When you want to start eating healthier or are interested in choosing a diet plan, things can quickly get confusing. The internet is full of “eat this, not that” articles backed up by professionals who argue that their diet or definition of “healthy” is correct. Differing opinions, contradictory research, and the latest diet fads make it almost impossible for an average person to tell what’s actually healthy and what’s just part of the latest diet craze.
To start, turn to the basics by learning about those diet foods that most people perceive as healthy, but aren’t.
1. Protein bars
You probably think you’re pretty smart when you pull out an energy bar rather than indulge in morning donuts at the office. Before you get too smug, keep in mind that many protein bars have a nutritional profile similar to that of a candy bar. Seriously. While their packaging makes them look healthy with lofty claims about whole-grain content, organic certifications, and high levels of pure protein, many protein bars are packed with sugar. Some bars have an ingredient list of over 50 ingredients and upwards of 30 grams of sugar, which is more than the sugar content in some candy bars. Read the label and choose bars that have low sugar content and minimal ingredients.
Choosing that bran muffin for breakfast may seem like a good idea — until you find out that most commercially sold bran muffins contain about 800 calories, most of which is coming from sugar and fat. Not only are the calorie levels high — especially considering you’ll probably feel hungry an hour later — but the high levels of hidden sugar and fat in muffins categorize them alongside donuts and other pastries. While indulging in a muffin from time to time is fine, don’t let it become too regular of a habit. For a healthy alternative, make your own batch so you can control the ingredients and sugar content.
3. Flavored yogurt
Yogurt is harmless, right? Turns out, your favorite breakfast may not always be the best choice. Because of yogurt’s naturally tart taste, companies throw in fruit, honey, sugar, and other flavor boosters to balance it out and make it more appealing. Turns out those delicious fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt cups are one of the worst routes you can go, with some containing as much sugar as a candy bar. Bypass the brightly packaged fruit-filled yogurts and reach for plain, unsweetened yogurt. For a good source of protein, healthy fat, and stomach-pleasing probiotics, try out a plain Greek yogurt. If it’s too tart for your taste, stir in a sliced banana or a handful of blueberries.
4. Deli meat
Dieters often try to increase their protein levels to keep them fuller for longer, so it makes sense that turkey (a leaner meat) would be on the menu. It’s one thing to eat a turkey sandwich made with leftover Thanksgiving turkey and quite another thing to consume packaged deli meats everyday. These meats are packed with sodium and preservatives. Before you get a hefty dose of salt, be sure to read the label carefully or ask at the deli counter for an option that has less than 350 milligrams of sodium per 2-ounce serving.
5. Instant oatmeal
You may be trying your best to be healthy by grabbing a packet of cinnamon apple oatmeal rather than skipping breakfast or giving into the temptation of the Dunkin’ Donuts on your way to the office. While instant oatmeal may beat the alternatives, keep in mind that those packets of flavored oats aren’t doing you any favors either. Instant oatmeal is low in fiber and protein, which means you’ll be starving by mid-morning. If you can, eat steel cut oatmeal or look for instant oatmeal where steel cut oats, whole oats, or whole groats are the first ingredient. Healthy oatmeal varieties should have at least 4 grams of fiber and 5 grams of protein per serving.
6. Bottled juices
Smoothies and juices may be on your guilt-free list, but some variations should be treated more like a milkshake than a fruit or veggie-based drink. This includes those green variations that claim you can get your fill of veggies without actually having to eat any. To hide the bitter, earthy taste of kale, spinach, carrots, and beets, companies throw in a hefty dose of sugar or fruit to make it go down easier. Some of these smoothie-like juices pack upwards of 50 grams of sugar per bottle. If smoothies are one of your go-to meals or snacks, make them at home where you can control what ingredients go in.