We all know that in addition to physical activity, a critical component of leading a healthy lifestyle boils down to the food choices we make. But with all the food options out there, and a great deal of conflicting nutrition information circulating around, how do you know what you should consume and what you should avoid?
We decided to take the guess work out of healthy eating! We asked registered dietitians (RD) and nutrition experts to help us identify those foods that appear to be good for us, but aren’t as healthy as we may think. Don’t despair — the RDs and nutrition experts provide alternatives that can help you stay on track.
Often times, seeing "low-fat" on food labels falsely leads us to believe the item must be a healthier alternative. But when it comes to low-fat peanut butter, RDs agreed – stay away from it.
ACE-certified personal trainer Ruth Frechman, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of “The Food is My Friend Diet,” stated that while peanut butter supplies healthy fat to your diet, “choosing low-fat peanut butter reduces the amount of healthy fat [you receive].”
Emily Miller, MPH, RD, Associate Program Officer at The Institute of Medicine, went on to explain that when fat is removed, the food manufacturer has to add something else to compensate for the texture and flavor the fat provided. What does that mean for you? “In the case of reduced-fat peanut butter, about one-fourth of the healthy (unsaturated) fats are removed, and sugar – and sometimes salt – is added; meanwhile the calorie content remains nearly the same, but the nutrient profile is less healthy,” she said.
While research has found that consuming more whole grains can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer while also serving as a great source of vitamin E, iron and fiber, most people incorrectly assume that multigrain and seven-grain breads must do the same. Unfortunately, many of these products are often not 100% whole grain, and in some cases, they contain no whole grain whatsoever, Miller pointed out.
So what are these breads made from? The Nutrition Twins® Lyssie Lakatos, RD, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, authors of “The Secret to Skinny,” told us that more often than not, seven-grain and multigrain breads are made from refined, white flour with a sprinkling of other grains. “Because these breads are just as processed and refined as white bread, they are usually devoid of fiber and spike blood sugar quickly, only to create the same crash that a sugar high does when it wears off,” said The Nutrition Twins. Miller mentioned that this crash can then leave you feeling hungry shortly after eating these foods.
To salt or not to salt? That is the question. Sea salt is often an ingredient that generates a great deal of confusion, as many of us are led to believe that because sea salt is more natural than regular table salt, it must be healthier.
However, Gina Crome, MPH, RD who is also an ACE-certified personal trainer, clarified that “sea salt and regular table salt are fairly identical nutritionally,” so essentially they have the same amount of sodium. “Because sea salt crystals are bigger than table salt crystals however, the same volume of sea salt doesn’t take up as much room as the table salt would, and thus, has a little less sodium,” said Miller. But as Crome has seen firsthand, the false belief that sea salt is “healthier” than table salt often leads people to use it more liberally, and thereby consume more total sodium.
When it comes to fruit juice, 100 percent fruit juice may not be as healthy as you think. Michelle Murphy Zive, MS, RD, said “even with ‘only’ fruit juice, there is usually added sugar in the form of fructose (fruit sugar). “For instance, apple and grape juices – which can be the ‘only’ juice or added to 100% fruit punch – have higher amounts of fructose than other fruit,” she said.
Ever taken the time to read the ingredient list on a protein bar or protein shake? If so, you may have noticed a laundry list of words that look like they are more suitable in a chemistry textbook instead of a food label. The bars are usually 200 calories each with around 10-15 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber and 20+ grams of sugar. Julie Burks, MS, RD, CSSD, Semper Fit Dietitian and ACE Lifestyle and Weight Management Coach, stated that while the average protein bar or shake doesn’t sound so bad at first glance, these products are processed and contain stabilizers, preservatives, and other ingredients that may not support health. (She cautioned that the second and third ingredients are usually some form of sugar).