Organic, all natural, gluten-free, sugar-free, cholesterol-free, fat-free, low calorie... these are just some of the labels your eyes scan over each time you walk down the market aisles. While they all seem to be screaming, "I'm healthy, you can trust me," there's often a catch, especially if a product is highly marketed. Unfortunately, several of the foods you've been led to believe are guilt-free have some explaining to do. Here are the top five masquerading as healthy.
While it's mighty tempting to grab a bar when you're on the run or too hungry to prepare a hearty meal, be sure to stop and read the ingredients before you rip open a bar's promising packaging. While it may be packed with protein, most are also loaded with sugar, salt and sometimes oil, which can all add up to a high fat and calorie count. Not to mention, there may be a slew of artificial ingredients and preservatives.
Healthy Choice: LÄRABARs are widely available and are made with no more than nine pure ingredients. While they are not organic, they are non-GMO and there are no preservatives, fillers or colorings. Better yet, discover how to make your own energy bars.
Trail Mix and Dried Fruit
Like energy bars, a bag of nuts and dried fruit may seem like the perfect grab-and-go snack, but not so fast; make sure to check the sugar and salt content first. As if they needed any help with flavor, nuts are often roasted with salt or coated with sugar, then tossed with sweetened fruit (like cranberries) and bits of chocolate to make an enticing mix. It can be challenging to find dried fruit that hasn't been dipped in sugar and preservatives - what's the point when it's already so naturally sweet that it won't last more than a day in your hands?! You don't even want to know how many hundreds of calories these deceiving snacks have.
Healthy Choice: Raw nuts and fresh fruit.
Enhanced Tea, Juice and Water
The refrigerated section of any market or convenience store is lined with tantalizing drinks with bold names and loud labels - you already know to ignore the colas, but think twice before reaching for a fancy and colorful tea, juice or water. While these beverages promise to give you an energy or nutritional boost, they often contain ingredients that will get in the way of those results. Sugar is the obvious felon, but there's likely a slew of mystery (read, artificial) ingredients as well, and your body can't function well while fending off any of those unwanted substances.
Healthy Choice: Pure tea, 100% juice drinks and plain ol' water - nothing else should be in the ingredient list.
Smoothie bars seem like the perfect guilt-free destination when you're out and about (especially after a long day of shopping), but buyer beware; you're getting a lot more than you bargained for. Sure, all you see and taste is fresh, pure, frozen fruit, but these blended drinks are usually overflowing with sugar, dairy, artificial ingredients and calories. While thickeners like peanut butter and yogurt (see below) may seem harmless, they can add a lot of fat into the mix, and many types of fruit like bananas are naturally sugar-dense. Next thing you know you've downed 800 calories and you don't even feel full!
You'd think that yogurt must be healthy based on the sheer number of options in the dairy aisle, from low-fat to fat-free in every fruit flavor imaginable. Some even promise to keep you "regular" or boost your immune system! Sure, yogurt is full of gut-friendly probiotics and can be low in calories, but there's likely sugar (surprise, surprise) and those sneaky artificial ingredients, especially when fruit or toppings are part of the package. And don't even get us started on frozen yogurt's misleading reputation!
Healthy Choice: Sugar-free, plain yogurt (Greek is usually safe) and mix in your own fresh fruit, or a non-dairy alternative made from coconut or almonds. Here are some more tips on finding healthy yogurt.
All of the above is OKAY to have in moderation. The point is not to be tricked into thinking it's healthy to have on a regular basis. Reading labels is key. Ultimately, the shorter and purer the ingredient list, the better, and always opt for organic when it's a choice. You now know that sugar, salt and artificial additives will sneak their way into anything, so keep an eye out for them. There's no need for enhancement when most fresh food tastes naturally delicious! Also, be sure to check the serving size if you're watching your calorie and fat intake - that enticing container may be fit for 2+!