Eating healthy is important, but sometimes it's easy to be misled by certain foods that claim to be good for us. Nutrition experts discussed popular “healthy” meals that may not be as nutritious as they appear.
1. DIY Oatmeal Twist: Say No to Sugar Overload
According to Jacquelyn Costa, R.D., a clinical dietitian at Temple University Hospital in Philadelphia, flavored instant oatmeal, such as maple brown sugar or apple cinnamon, is often loaded with added sugar and sodium. She advises oatmeal variants with oats as the first ingredient, less than six g of sugar, and 140 mg of salt per serving. Alternatively, you can choose steel-cut or rolled oats and add your own flavorful twist using cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh fruit.
2. Pasta Swap: Nutrient-Rich Alternatives
Emily Rubin, R.D., a clinical dietitian at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia, suggests that boxed vegetable pasta may not offer significant nutritional benefits compared to regular pasta. There is an insignificant difference between these two: swapping one for the other won't significantly impact your health. Instead, she recommends opting for healthier alternatives like spiralized vegetables or spaghetti squash as a substitute for traditional pasta. These options provide a greater variety of nutrients and can be a delicious way to incorporate more vegetables into your diet.
3. Pretzels: Refined Carbs in Disguise
According to Cara Walsh, R.D., from Medifast Weight Control Centers of California, pretzels are not the healthiest choice. She explains that pretzels are essentially made from refined carbohydrates and lack beneficial nutrients. Additionally, they are not very satisfying, which often leads to overeating. While pretzels may be a popular snack, it's important to consider healthier alternatives that offer more nutritional value and satiety.
4. Homemade Veggie Chips: A Healthier Choice
Adrienne Youdim, M.D., from the Center for Nutrition in Beverly Hills, shares veggie chips are not as healthy as we think. She explains that the harmful aspect lies in the saturated and trans fats used during frying, regardless of whether the chip is made from beets or potatoes. Additionally, Emily Rubin, R.D., suggests that most veggie chips list potatoes as their main ingredient and contain similar calorie content to regular potato chips. She recommends baking your own veggie chips using nutritious options like kale, carrots, or zucchini to make a healthier choice. This allows you to reduce fat and sodium intake while increasing your nutrient consumption.
5. Smoothie Secrets: Avoid the Sugar Bomb
Jacquelyn Costa, R.D., warns against the consumption of pre-made smoothies due to their high content of added sugars and calories. Typically, these smoothies are made with fruit juice as a base, contributing to their sugar content. Costa points out that a 20-ounce commercial smoothie can contain anywhere from 200 to 1,000 calories, significant amounts of fat, and added sugar. To make a healthier choice, Costa recommends making your own smoothies with frozen fruits and veggies, low-fat milk, yogurt, and protein powder to make a better alternative. You may regulate the ingredients and ensure a balanced and healthful beverage this way.
6. Natural Peanut Butter: No Additives, Pure Goodness
Lauren Blake, R.D., advises against using reduced-fat or fat-free peanut butter as a weight-loss strategy. Surprisingly, these peanut butter variations contain similar calorie counts to regular peanut butter but compensate for the reduced fat content by adding excessive amounts of sugar. Blake suggests looking for natural peanut butter options with no added oils, cane sugar, or trans fats listed in the ingredients. By choosing natural peanut butter, you can enjoy the natural goodness of peanuts without the unnecessary added sugars and fats.
7. Diet Frozen Meals: Unsatisfying and Nutrient-Lacking
According to Jacquelyn Costa, R.D., many “diet” frozen meals that claim to be low in calories and portion-controlled are often unsatisfying and lack essential nutrients. With less than 300 calories per serving, these meals typically lack vegetables and whole grains, leaving you feeling hungry shortly after consuming them. Additionally, they tend to be high in sodium, which can contribute to bloating. Costa recommends a healthier and more nutritious approach: preparing your favorite heart-healthy recipes in larger quantities and freezing them for later.
8. Low-Sodium Turkey Jerky: A Healthier Snack
Beef jerky, a popular on-the-go snack known for its protein content, may not be as healthy as it seems. Rebecca Lewis, R.D., warns that most jerkies are packed with sodium to preserve the meat. This high sodium intake can lead to water retention and bloating. To enjoy a similar snack without excessive salt, Lewis suggests choosing low-sodium turkey jerky as an alternative. It still provides a delicious and protein-rich option without the negative effects of excessive sodium.
9. Plant-Based Protein: Choose Whole Foods
While marketed as vegetarian alternatives to meat, fake meat products may not be as wholesome as they appear. Many of these products contain processed soy protein, canola oil, caramel coloring, and xanthan gum, among other questionable ingredients. Lauren Blake, R.D., advises vegetarian or plant-based eaters to opt for whole protein sources like beans, lentils, eggs, dairy, fermented soy, nuts, and seeds as their primary protein choices. These whole foods provide a more natural and nutritious alternative to processed fake meats.
10. Fat-Free Salad Dressings: Importance of Healthy Fats
Fat-free salad dressings may seem healthy but may not be as beneficial as they appear. According to Lauren Blake, R.D., salads are packed with greens containing fat-soluble vitamins, essential antioxidants, and minerals that are crucial in protecting our bodies from disease. Without some healthy fats in the salad, our bodies won't fully absorb these valuable nutrients. So, choosing a dressing that includes healthy fats, such as olive oil or avocado, can enhance nutrient absorption and make your salad even more nutritious. Finding the appropriate balance is essential for a healthy and fulfilling salad experience.
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