You’ve been hitting the gym, foregoing that late-night beer, and now you’ve decided to attack the next step: changing your diet.
But eating healthy food is easier said than done. This is because industry labeling is less than accurate most of the time.
Unfortunately, shoppers seeking healthy choices can’t necessarily trust food-products with words like “organic” or “whole wheat” or “healthy choice” stamped on the packaging.
In fact, many of these options contain as much sugar and unpronounceable ingredients as the junk food you already know you should avoid.
To help you make better choices, here are 5 “healthy” foods to avoid because they are more harmful than you might think.
1. Granola Bars
Many of today’s granola bars are jam-packed with unhealthy and artificial sweeteners.
The first culprit is high fructose corn syrup, which creates a rapid and intense sugar high when consumed, and leads to a huge crash almost immediately after digestion.
Artificial sweeteners come with their own problems. “Low-calorie” granola bars are often sweetened with aspartame, which is just as addictive as real sugar.
To make matters worse, numerous studies have shown that aspartame leads to an increased risk of brain tumors, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and numerous other health issues.
Moreover, granola bars are all too often filled with sweet morsels that make the granola bar about as healthy as an oatmeal chocolate chip cookie.
2. Wheat Bread
Wheat bread is known as a healthy alternative to white bread, but you have to make sure you’re buying the right type.
Certain brands may brag about being “whole grain” or “multigrain,” but check the ingredients before you buy — if it’s made from refined grains, you’re missing out on most of the health benefits.
If the first type of flour listed in the ingredients says anything like “unbleached enriched wheat flour” or “bleached wheat flour,” put that loaf down and look elsewhere.
3. Nonfat Ice-Cream
Who doesn’t love ice cream?
Putting the term “nonfat” before everyone’s favorite break-up snack sounds too good to be true — and that’s because it is.
Even though “fat” is a scary word that everyone tries to avoid, fat is actually what fills you up and helps you stop eating. This means that when you take the fat out of ice-cream, you’re much more likely to polish off an entire carton.
And nonfat doesn’t mean your caloric intake will decrease drastically, or that the sugar content is decreased — there are 230 calories in half a cup of regular vanilla ice cream and 170 calories in half a cup of nonfat ice cream.
Many of these nonfat varieties are also rife with additives that don’t do anyone’s body good.
So if you’re going to eat ice-cream, have a small scoop of the deliciously satisfying fatty kind instead of the non-fat variety that will just leave your craving unmet.
4. “Healthy” Drinks
For years, sports drinks like Gatorade have been considered the drink of choice for athletes everywhere.
Gatorade commercials show famous athletes chugging a bottle of sports drink and sweating giant orange or blue droplets. But Gatorade doesn’t hydrate your body better than water.
It’s also jam-packed with calories and sugar, more than many of us burn in a standard workout!
When it comes to replenishing your body, the best option is good old H20.
5. Frozen Diet Dinners
One of the hardest parts about eating healthy is portion control. We live in a society that champions super-sized portions, so it can be hard to cut back on the volume of food you eat.
The allure of frozen diet dinners is that they come in very small portions and are marketed as entire meals.
This may sound like a great way to manage portions, but many of them actually contain too few calories, which can mess with your metabolism and cause you to retain fat and crave other foods.
Also, you’ll be starving! Studies have shown that we’re more likely to make poor food decisions when we’re hungry.
You’re always better off eating a plate of fresh vegetables with a good drizzle of olive oil and a small helping of protein than you are eating one of these supposedly “healthy” choices.
When it comes to food, ingredients and processing are everything.
So what’s the best way to avoid “faux-healthy” foods?
Keep a close eye on labels, only eat ingredients you can pronounce, make sure your portions are satisfying, that you’re eating enough fat, and try to learn more about exactly what goes into the food you’re eating.
Don’t fall for the labels, and remember, fresher is always better.
Author Bio: Emily Newhook is the outreach coordinator for the MHA degree program from The George Washington University, MHA@GW. Outside of work, she enjoys powerlifting, writing short stories and cooking. Connect with her on Twitter and Google+.