What are 5 foods that people think are healthy (but aren’t)? Any healthy alternatives for them?

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What are 5 foods that people think are healthy (but aren’t)? Any healthy alternatives for them?

March 15, 2012, 12:00AM

We all know that in addition to physical activity, a critical component of leading a healthy lifestyle boils down to the food choices we make. But with all the food options out there, and a great deal of conflicting nutrition information circulating around, how do you know what you should consume and what you should avoid?

We decided to take the guess work out of healthy eating! We asked registered dietitians (RD) and nutrition experts to help us identify those foods that appear to be good for us, but aren’t as healthy as we may think. Don’t despair — the RDs and nutrition experts provide alternatives that can help you stay on track.

Healthy Swap low-fat peanut butter

Often times, seeing "low-fat" on food labels falsely leads us to believe the item must be a healthier alternative. But when it comes to low-fat peanut butter, RDs agreed – stay away from it.

ACE-certified personal trainer Ruth Frechman, RD, spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, and author of “The Food is My Friend Diet,” stated that while peanut butter supplies healthy fat to your diet, “choosing low-fat peanut butter reduces the amount of healthy fat [you receive].”

Emily Miller, MPH, RD, Associate Program Officer at The Institute of Medicine, went on to explain that when fat is removed, the food manufacturer has to add something else to compensate for the texture and flavor the fat provided. What does that mean for you?  “In the case of reduced-fat peanut butter, about one-fourth of the healthy (unsaturated) fats are removed, and sugar – and sometimes salt – is added; meanwhile the calorie content remains nearly the same, but the nutrient profile is less healthy,” she said.

Healthy Swap: RD Recommends

Love peanut butter? Miller suggested opting for natural peanut butter, which specifies only one ingredient on the label — peanuts. While natural peanut butter often separates, which can make it difficult to stir, she recommended storing the jar upside down for a day or so since it makes the job of stirring much easier. Having trouble adjusting to the taste? “Once you get through a jar of natural peanut butter, your taste buds will adapt and you’ll probably find [conventional] peanut butter too sweet and salty,” said Miller. Are you allergic to peanuts or simply want to test out something new? Consider giving sunflower seed butter or almond butter a try!

Healthy Swap Multigrain Bread

While research has found that consuming more whole grains can help reduce the risk of heart disease and cancer while also serving as a great source of vitamin E, iron and fiber, most people incorrectly assume that multigrain and seven-grain breads must do the same. Unfortunately, many of these products are often not 100% whole grain, and in some cases, they contain no whole grain whatsoever, Miller pointed out.

So what are these breads made from? The Nutrition Twins® Lyssie Lakatos, RD, and Tammy Lakatos Shames, RD, authors of “The Secret to Skinny,” told us that more often than not, seven-grain and multigrain breads are made from refined, white flour with a sprinkling of other grains. “Because these breads are just as processed and refined as white bread, they are usually devoid of fiber and spike blood sugar quickly, only to create the same crash that a sugar high does when it wears off,” said The Nutrition Twins. Miller mentioned that this crash can then leave you feeling hungry shortly after eating these foods.

Healthy Swap: RD Recommends

Reading nutrition labels is key. As The Nutrition Twins® recommended, opt for wholesome whole grain breads that state that they are made from 100% whole grain or 100% whole wheat flour. To avoid picking up an imposter, Miller cautioned shoppers to avoid any products that list the words “enriched” or “refined” anywhere on the package or in the ingredient list.

Healthy Swap sea salt

To salt or not to salt? That is the question. Sea salt is often an ingredient that generates a great deal of confusion, as many of us are led to believe that because sea salt is more natural than regular table salt, it must be healthier.

However, Gina Crome, MPH, RD who is also an ACE-certified personal trainer, clarified that “sea salt and regular table salt are fairly identical nutritionally,” so essentially they have the same amount of sodium. “Because sea salt crystals are bigger than table salt crystals however, the same volume of sea salt doesn’t take up as much room as the table salt would, and thus, has a little less sodium,” said Miller. But as Crome has seen firsthand, the false belief that sea salt is “healthier” than table salt often leads people to use it more liberally, and thereby consume more total sodium.

Healthy Swap: RD Recommends

The bottom line is, use salt — whether sea salt or table salt — sparingly. As a general recommendation, Crome referred to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which states that people should strive to limit sodium intake to no more than 2300mg/day; or no more than 1500mg/day for those who are either over 51 years of age and those (regardless of age) who are of African-American descent or have hypertension, chronic kidney disease or diabetes. Want to add flavor to your food without the salt? Miller recommended seasoning foods with healthy, flavorful items like citrus juices, herbs, spices and flavored vinegars.

Healthy Swap fruit juice

When it comes to fruit juice, 100 percent fruit juice may not be as healthy as you think. Michelle Murphy Zive, MS, RD, said “even with ‘only’ fruit juice, there is usually added sugar in the form of fructose (fruit sugar). “For instance, apple and grape juices – which can be the ‘only’ juice or added  to 100% fruit punch – have higher amounts of fructose than other fruit,” she said.

Healthy Swap: RD Recommends

Zive recommended stepping away from 100% fruit juice and instead, try making your own juice with a juicer. Or simply reach for a piece of whole fruit!

Healthy Swap protein bar

Ever taken the time to read the ingredient list on a protein bar or protein shake? If so, you may have noticed a laundry list of words that look like they are more suitable in a chemistry textbook instead of a food label. The bars are usually 200 calories each with around 10-15 grams of protein, 5 grams of fat, 5 grams of fiber and 20+ grams of sugar. Julie Burks, MS, RD, CSSD, an ACE-certified Health Coach and Semper Fit Dietitian, stated that while the average protein bar or shake doesn’t sound so bad at first glance, these products are processed and contain stabilizers, preservatives, and other ingredients that may not support health. (She cautioned that the second and third ingredients are usually some form of sugar).

Healthy Swap: RD Recommends

While these products are certainly OK on occasion, “opt for real, fresh food that not only contains a similar number of calories, protein, fat and fiber, but also disease-fighting antioxidants and phytochemicals; and less sugar,” said Burks. Think you can’t eat healthy on the go? Think again! Burks offered a slew of examples of quick, healthy, ready-to-eat foods (not exhaustive): nuts, trail mix, peanut butter (not low-fat), apples, berries, raw carrots, cherry tomatoes, cottage cheese, hard-boiled eggs and 100% whole grain crackers. She mentioned that these foods can easily be mixed and matched for quick, healthy, on-the-go energy anytime!

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