Healthy Pretenders: The Most Overrated Foods in the Supermarket

Instead of juice try an herbal tea refresher: half herbal tea, half club soda, a few blueberries and some basil leaves.

I admit it: sometimes I’ll stand in front of the grocery store shelf for what seems like ages, picking up and putting down the same box of cereal, not sure if it’s a healthy choice. The row upon row of brightly coloured boxes can seem so mystifying! But over the years I have learned a couple of things about making the best choices in the supermarket maze.

Just as there are some overlooked superheroes of the supermarket, there are those not-so-good choices lurking on the shelves, too. Now, I don’t believe that you should stay away completely from any one food (I am a hedonist, after all), but certain foods are disguised as healthy when they really should be thought of more as desserts or occasional snacks. See my list below for the top contenders.

Granola
What can be bad about oats, nuts and fruit? It’s about as basic as you can get! True, but those oats often have tons of added fat and sugar. And dried fruit and nuts are calorie-dense – which means that you are getting a lot of calories per bite. All this means that granola usually packs anywhere from 200 – 400 calories in a measly half cup (about the amount that fits into a small ramekin.)

Is it the worst food ever? Of course not. But those delicious granola parfaits you see on The Food Network with handfuls of homemade granola, nuts and maple syrup aren’t going to do your waistline any favours, no matter how wholesome they look.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t eat granola – I love it in the fall because it’s such a perfect complement to the crisp weather.  But when choosing your granola, make sure to check out how many calories are in a serving (and how big that serving size is!) And don’t be fooled by cereals marked ‘Granola Crisp’ or ‘Granola Clusters’ and the like – though they may be lower in fat, they just mix the granola with refined carbs like corn or wheat flakes.

Your best bet is to find a granola that has oats as the first ingredient and doesn’t have too much sugar. To minimize the calorie punch, mix it with a puffed rice or flake cereal that is high in fibre. Now you can have your granola and eat it too!

Crackers
I love me a good cracker. In grad school I would often sit on the couch with a box of crackers and a wedge of cheese for ‘light’ dinner – except the dinner was usually far from light once I’d ingested a box full of crackers and half a block of cheese. Crackers are a fine occasional snack, but remember that they are mainly made up of white flour, oil and salt, so you are basically eating empty calories. It’s best to think of them as an alternative to chips as opposed to something healthy.

So how do you make the best choice? Make sure when you choose a cracker that you read the nutrition panel and the list of ingredients. Try to choose ones that have some fibre and very little salt, and stay far away from the ones that have some form of sugar and unrecognizable ingredients. (Remember – just because it says ‘whole grain’ or ‘made with vegetables’ on the package doesn’t mean it’s good for you – in fact, it’s probably not. Just choose the one with the simplest ingredients.)

Juice
Yes, juice. I know it’s made from fruit, but juice can pack a whopping calorie and sugar punch. Think about it: when you eat an apple, you are getting the sugar and calories of one apple, as well as the fibre from the peel and the pulp to help regulate the sugar as it’s digested. When you drink a glass of apple juice, you are getting the sugar and calories of 3-4 apples, without any of the fibre or valuable nutrients from the pulp and the peel. Juice also elevates your blood sugar more quickly, leaving you tired and lethargic when it dips again.

Again, I’m not suggesting you stay away from juice entirely, though it is better to eat your fruits than drink them. But do make sure you read the label when you buy your juice. Most fruit juice is mostly apple or orange juice, no matter what exotic fruits they have on the box. So make sure the fruits on the box are the first ingredients in the juice you buy. Also, ignore pseudo-healthy sounding names and claims – they likely aren’t adding much to the juice anyway. And of course, avoid ones with added sugars.

Finally, when you drink your juice, cut it with water or club soda so that you are getting half the sugar and calories. Or try mixing cold herbal tea with club soda and ice – it’s a great summertime refresher!

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