We have heard it countless times — a healthy diet means eating healthy food. These include snacking on energy bars or dried fruits, opting for a smoothie instead of a meal and turning to sport drinks for energy. After all, these have been marketed as healthy.
But these and a few others are not as healthy as they seem. Many are packed with sugar, fats, preservatives and other chemicals.
The best way to ensure you are eating healthy is to read and understand the nutrition information label. Or find better choices.
Here are some food items that are marketed as healthy but are actually not:
1. Energy Bars
Initially targeted at athletes, these are designed to provide quick energy during exercise. But they have become a popular choice as a meal replacement or a snack in-between meals. There are many to choose from including granola bars, muesli bars, protein bars or fruit and nut bars.
They are loaded with high fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated oils and saturated fat. Some contain chocolate, marshmallows, salted-caramel and numerous artificial flavours, with over 350 calories per bar.
A better choice: According to WebMD, healthier snack bars should have at least 3-5g fibre, 5g protein and less than 35 per cent calories from sugar.
Based on Cleveland Clinic’s suggestion, if you are eating it as a meal replacement, the bar should not have more than 4g added sugar and 4g saturated fat. If you’re eating it as a snack, choose bars with no more than 2g added sugar or 2g saturated fat.
2. Breakfast Cereals
Cereals are often marketed as a healthy breakfast choice. They are fortified with vitamin B, iron, vitamin D and calcium.
But consumers often choose cereals that contain saturated fat and large amounts of sodium and sugar. If eaten too often and too much, it can lead to weight gain, diabetes, hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
A better choice: According to Harvard Health, look for breakfast cereals made of corn, whole wheat, or brown rice. These are whole grains rich in fibre, vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Also, make sure they have less than 2g saturated fats, less than 5gsugar and no trans fat.
3. Sports Drinks
They are targeted at people who are involved in intense physical activity. Typically, they contain water and electrolytes (usually sodium and potassium) for rehydration, and carbohydrates (sugars) for energy. These are designed to replace fluid, sugars and electrolytes lost during exercise and sweating.
It’s unhealthy because people who are not engaged in physical activity drink it to give them energy. It can lead to weight gain as according to Harvard Health, some sports drinks contain 150 calories, the equivalent of 10 teaspoons of sugar. They are also acidic which increases risk of enamel erosion and tooth decay.
A better choice: Water. According to livescience.com, a well-balanced meal after exercise can also help replenish electrolytes and other nutrients.
4. Artificial Sweeteners
They are made from synthetic chemicals that mimic the taste of sugar. These include saccharin, sucralose, sorbitol, stevia and aspartame. With low to zero calorie, artificial sweeteners have been used as an alternative to sugar for diabetics and as ingredients in processed foods and beverages.
According to diabetes.co.uk, several recent studies have found that saccharin actually raises blood glucose levels. It is thought that these effects are due to changes in gut bacteria triggered by the sweeteners.
There is also the argument that although they contain zero calories, foods containing artificial sweeteners can still affect blood sugar because of other carbohydrates or proteins in these foods. In addition, they are made from synthetic chemicals, which are never good for the body.
A better choice: Avoid or reduce the consumption of sugar, whether natural or artificial. Instead, consume food with natural sugar.
5. Fruit Juice
For some people, fruit juice is their idea of getting the nutrients needed instead of eating fruits. While previously there are only store-bought fruit juices, it is now a trend with the presence of juice bars.
Juice is a concentrated source of sugar and calories, even the freshly-squeezed ones. One 8-ounce cup of fresh orange juice has 21g of sugar and 112 calories compared to 12g of sugar and 62 calories in one medium orange.
The juicing process also removes the edible skin and pulp, which are sources of fibre, an essential nutrient that helps delay absorption of the sugar.
A better choice: Limit your consumption to one glass a day, as suggested by Public Health England. For children, the American Academy of Paediatrics says it should be limited to 236ml of juice a day for those between 1 and 7 and older. WebMD says parents can also dilute the juice with water.
Read more at NST: Avoid these ‘healthy’ alternatives