Some foods are just masquerading as healthy. We’ve uncovered the most common culprits—and their better-for-you alternatives.
They might look wholesome, but a lot of bran muffins aren’t much more nutritional than cupcakes. Yes, you’ll get a decent dose of fiber thanks to the bran, but larger versions can have more than 400 calories and contain around 13 grams of fat. Also, many store-bought bran muffins actually contain more white flour than fiber-rich bran, while packing unwanted sugar and sodium as well.
A smarter choice: Pick a whole wheat English muffin and top it with peanut butter for a fiber-and-protein-packed start to your day.
A granola bar may seem like a better snack than a cookie or candy bar when you’re standing in front of the vending machine, but it’s really not—especially when it comes to fat and sugar content. If you check the label, you’ll probably find a variety of added sugars (cane sugar, brown sugar, honey, high-fructose corn syrup).
A smarter choice: Munch a handful of walnuts or almonds; their mix of fiber, protein, and healthy fats will provide a steady source of energy that won’t set you up for a sugar crash.
While they’re not a greasy, high-calorie snack like potato chips, pretzels made with white flour are basically devoid of any nutritional value. The worst part? They’re often heavily salted, with one serving containing more than 10 percent of your daily sodium needs.
A smarter choice: Get your crunch on with some air-popped popcorn. Because it’s a whole grain, the fiber will help keep you feeling fuller longer.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Believe it or not, cutting back on fat isn’t always a good thing. Take peanut butter, for example. It’s naturally rich in heart-healthy unsaturated fats—the “good” kind. Reduced-fat peanut butter, on the other hand, replaces some of that fat with unhealthy added sugars.
A smarter choice: Look for a natural-style peanut butter containing just peanuts and salt, and enjoy it in moderation (about a teaspoon or two) since nuts do pack a calorie punch.
It sounds like a nutritious treat, right? Raisins are healthy. So is yogurt. But don’t let the name fool you—the “yogurt” that’s in this packaged snack is actually a coating made from sugar, oil, and yogurt powder.
A smarter choice: Stick with a serving of actual yogurt, and go ahead and sprinkle some sweet, chewy raisins on top. A cup of plain fat-free yogurt will provide 14 grams of protein and 40 to 49 percent of your daily requirement of calcium.
Although many juices have added sweeteners, even 100 percent juice is a tricky drink. Unlike fresh fruit, juice is high in sugar without the benefits of fiber and other nutrients. Case in point: An orange has more than four times as much fiber and 38 percent less sugar than a 12-ounce serving of orange juice.
A smarter choice: Enjoy fruit in its whole state. And if you crave a fruity drink, jazz up plain or sparkling water with a splash of 100 percent juice.
Sports and Energy Drinks
Think these are better than soft drinks for a quick pick-me-up? Energy drinks often contain as much sugar as sodas do. And electrolyte-enhanced sports beverages, which also contain sugar, are actually designed for athletes undertaking intense workouts lasting an hour or more. If that’s not you, these high-sugar drinks are just a source of empty extra calories.
A smarter choice: Perk up with some unsweetened iced tea. A bonus: Tea contains a substance called L-theanine, which modulates the effects of caffeine and promotes a sense of calm alertness.