Many foods sound healthier than they really are. You can avoid being fooled by health halos if you know what to look for. Here are some of the worst offenders for "healthy" foods that really aren't. Download a FREE Healthy Snack Recipe Cookbook!
—Rachel Johnson, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., May/June 2008
Energy bars usually contain protein and fiber—nutrients that help you feel full—but also may be loaded with calories.
That’s fine if you occasionally make one a meal, but most of us eat them as snacks. You might as well enjoy a Snickers,
which at 280 calories is in the same range as many energy bars.
Lesson learned: If you need something to tide you over until dinner, look for a calorie-controlled bar with about 5 grams of protein (e.g., Balance 100-calorie bar, Promax 70-calorie bar).
Granola sounds healthy. But it’s often high in fat, sugar and calories. Don’t be fooled by a seemingly reasonable calorie
count; portion sizes are usually a skimpy 1/4 or 1/2 cup. Low-fat versions often just swap sugar for fat and pack as many
calories as regular versions.
Lesson learned: Read granola labels carefully and stick with recommended portion sizes (which are teeny), perhaps as a topping on fruit or yogurt.
“Salads trip up many of my clients,” says my friend Anne Daly, R.D., director of nutrition and diabetes education at the
Springfield Diabetes & Endocrine Center in Springfield, Illinois. Most of us could use more vegetables—so what’s not to
love? In a word, toppings. The pecans and Gorgonzola cheese on Panera Bread’s Fuji Apple Chicken Salad (580 calories, 30
grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat) propel it into double-cheeseburger territory. A McDonald’s double cheeseburger has 440
calories, 23 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat.
Lesson learned: Before ordering a salad, check its nutrition information plus that of the dressing and all add-ons (often, they’re listed separately).
Smoothies may seem like a tasty way to help get your recommended fruit servings—but studies show that beverages are less
filling per calorie than solid foods. And added sugars can make some the equivalent of drinking fruit pie filling: the
smallest (16-ounce) serving of Jamba Juice’s Orange Dream Machine weighs in at 340 calories, with 69 grams of sugars that
don’t all come from orange juice. You’re better off with fresh-squeezed juices; orange juice has 110 calories per
Lesson learned: Some smoothies pack as many calories as a milkshake. Look for those made with whole fruit, low-fat yogurt and no added sugars.
Yogurt is a great way to meet your calcium needs, but not all are created equally. Some premium whole-milk yogurts can
give you a hefty dose of saturated fat. Shop around: many low-fat versions of these products are every bit as creamy.
Enjoy a fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt, but understand that the “fruit” is really jam (i.e., mostly sugar). Or opt for
low-fat plain and stir in fresh fruit or other sweetener to suit your taste; you’ll probably use less. My favorite, a
tablespoon of Vermont maple syrup (52 calories), provides all the sweetness I need.
Lesson learned: Although they are still good sources of calcium, some yogurts can be closer to dessert than to a healthy snack. Don’t let fat and added sugars spoil a good thing.
Sushi is big in my family. There is a wide variety of sushi rolls out there and in some the fried tidbits and mayonnaise
can really tuck in the calories. The Southern Tsunami sushi bar company, which supplies sushi to supermarkets and
restaurants, reports its 12-piece Dragon Roll (eel, crunchy cucumbers, avocado and “special eel sauce”) has almost 500
calories and 16 grams of fat (4 grams saturated).
Lesson learned: Signature sushi rolls often come with a creamy “special sauce”; you should ask what’s in it. Or just order something simple: for example, a 12-piece California roll (imitation crabmeat, avocado and cucumber) or a vegetarian roll with cucumbers, carrots and avocado supplies around 350 calories and 6 or 7 grams of fat, and most of it is the heart-healthy monounsaturated type.