As you stroll down the supermarket aisles, you may be drawn to foods that - just by their names or descriptions alone - have a "health halo." With all good intentions to feed yourself right, products that tout the presence of yogurt or tea, or those "made with whole grain" may find their way into your shopping basket. If product descriptions are enough to sway you, you might want to take some time to really read labels and know what you're getting. That healthy-sounding food might not be as good for you as you might think. Here are some foods that sound healthier than they are:
- Rice cakes coated with chocolate or caramel: Plain rice cakes made with whole grain brown rice are a healthy, low calorie snack food. But pile on the chocolate or caramel, and you might as well be eating a handful of jellybeans – which has about the same calories and carbohydrates, and less sodium.
- Waffles "made with whole grain": You probably wouldn't put butter and syrup on a bowl of "made with whole grain snack chips" – but if you compare nutrition facts of these waffles and the snack chips, there's not much difference. Steer away from the refined white flour and look for waffles that are 100% whole grain. Top with applesauce or fresh fruit and some cinnamon.
- Yogurt covered raisins: If you think this is a good way to get your yogurt and fruit, think again. The raisins have just a pinch of yogurt powder in a fat-rich coating. The calories on the label might look low, but the serving size is tiny. Raisins count as a fruit, but because they are dried, the portion is small. Stir a few raisins into a carton of yogurt for a lighter, healthier treat.
- Tuna sandwich: Don't assume that fish is always healthier than other meats – it depends on how it's prepared. Deli tuna sandwiches are usually full of regular mayo (at 100 calories a tablespoon) and can pack as many calories and fat grams as a fast food burger. Try lean turkey or chicken breast, or try mixing canned tuna at home with cottage cheese or mashed avocado for a healthier spread.
- Granola bars: Granola certainly sounds healthy and whole grain, but many granola bars have very little whole grain flour and a lot of sugar. You'd actually come out ahead by eating a two or three fig bars – at least you'd get a little fruit.
- Chips made with fruits or veggies: Just because a chip is made from a sliced apple, it's still been deep-fat fried, so it's loaded with calories. Get your fruits and veggies fresh - as nature intended - and satisfy your craving for something salty and crunchy with a handful of nuts or a 100% whole grain cracker.
- Bottled tea beverages: Home brewed tea from bags or leaves is a healthy drink, but it's a far cry from a bottled tea beverage that "starts with" tea and ends with added flavors and sugars. And, many tea drinks come in 16-ounce bottles – officially, two servings. Double the calories and sugar as listed on the label, and you could be taking in nearly a third-cup of sugar with each bottle. Brew your own and sweeten lightly to taste.
- Muffins: In many cases, you may as well be eating a package of snack cakes for breakfast. Many store-bought muffins are loaded with fat and sugar – and they're huge, often 6 ounces or so. At about 100 calories an ounce, one large muffin (which, according to the label, may two servings) could be your undoing. Bran muffins are quick to make at home (in cupcake-sized tins) for a healthier breakfast treat.
Susan Bowerman is a consultant to Herbalife.