Eating healthy may lead you to believe that your body is internally balanced. But, since we live such high-paced and stressful lives, more times than not, the first “healthy” food that we see is what we end up consuming, when in reality your meal may be full of empty calories and unneeded fat and carbohydrates. Could the healthy foods that you think are good for you really be nothing more than hype?
Why you think it’s healthy: Sweet like chocolate, but not as fattening, carob is often used as a chocolate substitute.
The truth: If carob is used in its natural form, as ground-up beans, then it is legitimately healthy. “The problem is it’s almost never used like that because it’s too bitter,” says celebrity nutritionist Paula Simpson, explaining that sugar and highly saturated fats are usually added to compensate for taste. “In some bars with carob, the main ingredient is glucose syrup, while others have as much as 45 percent fat!”
A better choice: Eat dark chocolate in moderation.
Why you think it’s healthy: The thought of granola conjures up the idea of health conscious eating, but chances are the store-bought granola you’re snacking on is full of empty calories.
The truth: Granola, which is technically a carbohydrate, can be full of unhealthy ingredients like oils, sugar and nuts (nuts are good in moderation). “Granola, especially granola bars, can be a killer, and many of them lead to weight gain since they can have a higher sugar and refined carb concentration than popular candy bars,” says Los Angeles nutritionist Haylie Pomroy. That’s not to mention the loads of honey and sugar that are used as “sticky” agents to form little granola clusters.
A better choice: Make your own or opt for sugar-and oil-free varieties. If you’re a die-hard granola fan, it’s best to make your own—this way, you can eliminate unnecessary sugars and oils.
Why you think they’re healthy: It’s become the standard rule of thumb that working out regularly and eating protein bars go hand in hand. But, unless you’re diligent about exercising (doing a lot of cardio), and using protein bars correctly, they aren’t going to offer anything more than unneeded carbs.
The truth: Not all protein bars are created equal. While some may make you feel full, since they contain protein, they also tend to be crammed with unhealthy fats, sugars, high-fructose corn syrup and artificial sweeteners. “Some protein bars are nothing more than a glorified candy bar,” says Simpson, adding that several contain more protein than the body can physically digest, which can have a dehydrating effect.
A better choice: “An ideal protein bar has 10 to 15 grams of protein and a base of seeds, nuts, spirulina, rice or organic whey; is free of artificial sweetener; has at least two grams of fiber; and has equal amounts or more than twice the amount of carbs as it does protein,” says Pomroy.
Why you think it’s healthy: Salmon is salmon, right? Wrong. When it comes to salmon and other fish that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, it’s best to stick to organic varieties.
The truth: “Farm-raised salmon is housed in pens and confined to overcrowded conditions, which increases the risk of infection and disease,” says Simpson. Farm-raised salmon is usually full of antibiotics, which kill its nutritional value. “They have high levels of chemicals said to cause everything from birth defects to hormonal imbalances,” explains Pomroy. Unlike wild salmon that are naturally red (a reflection of their antioxidant content), farm salmon is usually dyed.
A better choice: Look for wild salmon. Sticking to fish that is not overly bred or held in captivity makes for a healthier selection. “Wild salmon caught in the cold waters of Alaska are said to be the cleanest and have the highest concentration of good fat,” says Pomroy.
Why you think it’s healthy: Touted as a natural sugar, low-glycemic agave nectar is sourced from the agave plant—the same one that tequila is made from.
The truth: Just like sugar, agave nectar makes food taste sweet. But, here’s the kicker: In order for agave nectar to act as a sweetener, it has to be boiled down and concentrated, turning it into a liquid form of sugar— almost all types of agave nectar have the same consistency as honey. “In its pure form, agave nectar is very low in sugar and has a slow rate of delivery, or glycemic rate,” says Pomroy. “But heating, processing and concentrating the sweet part of it gives agave nectar a 90- percent fructose concentration.” Adds Simpson, “It’s basically 100-percent sugar, and its calorie content is the same as any other sugar product.”
A better choice: Use raw honey, coconut sugar, xylitol or stevia instead. Both honey and stevia, natural sweeteners, are best to substitute for agave nectar since they contain fewer calories and are natural, meaning the body can break them down better.
Why You Think it’s Healthy: Often wrapped in seaweed, which does offer essential nutrients, imitation crabmeat is unknowingly considered a fairly good source of protein.
The truth: Void of protein and full of fillers, imitation crabmeat is exactly what it claims to be—it doesn’t even contain any crab but rather a white fish that’s fashioned to look like crab legs. “It’s really just a cheap, processed version of crab without any of the nutritional benefits. There’s very little protein, and it’s high in simple carbohydrates, especially when combined with white rice, which it so often is,” says Simpson.
A better choice: Eat fresh crab or protein-rich fish like salmon. Instead of ordering your sushi with imitation crabmeat, swap it out for healthier varieties like salmon or fresh crab, which will provide more nutrients and antioxidant benefits.