Feeling healthy with your bottled smoothie and protein bar in hand? Think again. Many packaged foods marketed as healthy are simply junk foods in disguise. Read on to find out how your favorite “healthy” snacks may be wrecking your diet.
According to a study by Euromonitor International, each year the push towards healthy lifestyle choices increases the consumption of health foods by approximately seven percent — and the snack industry has caught on. Shelves are no longer stocked only with chips, cookies, and candies, but also with so-called healthier options targeted towards an increasingly health-conscious public. However, many of the packaged foods marketed as healthy alternatives are no better than their junk food counterparts.
Despite trying my best to snack responsibly, I’m guilty of falling for some of the marketing claims, and you might be too. The following ten “healthy” snacks could actually be having a negative impact on your diet and health.
Many of us like to drink smoothies as a healthy alternative to soda, but what we often don’t notice is the huge amount of added sugars, preservatives, and protein isolates. Just glancing at the nutritional information from my favorite bottled smoothie, apart from a small amount of calcium and iron, the drink is mostly just sugar.
If you want a smoothie, try making one at home so you can control exactly what goes into the blender. For example, try blending some fresh and frozen fruit, a handful of spinach, and some unsweetened almond milk for a delicious produce-packed snack.
2. Fat-Free Yogurt
When comparing the labels of fat-free and regular yogurt, you might notice that fat-free has a fewer calories. But did you notice that it often contains over twice as much sugar? Many companies that produce fat-free yogurt replace the missing fat with additives like sugar and artificial flavoring to make up for the taste difference.
Try plain Greek yogurt, with your own choice of fresh fruit mixed in, for a healthier alternative to fat-free flavored yogurt.
3. Pre-made Salads
A serving of lettuce contains only about ten calories, so when the urge to snack comes along, it may seem like a good choice to reach for a pre-made side salad. However, when you consider toppings such as cheese, croutons, and calorie-dense dressings, a small salad can have a negative impact on any healthy diet. For example, the bottle of ranch dressing in my own fridge states that two tablespoons contain 140 calories, 130 of which come from fat.
If salad is a snack that you can’t get enough of, consider making it at home, and leave off the unhealthier toppings. Additionally, try making your own salad dressing, or simply dressing your greens with balsamic or flavored vinegar.
4. Dried Fruit
If dried fruit is simply dehydrated and packaged it can be a great source of fiber and antioxidants. However, many companies add sugar to the fruit—or “candy” it—to give it additional flavor and texture. Also, because the portion size of a dehydrated mango is much smaller than that of a fresh mango, and you don’t need to cut and slice it, it can be easy to go crazy while snacking on dried fruit.
Not to sound like your mom but… a simple always-healthy alternative is to eat fresh fruit. Love raisins? Seedless grapes are made for snacking, and you can even find fancy new varieties that are super sweet. Try Cotton Candy grapes if you get a chance, and see if they don’t transport you to thinking you’re eating carnival food from a mega-healthy planet.
Although nuts can be an excellent source of healthy fats and protein, their nutritional value is altered based on how they are cooked. Many nuts that look plain are actually roasted in oils, then seasoned with salt or sugar. Not only that, but like dried fruit, nuts can be addictive, and because they are so calorie-dense,it’s easy to eat way too many.
If eating nuts is your snacking habit, be sure to read labels, watch portion sizes and look for raw or dry-roasted, unsalted nuts. In fact, the only ingredient should be…well…nuts!
6. Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
The creamy draw of peanut butter can be hard to resist, whether it’s on a cracker or a piece of celery, but it’s also very calorically dense, thanks to its high fat content. Some people may think reduced-fat peanut butter is a healthier way to enjoy their favorite snack, but like low-fat yogurt, it is packed with extra sugars and protein isolates, and often contains the same amount of calories as regular peanut butter.
Instead of going the low-fat route, consider finding a natural, full-fat peanut butter. The fat can actually help you stay full for longer, and you’ll cut out the additives too.
7. Protein Bars
Protein bars are often considered a healthy snack, but a single bar often has as many calories as a full meal. Not only that, but unless your protein bars are homemade, they can be extremely processed. Packed with protein isolates, added sugars, and preservatives most are little more than glorified candy bars with extra synthetic protein.
If you’re worried about your protein intake, snack on some roasted chickpeas, a hard-boiled egg, or even roasted broccoli, which is made up of over 30% protein.
8. Rice Cakes
Although they may satiate the urge to snack, rice cakes have little to no nutritional value. In fact, since they are refined carbohydrates, rice cakes are basically nothing more than disks of artificially-flavored sugar.
When the munchies have you craving something crunchy, consider substituting celery or baby carrots in place of rice cakes. Pair them with some hummus for extra flavor and nutrition.
9. Whole Wheat Snacks
When it comes to crackers, muffins, bagels, and biscuits, many of us falsely assume that when a food contains “wheat,” it’s a healthy alternative to white bread products. Unfortunately, “wheat” does not mean “whole wheat,” so products that claim they are “multigrain” or “contain whole grain” are likely made up of mostly refined grains. Whole wheat products can be healthy, but it’s essential to look at the ingredients list — make sure that 100% whole wheat is the first ingredient.
If you’re looking for a carbohydrate and fiber-packed snack, snack on a few truly whole wheat crackers or cook up some rice and beans.
10. Packaged Organic, Vegan, and Gluten-Free Snacks
Just because a snack is organic, vegan, or gluten-free does not mean it is healthy.
It is important to remember that added sugars are organic, vegan, and gluten-free, as are refined grains, protein isolates, and even certain preservatives. Additionally the use of words like “all-natural” are not regulated, so regardless of how the snack is labeled, it’s always a good idea to flip it over and read the ingredients list and scan the nutrition label.
If you eat three meals a day and tend to only snack on unhealthy items, you might consider cutting out snacks all together. However, if snacking helps you control your hunger, try to steer away from packaged products and aim for whole, fresh foods instead.
Need more help controlling the munchies?
Check out our original infographic: 16 Reasons You’re Always Hungry