We’re all aware how we are able to convince ourselves that certain foods are healthy (or perhaps, just not as bad as others). Today’s marketers have done a damn good job of making their products not as devious as they are. (As an anecdote my boyfriend was entirely less than amused when the 100 Calorie Nutter Butter packs in my pantry had no actual peanut butter and that the goldfish were nowhere near as good. I think it just taught him a lesson to not swipe my 100-Cal packs from me ?)
The culprit? The “health halo,” according to a recent Prevention magazine article. “From a distance, some foods seem like healthful choices because of the way they’re packaged or labeled,” says Janel Ovrut, MS, RD, a Boston-based dietitian. “But just because a product’s marketing gives it an aura of health doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good for you.”
Consider the next few suggestions some free god-sent advice.
Baked potato chips
Yes, they’re lower in fat. But they’re still high in calories and low in nutrients, with little fiber to fill you up.
Smarter sub: Popcorn. You’ll get the salt and crunch of chips plus fiber, and around 65 percent fewer calories per cup. Look for oil-free microwave popcorn or brands that are air-popped or popped in healthful oils such as olive or canola.
Health bonus: Heart-healthy whole grains. Adults who eat popcorn take in as much as 2 1/2 times more whole grains than people who do not, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association.
Try: Good Health HalfNaked pre-popped popcorn, made with olive oil. One serving (4 cups) has 120 calories, 0 g sat fat, 4 g fiber.
Gummy fruit snacks
Although these products may contain some juice, they’re usually nothing more than candy infused with vitamins. They also contain high fructose corn syrup, which is linked with obesity, and heart-unhealthy partially hydrogenated oils.
Smarter sub: Fresh or dried fruit. Both are packed with filling fiber, which you’ll miss if you opt for gummy snacks.
Health bonus: Cancer-fighting antioxidants. Real fruit is loaded with immune-boosting nutrients that fruit-flavored snacks could never mimic. A recent Greek study found that women who ate the most fruits and veggies were the least likely to develop any type of cancer.
Try: Peeled Snacks Fruit Picks dried fruit (peeledsnacks.com). One serving (one bag) of Go-Mango-Man-Go has 120 calories, 0 g sat fat, 2 g fiber.
Light ice cream
Light ice cream can have fewer calories than regular, but there’s no guarantee. Take Häagen-Dazs Dulce de Leche light ice cream: With 220 calories per 1/2 cup serving, it’s still higher in calories than the average full-fat ice cream, which has around 140 calories per serving. What’s more, some light ice creams can lack the rich taste you crave, so you’re less satisfied and may be inclined to eat more than one serving.
Smarter sub: Dairy-free ice cream. Soy and coconut milk ice creams may save you a few calories, and they have a creamy, satisfying texture.
Health bonus: Digestion-friendly fiber. Some dairy-free ice creams are made with chicory root, a natural source of inulin, a prebiotic fiber that can increase healthy bacteria in the gut and help the body absorb calcium and iron.
Try: Turtle Mountain Purely Decadent, made with coconut milk. One serving (1/2 cup) of vanilla has 150 calories, 7 g sat fat, and 6 g fiber. (Studies show that the saturated fat in coconut may not raise cholesterol like the saturated fat in butter and meat.)
In a 2008 study, researchers linked drinking just one diet soda a day with metabolic syndrome — the collection of symptoms including belly fat that puts you at high risk of heart disease. Researchers aren’t sure if it’s an ingredient in diet soda or the drinkers’ eating habits that caused the association.
Smarter sub: Flavored seltzer water. It has zero calories and is free of artificial sweeteners but provides fizz and flavor. Beware of clear sparkling beverages that look like seltzer yet contain artificial sweeteners — they’re no better than diet soda. Or try a sparkling juice; we recommend watering it down with seltzer to stretch your calories even further.
Health bonus: Hydration (without chemicals). Water is essential for nearly every body process.
Try: Your supermarket’s low-cost seltzer brand. The taste is the same as the bigger name brands.