4 foods that may not be as healthy as you think

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Muesli – iStock
Muesli – iStock

With the growing interest in healthy foods, there are many products on the market that appear to be really good for you. Often, however, these foods are not what they claim to be.

Many people believe manufacturers' health claims without question, and are unaware of the real nutritional value of many foods. For example, if you want to achieve weight loss, foods with a high energy density can make it difficult – as one needs to expend more energy than the daily kilojoules consumed to obtain that result.   

1. Muesli

This is often touted on restaurant menus as the “healthy option”. In reality, the correct portion size of muesli, as part of a kilojoule controlled weight loss or maintenance diet, is between 25 and 50g, or approximately two to four level tablespoons, depending on the specific brand.

Few restaurants or hotels serve such modest portions, and some brands have added dried fruit and are coated in honey. This drastically increases the sugar content and can add the equivalent of eight to 10 teaspoons of sugar. On top of that, some have added nuts which, despite being a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats, are very energy dense. 

Choose a muesli with a sugar content of less than 10g and a fat content of less than three to five grams per 100g serving, and be sure to keep portions between 25–50g, depending on your overall energy requirements and weight loss goals.

2. Smoothies

The general perception of smoothies is that these can be a healthy snack or meal. But it can end up being too much of a good thing. Analysis of the average store-purchased smoothie reveals that a 340 ml smoothie contains the energy equivalent of eight slices of bread!

The sugar content can also be high due to the use of sweetened flavoured yogurts, a lot of fruit, added honey, agave syrup or even fruit juices or nectars. Choose smoothies that have a higher vegetable content such as spinach, kale, carrot or cucumber. When buying a smoothie, request that it be made with a maximum of two small fruit servings, which is approximately 200–250g, depending on the fruit.

3. Salads

Trying to make healthy choices when eating out? People almost always choose a salad when watching their waistlines. Salads can be packed with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients from the variety of colourful vegetables they contain. The general rule is the more colour, the more phytochemicals.

The issue with most restaurant salads is portion size, and you may end up eating a very large portion of e.g. protein without noticing. Another common practice is adding "extras" to salads. Nuts, croutons, bacon bits, seeds, avocado pear, feta, olives, dressing . . . the list is endless.

Almost all of these added ingredients are high in kilojoules, which means that your "healthy" salad can pack quite a punch. This can inhibit your weight loss when eating out. Request that all “extras” come on the side, as this will give you more control over the overall energy value of your meal.

4. Energy bars

We often think that grabbing a “healthy” energy bar in place of a chocolate is the better, more health-conscious choice. Unfortunately, these “healthy” options can be higher in energy than a chocolate bar, or sometimes even a full meal! Some of these bars contain hidden sugars which can cause a high rise in blood sugar levels. This may lead to rebound blood sugar lows, bringing about fatigue, headaches and hunger cravings.

Keep “plan B” snacks in the glove compartment of your car or in a lunch box for on-the-go snacking. Good examples include 30g of lean biltong, a serving of fresh fruit, two or three wholegrain crackers with two teaspoons of peanut butter, one dried fruit bar or a handful of home-roasted chickpeas. 

Read more:

Oats: the ultimate health food

Fill kids' lunchboxes with healthy foods

Train your brain to choose fruit salad over fries

Reference:

1. MS Food Finder, 2011.

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