Choosing healthy foods for your family isn’t always as easy as it seems. Some foods are marketed as healthy choices, but if you look carefully at their labels, they don’t live up to the hype.
Others could be good options, but food manufacturers add extra sugar and fat to make them more flavorful, so they end up on the unhealthy list.
To help you make the best food choices for your family, Lindsay Bailey, a registered dietitian at Akron Children’s Hospital, offers this list of 9 not-so-healthy foods to limit:
- Most granolas are high in sugar and fat. Since a typical serving size is only ¼ cup, there’s a lot of sugar and fat packed in a small amount. Instead of granola, try a whole-grain cereal with no added sugar as a topping for yogurt.
- Cereal and granola bars. Just like granola, many granola and cereal bars are high in sugar and fat. They may also lack protein and fiber. Read labels carefully and look for versions that have at least 3 grams of fiber, 7 grams of protein and no more than 10 grams of sugar.
Many smoothies prepared at fast food restaurants contain ice cream, sherbet or sweetened juices. Portions are usually large. The same goes for prepared smoothies and juice blends found at the grocery store. There are usually 2 servings per bottle and they are high in sugar and low in fiber.Make your own smoothies at home with fresh or frozen fruit and low-fat milk or plain yogurt. Drink water infused with fruit or a nutrient-dense beverage such as low-fat milk instead of prepared juice blends.
- Not all yogurts are created equally. Those that are loaded with added sugar or have cookie or candy toppings can have as many as 200 calories per serving, which is equal to a serving of ice cream. The best choice is plain yogurt, sweetened with fruit, cinnamon or a drizzle of honey. Add a whole-grain cereal to make your own homemade parfaits.
- Dried fruit. Although dried fruits are smaller, the natural sugars are still intact and usually more sugar is added. Because each piece is just a bite or 2, it’s easy to exceed the typical portion size. Rather than reaching for the dried versions of your favorite fruits, stick to fresh or frozen.
- Fresh salads made with healthful greens and a variety of veggies are a great choice. It’s the toppings that are often the culprits, including fried or processed meats and dressings that are high in fat. Top your salads with lean proteins such as tuna, grilled chicken or beans and healthy fats such as nuts or avocado. Serve with the dressing on the side, dipping your fork in the dressing, so you get a little with each bite.
- Fat-free or reduced-fat foods. While these foods may seem like good options, the fat is typically replaced with more sugar. The number of calories may still be the same, but the amount of carbohydrates is probably higher. Some foods, such as reduced-fat peanut butter, contain comparable calories as the original version with only a small reduction in fat and added sugar to replace the fat.
- Veggie chips. Contrary to popular belief, veggie chips do not supply a serving of vegetables. They are mostly dehydrated potato and oil. You’re better off having fresh veggies or whole-grain crackers with hummus.When you’re craving a little extra crunch, make kale chips by tossing fresh kale with olive oil and seasoning, spread out on a cookie sheet and bake. Or try making oven-roasted chickpeas.
- Gluten-free products. These products are essential if you have celiac disease or gluten intolerance. However, they may not be a good alternative if you don’t need to avoid gluten. Gluten-free products are made with refined flours such as rice, corn and potato, which may not be fortified with iron and B vitamins like wheat flour. Some manufacturers also use extra fats to add flavor.
“To make the best food choices for your family, compare food labels to check for added sugar and fat. For example, choose natural varieties of peanut butter containing just peanuts or peanuts and salt,” Lindsay said. “Too much of a good thing can also be bad, such as overeating nuts that contain heart healthy monounsaturated fats, but can add up to excess calories.”