You have made the decision to change your food choices in an effort to lose weight. You go up and down the supermarket aisles searching for what looks and sounds like healthy choices. Seems like a good plan, right? Not always.
The foods and beverages you might be eating and drinking in an effort to lose weight may actually be hindering your weight loss efforts. Manufacturers work very hard at designing packages and implementing marketing plans to entice you to buy their products. Foods that you think are healthy may actually be quite the opposite.
Here are 8 weight loss foods to avoid if you are trying to improve your health:
1) Fat-Free Yogurt (and other foods labeled fat-free)
Foods that are “fat-free” are often high in sugar and sodium. As the fat is reduced, the manufacturers increase sugar and salt, in addition to thickeners and other additives to add back taste and other properties that fat contributes to the recipe. Fat-free fruit flavored yogurt may have zero grams of fat but also has 20 or more grams of sugar. Even the Greek fruit-flavored yogurt varieties have a lot of sugar. The “light” varieties are not that much healthier, as they contain artificial sweeteners.
What to do instead: Choose zero-percent plain yogurt, preferably Greek style for the extra boost of protein and beneficial probiotics. Add fresh fruit such as sliced strawberries, blueberries, and bananas for dietary fiber and top with a sprinkling of chopped walnuts for healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
2) Multigrain and Wheat Bread
Breads labeled “Multigrain”, “7 Grain”, or “12 Grain” are not what they seem. They are simply breads made with more than one or several types of grains that are not necessarily whole grains. More than likely, the 2 outer layers of the kernel have been removed during processing, which makes it a refined grain, lacking in dietary fiber and certain vitamins and minerals. Though many wheat products are enriched with some of the nutrients that have been removed, not all are replaced and they are low in dietary fiber.
What to do instead: When choosing bread or any grain products, always look for the words “whole” as in “whole wheat”, “100% whole wheat” or “100% whole grain” on the package. You can also look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should say “whole wheat”. If the word “whole” is not listed, it is not a whole grain food.
3) Energy & Protein Bars
In today’s society, everyone is on the run and has no time to sit for a meal. This is why energy bars seem like a healthy, practical option for those who have limited time to eat. However, these so called “nutrition bars” are actually quite void of essential nutrients. Many of the energy bars are actually loaded with high fructose corn syrup, added sugar, saturated fat, sugar alcohols and other chemicals and additives. Protein bars also often contain a lot more protein and calories than the average person needs or would eat in a single meal.
What to do instead: Try making your own energy bars by combining ingredients such as chopped nuts, seeds, dates, nut butter, rolled oats, raisins and chocolate chips and spread on a baking sheet. Bake at 325 degrees Fahrenheit for 8-10 minutes.
Though there are definitely “healthier” granolas on the market, the healthy options seem to be needles in a haystack. Granola sounds like it would be a very healthy, natural grain product. However, a lot of granolas on the market are loaded with calories, fat and sugar in just a small serving size.
What to do instead: If you are a granola lover, a great alternative to store bought granola is to be creative and make your own. Experiment with a variety of grains such as oats, buckwheat, and wheat germ as the base. Then add dried fruit, chopped nuts and seeds and sweeten with a little bit of honey, or real maple syrup. Once combined, spread mixture on a cookie sheet and bake in the oven the same way you would bake your homemade energy bars! You still need to be mindful of your portions, but at least you know the ingredients are all wholesome.
5) Frozen Diet Entrees
Frozen meals that claim to be healthy are very tempting if you don’t like to cook or you don’t have time. Though it seems like you are doing your body a favor by eating a portion controlled low calorie meal, these frozen dinners tend to lack the appropriate balance of vegetables, healthy fats, protein and whole grains needed in a well-balanced meal. More importantly, frozen dinners contain high amounts of sodium.
What to do instead: Make your own frozen dinners! Purchase containers with three sections. Make the time over a weekend to cook a lean protein (i.e. turkey roast), whole grain side dish (i.e. brown rice) and vegetable (i.e. broccoli); then portion into the sectional container. Cover, label with the contents and date, and then freeze. Another option is to cook meals on the weekends and freeze in smaller portions for quick-thawing mid-week. Big batch items such as stews, soups and casseroles freeze great.
6) 100 Calorie Packs
A marketer’s dream! You’ll find cookies, brownies, mini muffin bites, white fudged dipped pretzels and party mix all in conveniently packaged 100 calorie packs. Seems like a dieter’s dream. Take a further look at the ingredients and nutrition facts and you will find partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, artificial flavorings, coloring, high fructose corn syrup and loads of sugar, sodium, saturated fat and trans fat all in a neat little package. This won’t do any good for your heart, waistline and blood pressure, especially if you eat more than one pack.
What to do instead: Portion out your own healthy snacks such as almonds, raisins, whole grain cereals, high fiber popcorn and place in snack size baggies. There you go…ready to eat, on the go, portion controlled snacks that are good for you without the added preservatives, fat, sugars and artificial colorings.
Fruit smoothies can be very deceptive. Although many smoothies in the popular smoothie chains start out with a base of blended fruit and milk (you can request low fat), often there is juice, sugar, ice cream or sherbet added which pumps up the calories. And, the smallest size you can get is often 16 ounces (let’s face it, who really gets just a 16 ounce smoothie)? The calories can add up to 500 or more, with a high percentage of those calories coming from carbohydrate (sugar).
What to do instead: Make your own smoothie with Greek yogurt, milk, fresh fruit (berries, banana) and a drizzle of honey. Add some silken tofu for a protein boost to keep you satisfied longer.
8) Sports Drinks
Sports drinks are designed to provide immediate energy and fluid balance post workout and heavy exercise. They contain important electrolytes (sodium and potassium) and carbohydrates that are necessary if you engage in intense work outs or endurance training. They also come with 125 calories or more per serving. If you are a light exerciser, you don’t need a sports drink to fuel your work out, before or after.
What to do instead: The best beverage is plain water for hydration before and after your work outs and throughout the day. If you want to add a little excitement to your water, try adding a twist of lemon/lime, an herbal tea bag, a small piece of fruit, such as honeydew, a little unsweetened cranberry concentrate (can be found in health food stores), a slice of cucumber (a subtle, yet refreshing taste), a few mint leaves (“bruising” them a little to release the flavor) or a lavender flower or other edible flowers (can add some relaxation to your drink)
Being a savvy educated consumer is key to making food choices to improve your health and help you achieve your weight loss goals. Don’t fall prey to manufacturers’ marketing gimmicks. Read labels and consult with a registered dietitian nutritionist for further education.