Fat-free salad dressing, granola bars and veggie puffs. While you want to snack on junk food and full-fat treats, you try to make conscious choices to eat healthier and lose weight.
But are the foods in your shopping cart actually healthy? Global News asked a handful of Dietitians of Canada experts to list so-called “healthy” foods that they’d rarely feed their families.
Fat-free salad dressings
When you’re swapping out fat, you’re relying on sugar or other additives like emulsifiers to fill the void, Cathy Paroschy Harris warned. You’re better off going for full-fat salad dressings, especially if they’re made with healthy unsaturated fats like extra virgin olive oil.
Or make your own like Paroschy Harris does.
“It is economical, and full of flavour and options. I can control the fat when I make my own yet I do include healthy oils to enhance flavour,” she said.
Use olive, nut, or sesame oils as a base, and add an acidic component, such as lemon or lime or vinegar, along with a drizzle of something sweet like local honey or maple syrup. Salt, pepper and the zest from a lemon or lime can bring out flavours, too.
They’re dipped in chocolate, doused in honey and sometimes they’re even speckled with candies. Toronto-based registered dietitian, Andrea Miller, knows granola bars are convenient for busy families, but she’s reminding parents that not all options are created equal.
“Some resemble a chocolate bar more than a nourishing snack. I compare ingredient lists and nutrition facts tables,” she told Global News.
When she’s looking for a safe option for her kids, she makes sure the bars have less than eight grams of sugar and more than four or more grams of fibre.
Try to avoid chocolate-coated granola bars or those layered with caramel and other sweets. Miller likes those with nuts to get protein into the snack.
Bottled water that boasts it’s loaded with vitamins and other nutrients are misleading, Kate Comeau, a Halifax-based registered dietitian, told Global.
“I rarely buy sugar-sweetened beverages, but in particular I avoid vitamin-enriched waters. The labels make vague promises of energy or a boost to immunity that usually aren’t science-based,” she warned.
“They’re nothing more than sugary water with colouring, flavour and added vitamins, sometimes in amounts that are far more than your body needs,” she said.
Some vitamin waters have 31 grams of sugar, that’s not too far off from a can of Coke’s 39 grams.
Don’t let the marketing deceive you — chips made from beets and sweet potatoes, or puffed chips and straws made from green beans and corn aren’t “healthy” despite what the packaging may tell you, according to Andrea D’Ambrosio, a Kitchener-Ont.-based dietitian.
“They’re coloured by vegetable extract — like beetroot powder — but are made from processed potato flour and corn starch. Potatoes are vegetables but these puffs have little-to-none of the benefits of a vegetable,” she warned.
READ MORE: Top 5 foods packed with sodium
D’Ambrosio said she’s better off eating a handful of plain potato chips. Ultimately, they’re less processed, have the same amount of sodium and they leave her more satisfied.
Popcorn is another better bet — especially if the whole grain is air-popped at home.
If you’re reaching for store-bought muffins for breakfast, this may not be the best start to your day.
“Not only are they typically low in fibre, but they’re also either full of saturated or trans fats or hyped up on added sugars,” Krista Leck Merner, a Halifax-based registered dietitian, told Global News.
“Nutrients aside, we also can’t forget about portion distortion. The mega muffins available commercially are often double, if not triple the suggested serving size of a muffin,” she said.
Look for a recipe to make yourself. They could be packed with rolled oats, whole grains, and sweetened with bananas or apples instead of sugar.
You can control the ingredients and portion sizes that way, Leck Merner said.
Casey Berglund, a Calgary-based registered dietitian, said her clients are always surprised when she recommends yogurt with two per cent fat.
“Zero per cent yogurts are often thickened with starches and other ingredients so that they have the same mouthfeel without the fat. This isn’t unhealthy,” she said.
You’ll feel fuller and more satisfied from a two per cent plain fat yogurt. In this case, the calorie difference is minimal.
Don’t shop for the fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt either. They’re sugar-laden. Slice up your own fruit like strawberries or bananas to top your plain yogurt instead.
Frozen diet dinners
Frozen dinners have come a long way over the past decade — they’re a quick fix, they’re portion-controlled and they tell you how many calories are in the prepackaged meal.
“That said, many diet versions have too few calories and protein to be satisfying and can leave you feeling hungry,” D’Ambrosio said.
Your job is to compare labels to find an option with at least 20 to 30 grams of protein. After that, you need to supplement these measly meals with raw vegetables like crudités or a side salad.
Organic, gluten-free cookies
Sweets with labels like “organic,” and “gluten-free” are handed a health halo lately. Consumers think they’re getting something that’s good for them because of this packaging.
Gluten is found in grains, such as wheat, barley and rye. Gluten-free products swap these out for flours made with rice, soy, potatoes or tapioca.
At the end of the day, you’re still eating processed goods.
Comeau prefers to eat her favourite cookie instead, and treats it as an indulgence.
“Because this isn’t a food I’m eating very often, I’d rather choose the one I like, and enjoy it mindfully,” she said.