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Is Your Health Food Really Healthy?

By Rachel Johnson, Ph.D, M.P.H., R.D., May/June 2008

6 healthy-sounding foods that really aren’t.

Smoothies

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 cup.

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.

Yogurts

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 rolls

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.

Despite these precautions, I’m not trying to be a nutrition nanny. In truth, most of these foods can fit into a healthy diet if you know your limits. But do a reality check and read labels first. After all, as my friend told Henry, even if the Yogos package screams yogurt-­covered fruit, the ingredients list proves it’s still candy.

—Rachel Johnson, EatingWell’s senior nutrition advisor, is dean of the University of Vermont College of Agriculture & Life Sciences.



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