Think veggie chips are more virtuous than potato chips? And that turkey burgers have less fat than those made from ground beef? Think again. Many foods that seem healthy are actually fat traps in disguise.
You may think that with only 1 gram of fat per serving, pretzels are a virtuous snack choice. However, pretzels are essentially refined carbohydrates that offer barely any nutritional benefits and an overdose of salt. Just 10 pretzels can contribute to more than half of the 1.5 grams of sodium a person needs each day.
Instead, snack on popcorn. It's whole grain, high in fiber and only about 100 calories per cup.
2. Splenda (and other artificial sweeteners)
Sugar substitutes may seem like a good choice for people looking to watch their weight because they cut down on calories in sweetened beverages and foods. However, researchers have found that artificial sweeteners may actually make people more prone to overindulge and crave sweet foods because they trick the body into thinking they are getting calories. When the calories do not follow the sweetness, you look for them elsewhere.
Research suggests that artificial sweeteners not only leads to weight gain, but also can cause damage to beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Skip the fake stuff and use real honey, which is only 60 calories per tablespoon but promotes better blood sugar control.
3. High-fiber cereals with sugar
Everyone wants to get a little more fiber in their diets, so why not add a bowl of your favorite high-fiber cereal to your breakfast? Careful, some of these high-fiber health claims come with the surprise of high-sugar content!
Check the ingredients. Added sugar comes in many forms, including corn syrup, white or brown sugar, honey and evaporated cane syrup, as well as natural sugars from dried fruit. A cup of Raisin Bran has 6.5 grams of fiber, along with 17.6 grams of sugar, while two pieces of Shredded Wheat (sans frosting) can give you the same 6 grams of fiber, without the sugar.
Bottom line: A high fiber diet has been shown to protect again heart disease and the risk of type 2 diabetes, however a big sugar load in the morning can increase your blood sugar.
A better choice: Kashi Go Lean, which as 140 calories, 6 grams of sugar and 10 grams of fiber.
4. Diet soda
Diet soda may save you liquid calories in the short term, but in the long term, may contribute to overeating. A University of Texas, San Antonio study, which was reported at the American Diabetes Association annual meeting, found that with each can of diet soda consumed, an individual's risk for being overweight increased by 41 percent. As with artificial sweeteners, diet sodas cause your body to crave more calories.
It gets worse: Diet soda is not only bad for your waistline, it can be damaging to your health. A recent study presented at the American Stroke Association followed 2,500 New Yorkers who drank diet soda every day, found that these individuals had a 61 percent higher risk of vascular events, including stroke and heart attack, than those who did not consume diet drinks.
So, skip the soda and sip seltzer with slices fruit for zero calories and lots of zip.
5. Frozen yogurt
Yogurt is a healthy snack that promotes intestinal and immune system health. However, many frozen yogurts do not contain the "live and active cultures," which are the beneficial healthy bacteria that boost gut health. Companies like Red Mango are beginning to realize they can and should preserve the beneficial healthy probiotics during the freezing process.
Most frozen yogurts contain nearly the same amount of fat and calories as ice cream. Even fat-free options will be close in terms of calories — you're just getting calories from sugar, instead of fat. In half a cup of Haagen Dazs low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt, there are 200 calories, 4.5 grams of fat and 21 grams of sugar. The same amount of Haagen Dazs vanilla ice cream contains 18 grams of fat, but the same amount of sugar and only 70 more calories than the frozen yogurt.
Scoop up real ice cream instead. It's not much worse and is so much more satisfying.
6. Veggie chips
Veggie chips must be healthy because they are made from veggies, right? Wrong. Often, veggie chips aren't much healthier than regular potato chips. Most varieties of veggie chips contain mostly corn flour or potato, with small amounts of veggie powder or puree mixed in. The essential vitamins such as A and C that are found in vegetables are lost in the processing of these chips, so they don't offer much in the way of nutrition.
Most of these chips are high in fat, calories and sodium. An ounce of veggie chips has 150 calories — the same as potato chips! Potato chips only have a gram or two more fat.
DIY veggie chips: You are better off making your own veggie "chips" at home — try chopping kale and tossing it with a small amount of olive oil and sea salt, pop it in the oven and bake until crispy.
7. Turkey burgers
Many people assume that because a burger is made with turkey rather than ground beef that it contains less calories and fat. But this is often not the case. Often, turkey burgers ordered in restaurants are made from dark meat and turkey skin — which is plentiful in saturated fat and calories. Sometimes turkey burgers can be made from entirely dark skin, which can give it a very high fat content.
Be sure to go lean. Make your own turkey burger using ground turkey that is at least 95% lean, or to buy a lean turkey burger variety such as Jenny-O Lean Turkey Burgers.
Keri Glassman, R.D., is a contributor to Women's Health magazine and founder of Nutritious Life.