Pass the gingerbread and fudge, er, edamame and hummus. Wait. Put down your party plate. You’re trying to balance your holiday eating with some nutritious foods, but some of the choices you thought were good for you, in fact, are loaded with sugar, sodium, fat and a smorgasbord of other unhealthy ingredients. And let’s not forget those hefty calories.
While Santa is reviewing his naughty and nice lists, nutrition experts have compiled their own list of foods that masquerade as healthy. Many of these food favorites are labeled “low fat,” “high energy” or “fresh,” but these promotional promises often fall short of true nutritional value.
Here are five popular unhealthy health foods to watch out for well beyond the holiday season.
Unhealthy Health Foods
1. Trail mix
Created as an easy-travel energy booster for hikes, trail mix satisfies the taste buds with its blend of granola, nuts and dried fruit. But, some brands are loaded with chocolate chips and dried fruit drenched in sugar and artificial preservatives, not to mention deep-fried banana chips. You consume around 200 calories just in a couple of tablespoons of trail mix.
A better choice: Try making your own trail mix with a base of unsalted almonds, walnuts and/or pecans, and toss in pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds and unsweetened morsels of dried cherries, plums and/or figs. Because of the higher calorie content of trail mix, be sure to eat in moderation (or hike an extra mile or two).
2. Veggie chips
What a clever idea to get your veggies in your snack chips! Well, not exactly. The airy puffs are typically a combo of cornmeal, potato flour and rice flour that translates to an overload of starchy calories.
A better choice: For snacks that still crunch, enjoy real veggies such as cucumber wedges, bell pepper slices and carrot sticks. Or, splurge a bit on a reasonable portion of pretzels or real potato chips.
3. Cereal, granola and breakfast bars
Often touted as “high fiber” for quick energy, many of these processed bars contain little fiber and loads of saturated fats, sugars, and sodium as a preservative.
A better choice: Try this recipe for making your own homemade granola bars with just five ingredients and no baking.
4. Multigrain and seven-grain products
Just because a bread, bagel or muffin is labeled “multigrain” or “seven-grain” does not mean it is made from whole grains. Flour made from refined grains is short on fiber and can spike your blood sugar faster.
A better choice: Look for bread products made with whole-grain flour, not bleached flour or unbleached, enriched wheat flour.
5. Packaged turkey and chicken breast
Nutritionists advise eating lean protein sources, but many of the leaner packaged meats from the store are heavy on the sodium. Some also contain nitrates and other preservatives.
A better choice: Roast and slice your own meats or select only low-sodium packaged meats or low-sodium meats from the deli. Try to stay under 350 mg of sodium per two-ounce serving.
About the Author
An award-winning journalist who has documented stories in nearly 20 countries, Beth Lueders is an author, writer and speaker who frequently reports on diverse topics, including aging and health issues for both U.S. and international corporations.