Improving your diet sounds simple, but it requires balancing many considerations: your daily available time for meal prep, your access to fresh and healthy foods, and your personal favorite flavors and cravings.
During retreats at our weight loss resort, we spend a lot of time discussing quality nutrition and how it supports healthy weight loss. Figuring out what foods to trust can be difficult. As more and more consumers are starting to shift away from junk food, fast food, and convenience foods, marketers are rushing to make up for lost sales by promoting “healthy” solutions. But are these foods really delivering the well-balanced nutrients that keep your body operating at its peak?
Let’s take a look at five common “health” foods that actually aren’t so healthy at all.
Protein bars are a mixed bag. Some provide essential macronutrients and fiber, but many are essentially candy bars in “healthy” looking packaging. Many protein bars are packed with sugar, coated with chocolate, or contain other undesirable ingredients like artificial colors and flavors, high fructose corn syrup, preservatives or other additives.
What to eat instead: Get your daily dose of protein snacks by choosing fresh peanut butter on celery, dried pumpkin seeds, or low-sodium natural jerky.
Cutting down on fat by substituting margarine in place of butter seems like a good idea, but margarine is essentially a heavily processed food product made from vegetable oils. Stick margarine is high in trans-fat (aka artificial fats) which increases cholesterol and can elevate your risk of heart disease. Margarine also contains many questionable additives like emulsifiers and colorants.
What to eat instead: Take a pass on the margarine (and the butter) and dip your bread in olive oil, which contains beneficial mono- and polyunsaturated fats.
Skip the chips and head for the trail mix – great idea, right? Maybe not so much. Pre-packaged trail mix is another sneaky source of sugar, fat, and salt. Lots of commercial trail mixes are basically candy designed to trick you into believing that you’re eating healthy. Disguising chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and candy among seeds and nuts doesn’t magically turn them nutritious.
What to eat instead: Make your own trail mix, so you can carefully control what goes in it. Control sodium levels by using plain roasted seeds and nuts and adding your own salt. Toss in organic dried fruits (or dry your own) to create appetizing flavor combos free from processed sugar or preservatives.
Yogurt can be a health food, but only if you choose plain, full-fat versions. Non-fat alternatives are usually loaded with sugar. Meanwhile, flavorings (even fruit flavors) can contain artificial colors and preservatives. The main reason to consume yogurt are its beneficial live bacterial cultures – don’t jack up your sugar intake in the process.
What to eat instead: Choose plain yogurt made from whole milk.
Though FDA-approved, artificial sweeteners have had a tumultuous history and are still highly debated. What is for sure, though, is that frequent use of artificial sweeteners can dull your palette. This creates confusion in your brain about what is really sweet and what isn’t, causing you to find natural sugars (like those found in fruits) not sweet enough. In turn, you may crave more and more artificially-sweetened foods.
What to eat instead: Go on a 3-day sugar detox to recalibrate your palette. If you must sweeten foods, use natural sweeteners like honey, agave and maple syrup.
When it comes to truly eating healthy, finding reliable information takes time. Navigating the constant bombardment of information, ads and conflicting advice can get overwhelming. At our weight loss resorts, we break down which healthy, nutrient-dense foods are most beneficial for your body, and which seemingly healthy foods are smart to avoid. The bottom line is: unless it’s a fresh fruit or vegetable, you’ll need to conduct a little research to find out if that “health” food is really as healthy as you expect.
Download our free guide: Nutrition to Fuel a Healthy Lifestyle.