Foods You Think Are Good For You – But Aren’t: Part 2

Food choices can sometimes feel like a never-ending minefield, as you carefully try to avoid the many “fakers” out there – foods that one would think are healthy in the end will submarine your efforts to become leaner and healthier. Here is part two of the foods that do not deserve a health “halo. (If you missed part one – click here.)

1. Sushi.
So now you really don’t like me. I’m so sorry about this. Please understand that I am not at all suggesting that all sushi is unhealthy. However, some are. For instance, the rolls that contain cream cheese (like the California Roll and Philadephia Roll) have upwards of 450 calories or more. Choose a fried (tempura) roll and the calories can get way out of hand; a Shrimp Tempura Roll contains 508 calories and 21 grams of fat! A Rainbow Roll may be colorful, but it is also 476 calories. In addition, when you choose a “spicy” sushi, that sauce is typically made with mayonnaise, adding to your fat grams count. For that reason, a spicy tuna roll is almost twice as caloric as a regular tuna roll. Choose wisely, such as a tuna and brown rice roll with miso soup.

2. Microwave Popcorn.
Microwaving makes the joy of digging into a bowl of popcorn so easy. After all, popcorn is healthy, right? And it’s true that popcorn is typically not very caloric (only 106 calories in 1 oz.) and has a high amount of polyphenols, an antioxidant. You’re probably thinking, sure, it all depends on what you put on the popcorn; you can ruin any good food by adding butter, sugary caramel, etc. Nope. While that is assumed, it is not what makes microwave popcorn unhealthy.

The substance that lines the microwavable bag is a perfluorinated compound (PFC), which breaks down into perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) when heated. PFOA will make its way into your bloodstream when you eat microwave popcorn and is suspected to cause cancer. And that’s not all. Manufacturers typically add diacetyl to give microwave popcorn its buttery flavor. However, diacetyl – when ingested regularly – is linked to a devastating lung disease (bronchiolitis obliterans) commonly known as “popcorn lung.” Stick with good ole’ fashioned Jiffy Pop!

3. Trail Mix.
I know, I’m ruining everything. It’s not that the nuts themselves are unhealthy in trail mixes. The problem is that the nuts are often coated with flavorings that dramatically increase their sugar and sodium content. Read the labels for added sugar and sodium content. And, of course, look closely at those with obvious additions, such as M&M’s, marshmallows, honey roasted peanuts, and graham crackers. The spectrum is wide. Compare Trader Joe’s Rainbow’s End Trail Mix with 210 calories, 13 grams fat, 16 grams sugar, 8 grams added sugar, and 80 mg sodium per serving (standard ¼ cup) – which is about the same as eating 4 Oreo cookies – to Back To Nature Harvest Blend with 160 calories, 10 grams sugar, 0 grams added sugar and 0 mg sodium.

4. Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter.
Who doesn’t love peanut butter? And to bite into that creamy goodness without all the fat? Double bonus. As you might have guessed, there’s a catch. These spreads are not only highly processed, but they typically have the same number of calories as regular peanut butter; just take a good look at the label. How can that be since they have taken out some of the fat? It’s all in what they have replaced the fat with, and the usual suspects are fillers and sugar (often in flavorings). Making matters worse, reduced-fat peanut butter has fewer of the peanuts’ heart-healthy monounsaturated fats. Not a good swap for you. This is a product that shouldn’t exist.

5. Veggie Spreads and Dips.
It’s veggies, how bad can it be? Don’t let the green fool you; these spreads and dips will sabotage a lot of the hard work you are putting in. Artichoke, spinach, and cucumber dips all sound healthy, but they are loaded fat (and saturated fat, no less) from cream cheese, sour cream, mayo, and other cheeses. And you can scoop a whole lot of those creamy, thick spreads on a cracker or celery stick. Your 20 calories of crackers or veggies has just skyrocketed to 300 calories before your very eyes. Hummus other bean-based dips can be much better choices.

6. Dried Fruit and Fruit Juices.
If you’ve got children, you know that those fruit snack packs for kids are not much more than sugar and fruit juice. But dried fruit, believe it or not, is really no better. When fruit is dried, its water is removed, and with that water go the majority of its water-soluble nutrients. In addition, since water gives the fruit more volume, it becomes very easy to overeat dried fruit.

Store-bought juices come stripped of the fruit’s fiber and packed with sugar. Fruit smoothies sound healthy, but are perhaps the worst offenders. A typical store-bought smoothie or juice has roughly 30 grams of sugar in one serving; that’s about 8 teaspoons of sugar. Choose instead whole fruits that are easy to bring with you throughout the day – bananas, apples, oranges, and pears.

7. Canned Soup.
No question, soup can be a very healthy choice. Yet, there is a ton of horrible options amidst the good ones. Labels may suggest that soup is good for weight loss, but read the label. Often, soups labeled healthy – and adorned with little hearts and wellness symbols – are chock full of both salt and sugar. One cup of Campbell’s Harvest Tomato with Basil Soup (sounds healthy, doesn’t it?) has a whopping 16 grams of sugar as well as 33 percent of your daily RDA for sodium. And it gets worse, the chemical that often lines soup cans, called Bisphenol-A, is an endocrine (hormone) disruptor that has been linked to an increased risk of obesity and insulin resistance.

8. Vegan, Gluten-Free, or Organic Snacks.
We all want to be environmentally friendly and socially conscious. But just because a food is gluten-free, vegan or organic, doesn’t mean that it’s the healthiest option. These foods are available because they were chosen due to a lack of some part of the food, or because something was eliminated. Often, other ingredients are added to make up for that lack, and if you look closely you will see that in a majority of cases the gluten-free, organic, and vegan snacks s are filled with just as many empty calories as their counterparts. Stay with whole fruits, nuts, a hard-boiled egg, or real veggies.

9. Veggie Burgers.
It all depends on who makes it. In large part, veggie burgers that are commercially prepared typically have highly processed soy and preservatives. On top of that, veggie burgers can have a good amount of saturated fat. What? How can there be saturated fat in a food that doesn’t have animal products? Because the oils that are often used in commercially prepared veggie burgers are coconut oil and palm oil – two of the “tropical oils” that are mostly saturated. Instead, make your own with whole foods, like beans, whole grains, and seeds. The bottom line? Becoming proficient at reading labels will make your journey to a lean, healthier body that much easier!

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About the Author: Bob LeFavi

Bob LeFavi, PhD, is a professor of sports medicine and Dean of the Beaufort Campus at the University of South Carolina, Beaufort. He has been department head of health sciences and sports medicine at Armstrong State University and Georgia Southern University, Savannah, GA. Bob won the bantamweight class at the IFBB NorthAmerican Bodybuilding Championship and was runner-up at both the USA and National Championships. He also competed in the CrossFit Games as a Master’s athlete and has written over 750 articles in the popular press on training, diet, and fitness.

Disclaimer: This content is for informational purposes only and is not meant as medical advice, nor is it to diagnose or treat any medical condition. Please consult your physician before starting or changing your diet or exercise program. Any use of this information is at the sole discretion and responsibility of the user.