“Eating healthy” means different things to different people. For some, it means avoiding the drive-through lane at fast food restaurants. For others, it means following a strict diet of mini-meals that are carefully weighed and measured. For the rest of us in between, a few general principles are good to keep in mind.
First, look at the nutritional label! Even if it looks healthy, a packaged food can’t hide its nutritional facts. Be sure to double check that you know what you’re getting before you dig in.
Second, whole fruits and vegetables are usually a safe choice. If you’re craving a snack – grab an apple or a pear. Not only will you be getting essential vitamins and minerals, but you’ll also be filling yourself up with fiber.
Finally, don’t be fooled by the wording on packages! A food that is “fat free” can still pack loads of carbs and calories. Even if a product has “no sugar added” it can still have a lot of natural sugar. All of these “diet” labels are very vague. Don’t just take their word for it – check the label!
1. Fruit Juice
Fruit is healthy. It’s low in calories and fat and provides essential vitamins and minerals that your body needs. The average orange has just 60 calories, no fat, and lots of Vitamin C. So, why should we limit drinking orange juice? During the juicing process, fruit loses its skin and pulp. The skin and pulp of fruit is often where the biggest health benefits of fruit come from. The fiber in an orange is eliminated when it is turned to juice. Fiber has many health benefits including helping us to feel fuller for longer. Plus, it typically takes multiple oranges to fill a glass of orange juice, meaning that you’re consuming much more sugars than you would by eating a single piece of fruit. Although 1 orange has 60 calories, just one cup of orange juice has about 110!
2. Granola and Granola Bars
Granola seems almost synonymous with “healthy.” To tell the truth, some of what is in the classic granola is healthy – like the whole grains in oats. However, the second ingredient in many granola cereals is sugar, honey, or a sugar syrup. Sugar is also the glue that holds together granola bars. What’s more, both granola cereals and granola bars are often packed with fatty and/or high-calorie ingredients like chocolate chips, nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. As a result, small servings are high in calories, fat, and carbohydrates. Just ½ cup of Kashi’s Mountain Medley granola has 220 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 38 grams of carbs! A serving of Nature Valley’s Pecan Crunch granola bars also boasts 7 grams of fat and 190 calories.
3. Caesar/Chef/Cobb Salad
Just because it’s a salad, doesn’t make it healthy! When we’re dining out and trying to make a healthy choice, salad can seem like a great option. And it can be! However, dressing and toppings can make or break a salad. Thick, creamy dressings are often loaded with saturated fat and calories. Toppings like cheese, croutons, candied nuts, bacon bits, and crispy chicken make matters worse as do the enormous portion sizes at many restaurants. For example, Quizno’s Chicken Caesar Salad boasts 850 calories and 63.5 grams of fat! If you’re going to order a salad, do yourself a favor and get the dressing on the side and ask for no/less cheese!
4. Scones and Muffins
Hungry in the morning? A fruit flavored muffin or scone might seem like the perfect, healthy accompaniment to your coffee or tea. However, though they seem healthy, most muffins are the nutritional equivalent of cake. Dense with carbohydrates and sugar, muffins and scones provide little nutritional benefit and lots of calories to your body. Choosing Starbuck’s Blueberry Scone with your coffee in the morning will add 460 calories, 22 grams of fat, and 61 grams of carbohydrates to your day before you even get to work. See Force Factor’s “Best and Worst Breakfasts” article to find a healthier swap for your morning!
5. Turkey and Veggie Burgers
Often, we recognize turkey as a great lean protein that’s low in fat. However, when turkey turns into a turkey burger, the result isn’t as advisable. Ruby Tuesday’s Avocado Turkey Burger has 886 calories and 54 grams of fat. Veggie burgers are often no better. The Veggie Burger at Houlihan’s boasts 825 calories and 37 grams of fat. If you’re craving one of these options, check the frozen food section of your grocery store. Nutritional stats vary widely so check the labels on all the available options. Making your own turkey burgers with lean ground turkey meat can also help you to keep this a healthy option!
A honey grain, blueberry, or multigrain bagel definitely sounds like a healthy choice; however, some bagels lack the nutrition benefits they seem to have and can be a source of lots of processed carbohydrates. Dunkin’ Donut’s multigrain bagel has 390 calories BEFORE you add any butter, jam, or cream cheese to it. If you’re trying to get more whole-grains in your diet, pay close attention to the name of the bagel. A “whole wheat” bagel will come from whole grains; however, “9- or multi-grain” bagels might not. When shopping in the grocery store, choose bread items that have whole grains (not wheat) listed as the first ingredient to make sure you’re getting the positive health benefits from whole grain.
7. Banana and Vegetable Chips
Just like juicing, turning bananas and vegetables into chip form turns a healthy food into an unhealthy snack choice! Most of the time, “chip” implies deep-frying in oil. During this process, fruits and vegetables absorb this oil and lose much of their nutritional benefit. Just a single ounce of banana chips will have 145 calories and 9 grams of fat! For a truly “healthy” snack, choose the fresh, non-fried banana instead.