January healthy eating habits are in full swing. Even grocery stores know that everyone is trying to eat healthier this time of year. Displays of protein powder, Special K products and high-fiber cereals are featured in the main walkways and aisle end-stands. While some of these products may look good on display, consider the entire picture before throwing these items into your shopping cart.
PB2 or Reduced Fat Peanut Butter. The alluring aspect of PB2 is that it supposedly provides the same flavor as peanut butter but without all the fat and calories. Anytime a food item has the word “reduced-fat” on it, most people generally assume that it is a healthier product. However, the fat found in nuts and seeds is the type of fat that we need in our diet. Studies support that mono- and poly-unsaturated fats, like those found in nuts, can help reduce the risk of heart disease and assist with weight management.
Fat-Free Salad Dressing. Oils found in salad dressings such as canola oil, soybean oil and olive oil are additional sources of healthy fats in the diet. In order to absorb the nutritious vitamins found in our salad vegetables (for example, Vitamin A in carrots or Vitamin K in spinach), one needs a source of fat to help the body properly absorb these essential nutrients. Fat-free salad dressings take out these healthy fats are replaced with “fillers” usually in the form of added sugars, sodium and other preservatives.
Whole Wheat Crackers. Crackers are many people’s favorite snack item and the words “made with whole grains” makes them that much more appealing to the health-conscious grocer shopper. Unfortunately, the phrase, “made with whole grains” does not make it a healthy whole grain food item. For example, Ritz Crackers Whole Wheat variety has unbleached enriched flour listed as its first ingredient. This is a fancy way of saying white flour is the main ingredient in the product. If 100% whole wheat or 100% whole grain is not listed as the first ingredient, then it is not a whole grain food item.
Frozen Yogurt. Yogurt is often synonymous with health food. While frozen yogurt may have a little less fat and a little more calcium when compared to regular ice cream, calorie for calorie, there is no large, winning margin with choosing frozen yogurt. Your serving size should still be ½ cup, but many individuals take much more than this with the assumption that frozen yogurt is healthier and has less calories than ice cream.
Multi-Grain Bread. Watch out for catchy health phrases like “multi-grain” or “9-grain” if buying bread products. Unless the first ingredient is 100% whole grain, you simply have a product that was just made with “a variety of different grains” but doesn’t count as a whole grain food.
Premade Smoothies. Juicing really made a rebound in our American diets the past few years. While I am an advocate for blending fresh ingredients like carrots, beets, spinach, pineapple and ground flaxseed to make an antioxidant-rich beverage, commercially made juices and smoothies often have a hidden ingredients such as high fructose corn syrup, added sugars and other chemicals. Keep in mind that “juicing” will not automatically make someone lose weight, but if it is home-made and minimally processed, it can provide an extra opportunity to increase one’s intake of fruits and vegetables.
Frozen “Diet” Entrees. From time to time, it is fine to have a frozen entrée for a meal. The downfall of these items is that they are often high in sodium (look for varieties that are < 600 mg/meal) and heavily based on starches (most are pasta or rice-based entrees). If you’re being health-conscious and selecting brands like Lean Cuisine and Healthy Choice, these meals are replacing opportunities to consume fresh fruits and vegetables and minimally processed proteins.
Gluten Free Breads/Desserts. There is no need to buy gluten-free breads or cookies unless you have Celiac disease or a gluten-intolerance. Going “gluten-free” is a popular diet trend for weight loss, but keep in mind that these products are no healthier than their regular counter-parts and often contain more calories due to the nature of the gluten-free ingredients and grains needed in their recipes. Instead, incorporate more foods that are naturally gluten-free such as fruits, vegetables and fresh meats.