You go to spin class regularly, you drink the recommended ounces of water daily and aside from the occasional slice of office birthday cake, you consider yourself a pretty virtuous snacker. Or are you?
Turns out, lots of so-called health foods are hiding way more bad-for-you stuff than you might realize. Here, seven “healthy” foods that aren’t as nutritious as they claim to be, along with substitutes that actually deliver the goods without the bad.
Store-bought green juice
Good for you–you bought a bottle of green juice. Unfortunately, most packaged versions try to mask the earthy taste with tons of sugar. (Yes, that includes sugar from fruit.)
Try instead: When you can, either make your own or have it made fresh. Either way, control what goes into it. Stick to a blend that’s pretty much all greens, adding a lemon squeeze if you crave something a touch sweeter.
More on the fruit subject. In many cases, that handful of banana chips or dried apricots might as well be candy, based on how much sugar is added.
Try instead: Fresh fruit. It still has natural sugar, of course, but in moderation, fresh is always the way to go.
We get it: Granola is so good. But what makes it good are the copious amounts of oil and butter that are often used to make those oh-so-delightful bunches stick together. On top of that, there’s very little fiber or other discernable nutritional value in the store-bought kind.
Try instead: Healthify your morning parfait by topping Greek yogurt with raw nuts and seeds and a handful of fresh berries. You’ll get the sweetness of the berries plus the crunch of nuts and seeds, minus the processed, bad-for-you stuff.
Let’s dispel a popular myth: Fat does not necessarily make you fat. A moderate amount of fat is actually essential to a healthy diet. Fat-free or reduced-fat snacks are dangerous for two reasons: First, you’ll probably end up eating more since you think it’s healthy. Second, these snacks are often full of sugar to make up for lost flavor and texture. Case in point: Low-fat potato chips. The calorie difference is minor, and the reduced-fat version often has more sodium.
Try instead: Whole foods, even those with fat, in moderation. Think of it this way: one tablespoon of full-fat peanut butter is infinitely better for you than five tablespoons of the fat-free kind.
Just when you think you’re being virtuous by ordering a salad for lunch, it shows up covered in indulgent add-ons and topped with highly processed dressing. Not so worth it anymore.
Try instead: Go bare bones. Ask for toppings on the side, and then add in sparingly. Instead of bottled dressing, ask instead for extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar. (Remember what we said about healthy fat?)
Ahh, rice cakes. Frenemies to dieters everywhere. While these disks of cardboard aren’t actively bad for you, they’re completely devoid of nutritional benefits–and basically the most boring food in the entire world.
Try instead: Whole-grain crackers. You’ll get the same crunch, but with tons of healthy protein and fiber.
Vegan or gluten-free junk food
Just because it’s compatible with a healthy-sounding diet doesn’t mean it isn’t super-processed and loaded with bad-for-you, albeit cruelty- and wheat-free, ingredients. Vegan cupcakes are still cupcakes, you guys. Vegan does not necessarily equal waistline-friendly.
Try instead: Back to moderation. As long as you aren’t snacking on brownies regularly, it’s really fine to treat yourself to the occasional indulgence. Sometimes it’s better to just eat the darn cookie.