When it comes to our diet, I feel like most of us are just trying our best to do a good job. We generally want to make good choices and eat healthy foods. We avoid candy bars and skip over the Doritos. We even avoid the drive-thru because we know the fries, though tempting, are just loaded with salt, sugar, and fat.
We have an idea in our heads of what healthy is and what healthy is not.
Unfortunately for us, there’s a lot of deception happening when we rely on our gut to tell us what snacks are healthy. Just because something sounds healthy, is marketed to athletes, or seems like a good choice, doesn’t mean it’s actually a good option.
In an effort to help us all make better snack choices, here are 10 snacks that seem healthy but are hiding nutritional nightmares.
10 Secretly Unhealthy Snacks to Avoid
1) Bran Muffins
Most of us recognize that a baked goodie isn’t the healthiest treat to pick, but the bran variety can’t be all bad, right? Wrong. A store-bought muffin of any variety, even reduced calorie or reduced fat, can be upwards of 500 calories and absolutely packed with sugars. It’s just as bad as eating a cupcake. Just because it might have some bran or fruit in it doesn’t mean it’s healthy.
The alternative? Bake your own at home with a recipe that you can manage yourself. That way, you can cut out unnecessary sugars and pack in more good stuff, like healthy nuts and seeds.
Granola is great. It’s filling, it adds a great crunch to your yogurts and cereals. But the problem comes in when so many store-bought varieties add a heap of oils and butter to make the granola stick, which adds a lot of unnecessary fat and calories to your diet. Not only that, but it’s easy to let serving sizes get out of hand with granola. Just half a cup of the stuff can be several hundred calories.
If you choose granola, make sure to get the natural stuff without a binding agent and keep a measuring cup on hand. Alternatively, use seeds and nuts or berries to get your variety and added texture.
3) Premade Smoothies
You’re going to see a pattern emerge in the items on this list: added sugar. Premade smoothies have a ton of added sugars. The same goes for prepackaged “healthy” juices. It’s critical that you check the label before you buy. Some of these drinks can have more sugar than a candy bar. It’s all to make up for the unpalatable “healthy” taste.
Instead of buying your smoothies and juices premade, make your own at home. You can avoid added sugars and reap the nutritional benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Vitaminwater is a favorite among athletes for replenishing nutrients after a workout. It also has 32g of sugar in a 20oz bottle. That’s just under Gatorade’s 34g of sugar in the same size, by the way. The sugar in these athletic drinks is astounding! To put it in perspective, a Snickers bar has 20g of sugar.
Only the most intensive workouts cause the loss of nutrients that demand replenishment through a product like Vitaminwater or Gatorade. The vast majority of athletes just need water. Otherwise, you’re just unnecessarily drinking calories and sugar.
I’m not down on nuts. Nuts can be a great snack for protein and healthy fats. The problem, however, is that they’re really tasty and most of us have a bad perception of serving sizes where something like nuts is concerned.
For example, a serving size of almonds has around 162 calories. That’s ¼ cup of almonds or about 23 nuts. That’s not very many, and I would wager that many of us tend to snack on nuts mindlessly. This leads to a high salt and fat intake, not to mention calories! When it comes to nuts like macadamias and cashews, it’s even higher due to fat content.
Nuts can be a great snack, but they demand strict portioning and self-control.
6) Veggie Chips
Veggie chips seem like the perfect alternative to potato chips. They’re vegetables, right? You’re trading potatoes for beets and green beans and carrots. They have to be better for you. Wrong! Sorry. Veggie chips are often just as bad, if not worse for you. They often have the same caloric count as conventional potato chips and they’re just as high fat.
7) Flavored Yogurts
Yogurt seems like a healthy snack, and it can be, especially when it’s packing probiotics. The problem comes when they have added flavors and fruit-on-the-bottom. These additions spike the sugar content dramatically, which can greatly outweigh the health benefits. If you want yogurt, spring for the plain Greek variety and add fresh fruit and seeds or nuts.
8) A plain sweetened Starbucks iced coffee
The coffees that we order almost always have more sugar than we ever imagined. A plain sweetened iced coffee from Starbucks for example—no cream, no bells or whistles—has 20g of sugar (just like our friend the Snickers bar). It doesn’t have to be a fancy drink to pack a sugary punch.
If you favor coffee or tea, make sure to drink it black. You’ll save yourself a lot of sugar and calories if you do.
9) Dried Fruits
Dried fruit has the same problem as many of the items on this list do: sugar. So, so much sugar. Dried fruit is basically candied fruit. It might be easy to take with you on the go, but it is not good for you. More and more, we are started to see dried fruits that don’t have these extra sugars, but you have to pay extra attention when buying.
Instead of picking up a handful of banana chips, pick up the fresh variety instead.
10) Fat-Free Versions of Anything
Fat-free is not healthier. We’ve villainized fat in our culture. Fat in our foods does not automatically translate to fat in the body. What happens is fat-free versions, in stripping fat from food, also strip out flavor. To compensate for this, they add sugar. So you have less fat, but more sugar. Which turns into fat in the body and fuels our sugar addiction.
Fat-free foods are not good for us. They’re loaded with unnecessary sugar. Instead, stick to whole foods, natural fats and all.
The biggest takeaway from this should be to always read your nutritional labels. It's so important to read and understand what you're putting in your body! Many of us make assumptions about food and that lands us in dietary hot water.
The more informed we are about our food, the better choices we can make.
What "healthy" food surprised you the most? Share it with me in the comments!