Don’t fall into the “healthy” food trap.

June 20, 2017

Choosing a “light” or “low-fat” food option is a dietary victory, right? Not so fast. Labels can be misleading, and so-called “healthy” foods can be worse for you than the less-healthy options. The truth underlying some common dietary traps, and tricks to beat them:

Trap: Gluten-free foods are healthy. 

Truth: Not always so. A gluten-free cookie can be high in sugar and loaded with food additives, and thus no better than its gluten-loaded alternative.

Trick: Forget the idea that gluten-free equals healthy, and read labels carefully.

Trap: Agave nectar is a better natural sweetener. 

Truth: In reality, this highly refined sweetener is extremely high in fructose. You’re better off choosing sugar (50% fructose) or corn syrup (55% fructose) over agave nectar (85% fructose). And keep in mind, honey is only marginally healthier than sugar. 

Trick: The best advice is to consume sweets in small amounts.

Trap: No- or low-fat yogurt makes for a healthy breakfast. 

Truth: Most brands compensate for lack of fat by adding copious amounts of sugar, and many don’t have probiotic bacteria because they’re pasteurized after fermentation.

Trick: Choose full-fat yogurt with live or active cultures, or make your own by adding fruit to plain fat-free Greek yogurt. Or read the labels to find a brand that doesn’t add a large amount of sugar. A good option is Dannon Oikos Triple Zero.

Trap: Granola and trail mix are body-conscious treats. 

Truth: Most granolas are high in sugar, with more than 12.5 g of sugar per 100 g. A small handful of trail mix can be 300 calories or more, and many brands are loaded with salt and sugar.

Trick: Make your own granola and trail mix with low-sugar, low-salt ingredients, or carefully read labels on packaged varieties.

Trap: Diet soda cuts calories. 

Truth: Diet soda is better calorie-wise than regular soda, however, the research on weight gain from diet soda is still inconclusive. Some studies have found that diet sodas trigger the release of insulin, which tells your body to store fat – and that leads to weight gain.

Trick: Water is always the healthiest way to hydrate. If the taste falls flat, add lemon, lime or another fruit. If you desire carbonation, try sparkling water.

Trap: Cereal bars make for a skinny snack. 

Truth: A 2012 study found more than half of 30 bars analyzed contained more than 30 percent sugar – similar to the amount of sugar found in pre-packaged cookies.

Trick: Read the labels to find a cereal bar that is low in sugar.

Trap: Wheat bread always beats white varieties. 

Truth: If it’s not 100-percent whole wheat, it may be white bread with a little wheat flour mixed in. 

Trick: Check that a slice has 2 g of fiber or more, which is the benchmark for a true wheat bread.

Trap: Margarine is better than butter. 

Truth: Margarine is packed with transfats, which are linked to heart disease, stroke and diabetes. Butter, with its saturated fats, is the more body-wise choice. 

Trick: Consume butter in moderation because high levels of saturated fats are linked to obesity. If you’re looking to cut calories and saturated fat, choose a whipped butter.

Trap: “Light” salad dressing makes a salad diet friendly. 

Truth: Many light dressings are filled with preservatives and additives, plus extra sodium and sugar. 

Trick: Try extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar, or read labels to find a truly light option.