Buyer Beware: Health Foods Aren’t Always Healthy
This is a short list of some of the most common foods marketed as “healthy”, when more often than not they are no better than eating dessert. Always read the nutrition label and the ingredients list before purchasing a food.
You have to watch out for sugar because it triggers insulin (fat storage hormone) to be released, whose job is to get sugar out of your blood as quickly as possible and store it somewhere for later use (think your thighs). Unless you are training for something like a marathon or ironman where your muscles will be the first to receive the sugar, try to keep your daily sugar to a minimum – like under 25 grams per day.
1. Skim Milk
Non-fat or “skim milk” has a surprisingly high amount of sugar. Most brands have about 12 grams per cup – this is almost half the amount of total sugar that is recommended you ingest each day! To put this into perspective, this is the same amount of sugar as eating three Original Chips Ahoy! Cookies or three Milano Original Cookies.
I am not a huge fan of cow’s milk (for many other reasons), and I recommend trying unsweetened almond, cashew, or coconut milk as an alternative.
2. Protein/Nutrition Bars
In general, I recommend staying away from all “high protein,” “high fiber,” “gluten free,” or however else the given bar has been marked as healthy. Strip back all of the fancy advertising and look at the nutrition label and you will find that most of these “health” bars are no better than a candy bar. For example, compare a Snickers Bar to a Clif Bar: a Snickers Bar has 27 grams of sugar and 4 grams of protein.
A Clif bar can have up to 25 grams of sugar and 9 grams of protein…is there really that much of a difference between the two?? – Others popular bars to avoid include Balance bars, Luna Bars, Pure Bars, Lara Bars, and even Kind Bars which can be high in sugar. Rule of thumb, stay away from any bar with 10 grams of sugar or more.
The only protein bars I recommend are Quest bars because they are high in protein and fiber, low in sugar and in overall ingredients, and Think Thin Bars which are also a healthier alternative.
Yogurt can be very healthy because it is generally high in protein and low in fat. However, you have to be careful with choosing yogurt because most have a ton of added sugar, be especially cognizant of the the non-fat versions because the fat is replaced with sugar to make it taste better.
Always check the nutrition label, more than 7g of sugar per serving and you have a dessert not a healthy snack. My favorite is Plain Greek Yogurt Trader Joe’s brand which has 22 grams of protein and 6 grams sugar per cup.
Be very picky with granola, the vast majority are heavy in sugar and calories, and low in fiber. Granola is meant to be eaten in a small serving size, usually like a ¼ or ½ cup, meaning you could easily be eating 4 servings in one sitting. And just because the packaging says “made with honey” or “made with all natural ingredients” or some other deceiving marketing claim, this doesn’t make the food any healthier, sugar is sugar.
I don’t really recommend granola in general, but if you are going to eat it I recommend eating it plain and would avoid eating it with anything else sugary such as yogurt and/or fruit.
Cereal is generally not a great choice. Almost all cereals are loaded with sugar, low in fiber, and low in protein. And why is everyone eating Raisin Bran??!! It seems like just about every other patient I see is eating this. Raisin Bran has 18 grams of sugar per serving, 18 grams! This is almost the total amount of sugar that you should have in an entire day. Then add some skim milk on there and this puts you over the edge.
Forget the raisins and just get plain bran cereal, you can always add your own raisins on top if necessary. The only cereals I recommend are Fiber One Original Cereal (14 grams of fiber per ½ cup!) or Trader Joe’s High Fiber cereal (9 grams of fiber per 2/3 cup) because both are low in sugar and high in fiber.
6. Sports Drinks
Everyone knows that soda is a diet-don’t, but most sports drinks are just as bad. For example, a 12 fl oz bottle of Coca-Cola Coke has around 33 grams of sugar. A bottle of Gatorade has almost 50 grams of sugar (due to having 2.5 servings per bottle).
And watch out for those bottled teas because they can have over 20 grams of sugar per serving and can have multiple servings within one bottle. Alternatives to these super sweet drinks are G2 which is a lower calorie version of Gatorade, Vitamin Water Zero, and PowerAid Zero.
About the author: Sarah-Kate Rems is an Ivy-league trained Board-Certified Family Nurse Practitioner licensed in California and New York State with an expertise in preventative healthcare. She considers nutrition and exercise to be the basis of well-being and is a strong advocate for daily physical activity and maintaining a healthy diet. Sarah-Kate is also a co-founder of The Mindful Tech Lab