“Healthy” foods that aren’t so healthy

healthy foods that aren't healthyThere are countless products that are promoted as “healthy” but could really be holding you back from your health goals. I want to share a few examples with you and offer suggestions to swap for better options.

Yogurt
Activia has a great marketing strategy: their advertisements and packaging talk about probiotics, how good they are for you, and that Activia is full of them. Their clever advertising has led consumers to think that only certain brands of yogurt contain probiotics when in reality all yogurt has probiotics in it. The cultures are what make yogurt yogurt!

With that knowledge, the down side to flavored yogurt (not just Activia) is that they are full of added sugar. To be clear: the naturally occurring sugar in milk is called lactose. I’m taking about there non-naturally occurring sugar that is ADDED to the yogurt. When you look at the ingredient list which is listed in order of most to least weight you’ll find that sugar is often the SECOND ingredient behind milk, not fruit. The amount of sugar in yogurt in many flavors yogurt brands is pretty close to the amount you’d consume in a can of pop as we call soda in the Midwest. You don’t do yourself any favors by buying light/lite yogurt since artificial sweeteners ironically promote fat storage, not fat loss.

Alternative: Have you tried plain Greek yogurt? It’s the better option but has a bit of a sour taste to it. Some might suggest adding fresh fruit to it but to me it still tastes like a scoop of sour cream with a strawberry on top. Add frozen fruit instead. Throw some cinnamon & nuts in there for good measure. As the fruit thaws there juices ooze out so when you stir your yogurt at lunch time you’ve got strawberry flavored yogurt with strawberries in it.

Nut butter
Check the ingredient list because the term “natural” has no definition tied to it. Processed nut butters have added sugar and added cheaply made oils.

Alternative: Look for two ingredients –> nuts and salt. A little trick you can try: after you get your arm workout stirring your nut butter after opening the first time, store it upside down in your pantry. No need to refrigerate. This way you won’t have to stir it every time you open after that initial stir.

Dressing
Costco has this beautiful, delicious salad mix that comes with a blend of kale, shaved Brussels sprouts, pumpkin seeds, dried cranberries, and a poppyseed dressing. What starts out as a nutrition powerhouse is brought down by dressing loaded with, again, cheap oil and sugar. You’ll find the same in store-bought dressing, even the kind that say “made with olive oil.” If you look at the ingredient list, olive oil is often AFTER the cheap oil like canola. A company can say a product is made with olive oil to sound healthier but there could be a teaspoon of it in the entire bottle and technically they could still say it’s made with olive oil.

Alternative: make your own. Don’t be intimidated; a mixture of balsamic vinaigrette and olive oil takes seconds to pour. Use a 1:3 ratio of vinegar to oil and store in a used dressing bottle or buy one of those dressing shakers with a pour spout.

Protein cereal/granola bars/drinks
Companies found a way to sell products by adding protein to it making it “healthier.” Three products that comes to mind are Kashi Go Lean Protein cereal, Nature Valley protein granola bars, and Bolthouse Farms Protein Plus drinks. More often than not, products that promote a high protein content are soy-based.

bolthouse protein plus ingredients

If you look at the ingredients of Bolthouse Protein Plus drinks you will likely find the starting line up of ingredients: low-fat milk, sugar, another kind of sugar, and a blend of whey & soy protein. They put a big sticker on the front bragging about the 30g of protein in a 15oz bottle but they forgot the bigger sticker that should say “AND 60 grams of sugar.” That’s almost a 1/3 cup of sugar.

If you are familiar with the balanced eating concept I refer to often you know that both cereal and milk both count as carbs in my book. With Kashi cereal, you get 6-9 grams per serving (3/4 cup) but that’s not enough protein for a meal (our protein needs vary but this is still too low for most adults) and you get 38g of carbs which is typically more than I’d recommend at a meal. Plus, who really only pours a 3/4 cup serving of cereal? Overall; you go under on protein and over on carbs for a meal. Instead of pouring milk over this and eating it as a cereal you could sprinkle 1/2 cup over plain Greek yogurt and add a handful of nuts for a more well-balanced PFC meal. That’s an option but I’m still a big advocate for getting your carbs from naturally nutrient-dense veggies which I assume you wouldn’t top on your bowl of yogurt… another reason why I’m such a fan of eggs for breakfast 😉

Alternative: Eggs, cottage cheese, plain Greek yogurt made as suggested above. These are all great, budget-friendly protein options to add to breakfast. If you claim you don’t have time to make eggs for breakfast, make egg muffins to keep in the freezer so you can pop one it two in the microwave before you run out the door. Simply crack an egg, cheese, and add chopped veggies to a muffin tin (or these silicone liners for super easy clean up) and bake at 350 for 20-25 minutes. Think of cereal as a side dish if you choose to have it and prioritize colorful veggies for your carb choice most of the time.

Don’t feel like you need to do a complete overhaul and start making everything from scratch. You’ll get overwhelmed and feel defeated you can’t keep up. Instead, pick one change you want to make this week. When that becomes a habit and you don’t even think about doing it anymore, add another swap. No need for overkill and refuse dressing at a party because it’s the processed store-bought kind. It’s the majority of what you do, not the minority, that will lead to a LIFESTYLE of healthy choices.

What other swaps have you made?

If you would like help making swaps and upgrading your pantry while respecting your grocery budget I’m just a message away. Contact me budgetforhealth@gmail.com with the subject line “healthy food swaps” and we can chat.

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Author: budgetforhealth

Jessica is a Registered Dietitian and shares practical, useful tips on food, fitness and finance. Be sure to subscribe to her blog, Budget for Health!

4 thoughts on ““Healthy” foods that aren’t so healthy”

  1. Great list and tips! I always thought that granola and the health bars were designed to be healthy. It wasn’t until a friend pointed out that they weren’t that I started to look a lot closer. They’re like you said, not good for you. In my book, salad dressing are like the ultimate food trap. They fake you into believing their healthy.

  2. Goods tips. I am always amazing at now much sugar is added to everything even things like salad dressings. I think once people try some simple recipes(like making their own seasonings and dressings) they realize it isn’t that hard to start cutting out all the processed junk.

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