Video: Are ‘diet’ foods making your fat?
Explainer: 7 ‘health’ foods that really aren’t
Granola. Fruit smoothies. Bran muffins. These are just a few of the foods that sound healthy, low-cal and diet-friendly, but are often quite the opposite.
Sometimes food manufacturers are to blame — hiding hefty calorie counts in tiny type, while trumpeting bold-faced claims such as “enhanced with vitamins,” “all natural” or “organic.” Other times, it's our own misconceptions about nutrition that lead us to make unwise choices. Here's the scoop on seven overrated foods that have a healthy reputation they don’t necessarily deserve.
Bran, corn and blueberry muffins
They sound innocent enough, but coffee shop muffins are usually made with junky refined white flour (even bran muffins typically contain more white flour than fiber-rich bran), lots of oil or butter and, of course, plenty of sugar. Plus, portion sizes are huge, which means one muffin can deliver upward of 500 calories.
Don’t be tricked by the word “muffin.” It’s often a giant cupcake without the frosting. When you really look at what you're eating, you see that your muffin breakfast isn't any better than a glazed doughnut (and sadly has more calories). Next time you’re at the diner or coffee shop, do your body a favor and order a toasted English muffin topped with scrambled egg whites and sliced tomatoes.
More From Today: Interactive: Is coffee bad for you or saving your life?
More From Today: Interactive: Number of calories in popcorn depends on how you pop it
Most nutrient-enhanced waters are liquid candy, and no better than sodas, fruit drinks, sweet tea and other sugary beverages. They’re loaded with added sugar and empty calories, which can pack on the pounds over time.
The handful of B and C vitamins they provide definitely doesn’t negate the sugar. Besides, most of us get plenty of these vitamins from our diet, which means the extra dose provided in sweetened waters just goes toward making expensive urine. If you’re concerned your diet is lacking, you’re far better off taking a daily multivitamin and washing it down with plain old water.
They’re certainly convenient, but some popular brands are high in saturated fat and added sugar, and some contain partially hydrogenated oils and loads of artificial ingredients and preservatives. Plus, they often contain the calorie equivalent of a candy bar. If you’re not active enough to burn off their heavy calorie load, energy bars can actually sabotage your weight loss.
You can get the same mix of carbs and protein by snacking on an apple with peanut butter or a cup of grapes with a low-fat string cheese. If you do want a “smart” nutrition bar, keep calories under 200 and saturated fat at 2 grams max (2 or more grams of fiber is a bonus).
Granola typically starts with wholesome ingredients like whole-grain oats and dried fruit, but these ingredients get coated in a sugary syrup that jacks up the calories big-time.
A normal-size bowl of granola and milk could easily have more than 600 calories, which spells big trouble if you’re working hard to manage your weight. If you can’t give it up (and you’re trying to drop a few pounds), dilute the calories by mixing granola with a lower-calorie cereal — or sprinkle two tablespoons on some nonfat flavored yogurt.
Nearly every brand of pretzels is made from the same basic ingredients: white flour (wheat flour that’s been stripped of its nutrients and fiber), yeast, salt, and maybe some vegetable oil or corn syrup. It’s obvious from the subpar ingredient list that this popular snack is pretty much devoid of nutrition.
Pretzels are baked, not fried like potato chips, which saves you a few calories, but the white, refined carbs do a number on your blood sugar and do little to satisfy your appetite. If you can find a brand that’s whole wheat (not easy), buy them! Or, swap your pretzels for a handful of whole-grain crackers, soy crisps or some light popcorn.
Smoothies are another edible with a healthy image, but their stats often say otherwise. The calorie and sugar counts for some store-bought blends are disturbingly high.
That’s because many incorporate junky, fattening ingredients like fruit drinks and syrups, ice cream or sherbet, whole-milk yogurt and even chocolate syrup. Some large smoothies have close to 1,000 calories — that's more than an entire fast-food meal.
To make matters worse, commercial smoothies can flood your insides with more than 25 teaspoons of sugar! After that mammoth sugar rush subsides, you can bet you’ll be left feeling cranky, irritable and lethargic.
On the other hand, if you make smoothies at home, you can keep the calories and sugar in check by using skim milk, fresh or frozen fruit and nonfat yogurt. (My standard, universal recipe is ½ cup skim milk, 1/2 to 3/4 cup fresh or frozen fruit, and ½ cup nonfat yogurt with 3 to 5 cubes of ice tossed in. Change up the fruit combination and yogurt flavor to make your own custom blend.)
Energy drinks are propped up by all sorts of sexy marketing, but they’re not as magical as the ads would have you think. The “lift” they give you comes from caffeine (nothing fancy there).
Some actually have less caffeine than a standard cup of coffee — a can of Red Bull provides 80 mg caffeine, while a cup of coffee typically delivers 100 to 150 mg. The added B vitamins and amino acids are purely for glitz and glam — they don’t actually help you instantly perk up. And some varieties are high in sugar, which rushes into your bloodstream and can, ironically, lead to an energy crash in the long run. Not to mention they’re an expensive habit to keep up.
Bottom line: You’re better off drinking a cup of coffee or tea to get your caffeine fix, and if you need a little sweetness, use 1 to 2 packets of sugar or sweetener.
For tips on losing weight and healthy living, visit Joy Bauer’s website at Interactive: JoyBauer.com
© 2013 NBCNews.com Reprints