeine consumption in check, particularly if you are at risk for, or already have, type 2 diabetes.
Chai tea is almost perfect from an Ayurvedic standpoint in that it’s smooth, warming and energizing with its mix of black tea, milk and cinnamon. The trouble is, most of the chai tea you can purchase pre-made is high in sugar and fat. For example, a 16-ounce Starbucks’ Chai Tea Latte made with 2% milk contains 240 calories, 42 grams of total sugar and 4.5 grams of fat (including 2 grams of saturated fat)
Tip: Instead of a latte, steep a chai tea blend. Add richness with a splash of half-and-half.
Granola should be healthy, what with its whole grains oats and such, but what makes it taste so much better than plain oats is the fact that it’s baked up with fat (butter or oil) and sugar. Some can contain as much as 300-400 calories for just 1/2 cup, so even healthier granola (those containing less added sugar and fat) should be enjoyed in moderation.
Tip: Pass up granola for a healthier snack like a piece of fruit or use just a sprinkle on Greek yogurt for crunch instead of the granola being your main snack.
Nuts are nutrition-dense (they’re rich in healthy fats that can help lower “bad” cholesterol, and are packed with protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals). However, they’re also calorie-dense. A half cup of almonds contains more than 250 calories.
Tip: Understand that a little bit goes a long way. Just an ounce (about 20 almonds) is enough to tide you over until dinnertime.
Think that by eating plantain chips instead of potato chips, you’re doing your diet a favor? Think again. Although plantain chips have that “healthy halo,” but with 147 calories, 9.5 grams of fat, and 8.2 grams of saturated fat per ounce, they’re not really so “good” at all. In fact, they’re roughly the equivalent of a fast-food burger.
Tip: If you’re craving something salty and crunch, try roasted chickpeas.
Although some fat-free foods are actually healthy (particularly fat-free dairy products made with skim milk, rather than whole), many fat-free foods are higher in sugar than their full-fat counterparts.
Tip: Don’t be afraid of foods that are high in healthy fat like these addictive avocado recipes, nuts and olives; fat is an important part of our diet.
Gluten-free foods are essential for people suffering from Celiac disease or who experience discomfort from eating gluten. But gluten-free foods tend to be higher in sugar and fat than their glutenous counterparts and are often short on fiber.
Tip: If you don’t’ have to go gluten-free, take advantage of all the nutrition that a variety of whole grains has to offer. Need recipe ideas? Here are 39 ways to love whole grains.
Just because it’s “salad” doesn’t mean it’s diet-friendly. Any salad can destroy your diet if you top it with heavy dressing, croutons and other ingredients that aren’t exactly healthy in their own right. But Caesar salad may be the worst of the bunch when you consider that, in its classic form, it’s not much more than romaine topped with oil, cheese, super-salty anchovies and egg.
Tip: Eat it because you like it, not because you think it’s healthy (and go easy on the dressing!).