Web Bonus: More About “Healthy” Food

In our December 2010 issue, DS points out how certain foods and drinks that are billed as “healthy,” don’t actually provide as much nutrition as you might expect. Here are three more foods that are similarly misleading.

Energy Bars

Why you think they’re healthy: Energy bars like PowerBars and Balance Bars are marketed as meal replacements packed with muscle-building protein.

But really: Most energy bars are glorified candy bars, loaded with sugar, calories and protein you don’t need. According to Jan Hangen, a registered dietitian in the sports-medicine department at the Children’s Hospital in Boston and a nutrition consultant at Boston Ballet, excess protein is stored as fat. You need .8 grams of protein for every kilogram of body weight (1 kg = 2.2 lbs). So if you weigh 125 pounds (56.8 kg), you should eat about 45.5 grams of protein each day. Some energy bars contain up to 30 grams of protein—the equivalent of one chicken breast.

Instead: Try Lärabars, which contain only fruit and nuts, rather than excess protein and chemical additives found in energy bars.

Multigrain Crackers

Why you think they’re healthy: You’ve heard that grains are a heart-healthy energy source.

But really: There are two types of grains: refined grain and whole grain. Refined grains have been milled to lose the outer bran layer of the kernel. Whole grains contain the entire kernel, making them higher in fiber and other important nutrients. The multigrain designation usually means that in a single serving, you’re eating mostly refined grains, with a very small (even negligible) amount of whole grains. Whole grains fight disease and take longer to digest, so your appetite will be curbed and you’ll have calories to burn (translation: energy).

Instead: Skip foods labeled “multigrain” in favor of those with a “whole grain” label. Munch on Triscuits or toss a bag of dry whole-grain cereal in your dance bag. Kashi cereals or regular Cheerios are good options. You can also try oatmeal, brown rice and whole-wheat bread. Just make sure the words “whole grain” appear first or second on the ingredient list, and that there are fewer than 4 to 5 grams of sugar per serving. (See the “What Are Whole Grains?” sidebar below.)

Pita Chips

Why you think they’re healthy: Pita bread is a good for you, so baked pita chips must be good too.

But really: “They sound wonderful, but they are really high in fat,” says Peggy Swistak, a consulting nutritionist at Pacific Northwest Ballet in Seattle. “Three or four pita chips with bean dip is a healthy snack, but who only eats three or four?” If you aren’t careful, you could eat a whole bag, and that would count as your fat allotment for the whole day.

Instead: Munch on rice cakes or plain air-popped popcorn. One rice cake is only 45 calories and contains less than a gram of fat. One cup of plain popcorn is about 30 calories and less than half a gram of fat.

What Are Whole Grains?

  • barley
  • brown rice
  • buckwheat
  • bulgur (cracked wheat)
  • millet
  • oatmeal
  • popcorn
  • whole-wheat bread, pasta or crackers

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