Unhealthy health foods: the fads you must avoid
In this age of processed food, even healthy-sounding labels don't guarantee a great product.
Nutritionally speaking, these might beat many fizzy drinks, but that doesn’t make them all healthy, says Helen Bond, a registered dietitian with the British Dietetic Association.
Smoothies—which come in many varieties—may contain some crushed fruit and fruit juice, which sounds fine, but fruit juice has none of the important fibre that you get from fresh fruit. And if you sip juicy smoothies slowly over time, the acidic juice can damage your tooth enamel. Some smoothies are highly calorific and may contain syrups, sugar, and even peanut butter and chocolate, says Bond.
Try this instead: when buying a ready-made smoothie, make sure it contains whole fruit, not just juice. Better still, make your own: in a blender whizz together fresh fruit and unsweetened low-fat yogurt.
2. Vegetable crisps
You think you’re sneaking in a tasty serving of veggies by choosing these instead of potato crisps, but you’re not. Instead, you’re getting lots of calories and fat.
Try this instead: air-popped popcorn or a packet of freeze-dried real veggies—just beware of added fat or salt.
3. Bran muffins
Anything labelled ‘bran’ sounds as if it must be good for you, because it has plenty of fibre. This is not true. Mega-sized bran muffins can also have plenty of fat, sugar and calories, and often contain more than two servings.
Try this instead: keep to small bran muffins or, better still, enjoy a bowl of bran cereal with low-fat milk and fresh fruit.
4. Flavoured vitamin and mineral waters
Plain old H2O has become another hot commodity these days, and added vitamins, minerals or caffeine make it seem as if you’re getting something extra for your money.
But why pay extra for stuff that you don’t need? Some of the enhanced waters on the market are also laced with sugar, so read labels carefully. Similarly, so-called ‘natural’ flavourings in mineral waters with fewer ingredients contain flavouring and up to 30g (1oz) of sugar per half litre—that’s a whole six teaspoons of sugar.
Try this instead: tap water that’s been chilled in the fridge with a large slice of lemon in it.
The increasingly popular crunchy, toasted-oat breakfast food. It’s not all bad news, says Bond. Granola is often fibre-rich and low on the glycaemic index, so it keeps you feeling full for longer. It may also contain omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, B vitamins, iron and folate from the rolled oats, fruits, nuts and seeds.
On the down side, many granolas are high in sugar, with more than 12.5g per 100g; high in saturated fat (5g per 100g); and high in fat (20g per 100g).
Try this instead: by sprinkling nuts, seeds or fruit over your porridge or muesli, you can get the same taste and nutrition as granola and you’ll slash your sugar and fat intake, says Bond. Or make your own granola, by mixing together dried fruit, nuts, a little honey and rapeseed oil and pouring this over rolled oats, then baking it in the oven.
6. Frozen yogurt
Perhaps you avoid the ice cream in the supermarket frozen foods section, going for frozen yogurt as a leaner, healthier option. But is it? Some versions are packed with sugar, so your best bet is to scrutinise the labels before you buy.
Try this instead: low-fat versions of Greek yogurt, with live active cultures, are a good choice here.
If you think you’re making a healthier carbohydrate choice than white pasta when you eat couscous, think again. Couscous, like pasta, is made from semolina flour and the processed white version contains little fibre or nutrients.
Try this instead: wholemeal couscous, or, better still, try whole grains such as quinoa or wild rice.
8. Wrap sandwiches
Substituting a thin-looking wrap without butter for a traditional bread sandwich might seem like a skinnier option, but it’s not. The tortilla wrap alone can sneak in as many as 300kcal to 400kcal, and that’s not counting the filling.
Try this instead: a sandwich of wholemeal bread, the grainier the better, spread with a little low-fat mayonnaise then filled with egg, roast turkey or chicken, plus a pile of tomatoes, roasted peppers and dark green lettuce.