Eating healthy can be a challenge. With all the slick marketing littering the packaging in the supermarkets and vending machines, it’s difficult to know what’s “healthy”. The result – most of us are indulging in supposed “healthy” snack alternatives, when they aren’t really healthy at all. Finding a good-for-you mini-meal isn’t easy because, in the American food jungle, chips are the most popular snack food (followed by chocolate, cheese and cookies). And Americans are “serial snackers”. Researchers say snacks account for an extra 580 extra calories per day in our diets.
To be a healthy snack, the food must be high in nutrients (i.e. protein, vitamins, minerals, fiber, good fat) and low in trans fats, hydrogenated oils, refined sugar, and sodium.
I’ve put together a diet guide and cookbook to help you eat a fat-burning, low-inflammatory diet. But one of the first steps to being a lean, mean, fat-burning machine is to get rid of all the unhealthy snacks you end up binging on during those busy times. This includes the unhealthy snacks that aren’t really healthy at all. These tricky ones do the most damage, because they are like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. You think you’re doing your body, but they are just causing damage in your body.
These fake healthy snacks need to be removed from your kitchen, purse, desk, etc.
The 5 Worst Healthy Snacks
1. Rice Cakes
Rice cakes have long been a diet staple, but are definitely NOT a “healthy” snack. The simple carbohydrates found in rice cakes are high glycemic, providing a rush of energy, but can leave you hungry within a few hours. Researchers at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center found high-GI snacks caused excessive hunger and increased activity in craving and reward area of the brain — the perfect storm for overeating and weight gain.
2. Roasted Almonds
Roasted, salted nuts are yummy. But the high-heat cooking method isn’t good for your health (or waistline). When nuts and seeds are heated, it denatures the oils and proteins, turning them into a highly inflammatory food (which leads to hormone imbalances and other chronic health issues). Nuts are often roasted in oil, then tossed in salt and preservatives. Even if they are “oil-free”, you can find other ingredients on the label, including monosodium glutamate (MSG), a controversial flavor enhancer linked to weight gain in some studies. Raw almonds are slower digesting than roasted almonds, creating a greater feeling of fullness that lasted longer, one study in the journal Food Biophysics showed. So go raw! For extra bonus points, chose the “in shell” variety. Named “The Pistachio Effect,” research shows the act of shelling nuts can slow you down and give your body a chance to register fullness 86 calories sooner than you would otherwise.
3. Bars (Protein, Energy, Granola, Cereal, etc.)
Bars are the perfect “healthy” snack, especially if you’re eating for energy and maintain an active lifestyle, right? I hate to be the one to burst your bubble, but beware of the health halo. These “all-natural” bars are packed with high fructose corn syrup, sugars, sodium and trans-fats and/or saturated fats. The few healthy ingredients they contain don’t cancel out the bad ones. The high levels of sugar send your energy levels soaring right before you get the unwanted sugar crash. Would you refuel with a Snickers after a workout? That’s exactly what you’re doing when you reach for many protein bars — with their laundry list of ingredients, sugars and preservatives, and up to 350 calories per – you’d be better off eating candy.
4. Flavored Yogurts
Just because it says “Light” and/or “Fit”, doesn’t mean it’s actually going to promote weight loss. Flavored yogurt, is a scourge of sugary fruit. For example, Dannon Peach Fruit on the Bottom Yogurt has 27 grams of sugar — more than six Dunkin’ Donuts Sugar Raised Donuts! Within each Yoplait Light is 10 grams of sugar, which comes from the fruit, milk and added sugars. Also, the sugar substitute aspartame is added. This added sugar is adding inches to your waist and preventing your body from being “fat-adapted”, which means burning fat for energy. Instead, you’re stuck in a sugar-burning state, decreasing energy and brain function, and increasing inflammation in your body. Instead, look for plain yogurt from grass-fed cows, without added sugar, like Maple Hill Creamery and Kalona Supernatural.
5. Yogurt Covered Snacks
Beware of the wolf in sheep’s clothing. Although it’s labeled as “yogurt”, it’s barely yogurt at all. This synthetic yogurt is filled with sugar, hydrogenated oils and yogurt powder, all of which add excessive sugars and saturated fats to your diet. Furthermore, people consume an average 41% more calories when snacking on unwrapped snacks, one study published in the journal Appetite showed.
Avoid the “wolf in sheep’s clothing” in all snacks
There are many tricks used in marketing designed to make you think that a snack is health when it is nothing more than junk food. Lets identify these slick marketing tactics that will have you scratching your head.
#1: All Natural
The phrase “all natural” is similar to “organic” because most people associate them with health. However, “all natural” provides much more leeway for the manufacturer. These products are required to be free of artificial ingredients, but that still leaves much room for toxic substances that don’t get excluded by the guidelines. I’m sure you’ve noticed that “all natural” and “organic” products are more expensive than those that are not. This is even more reason to be sure you know exactly what you’re paying for. Getting acquainted with what you are consuming will go along way.
The words “all natural” are often used with poultry advertising. Chicken that is truly raised naturally should be free-range and organic (antibiotic free, GMO free, pesticide free, growth hormone free, and has been pasture raised or fed certified organic feed). If you can’t tell by the packaging, ask a clerk behind the meat counter.
#2: Low-fat, No Fat, or Light
The main-stream media has done a phenomenal job on confusing folks on weight loss and fat consumption. In fact, the belief that saturated fat is unhealthy and causes heart disease is not true and is a result of misinterpreted data. For further information on this subject, read the Cholesterol myth. In order for our cells to function properly, we need a healthy amount of fat in our diets. In fact, you must eat good fats to lose fat and be healthy.
Low-fat or light products do not provide the nutritional support our bodies need to function at a
high level. Also, these products are typically loaded with sugar, bad fats (like vegetable oils and hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils), preservatives, artificial food colors, and chemical flavorings to compensate for their bland flavor. These foods will not help you stay healthy. Ironically, low fat diets have historically failed miserably at helping people lose weight.
Full fat products are best for losing weight and living a healthy lifestyle. Yogurt and salad dressings are two highly promoted “low-fat” options. Check for sugar content and other toxic ingredients prior to purchasing. Full-fat, plain yogurt from grass-fed cows is great with berries and you can make plenty of homemade dressings with extra-virgin olive oil, vinegar varieties, and spices.
More and more people are hoping on the “gluten-free bandwagon”. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, rye oats, and barley. So the foods that Western nations love most (bread and pasta) contain these gluten proteins. Lectin and gluten, two proteins found in grains, cannot e broken down naturally. This is a problem because the body views it as an invader and attacks it and creates anti-bodies against it. In the process of attacking lectin, the body can also attack itself, which is characteristic of autoimmune disease as well as several other chronic conditions.
For this reason, many people have chosen to remove grains and gluten from their diet and improve their health. However, just because foods are gluten-free, it doesn’t mean they are healthy. Many gluten-free products often contain junk ingredients, just like the fat-free products. Often times, chemicals and unnatural ingredients are used to make a gluten-free product have a good taste/texture and a long shelf-life.
Gluten-free snack products commonly contain harmful ingredients. Beware of corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, vegetable oils, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Opt for products that are made with whole foods (names you recognize). As always, homemade is best.
#4: Low Sodium, Less Fat, Less Sugar…
Companies to make their products more attractive use these phrases and others. Walking down the grocery store snack aisles can be extremely tempting, especially if you’re addicted to sugar or junk foods. It is easy to think that 50% less sugar means that these Oreo cookies can’t be that bad…but they are. As a society, we’ve been programmed to associate certain advertising buzzwords with health and nutrition. If it didn’t work, companies would not be investing their money and effort into these strategies.
I may sound like a broken record, but read the ingredients. Also, try to cut back on processed food purchases all together. Preparing more whole food meals is going to help you improve your health, reduce your exposure to harmful ingredients, and minimize your food budget. If a product is claiming less sugar, less sodium, or less of anything, find out exactly how much is in the product. “Less” doesn’t necessarily mean “low”.
#5: Excellent Source of Calcium, Fiber, Vitamin D or (insert any vitamin or nutrient)
While it’s true that vitamins and nutrients are extremely important for your health, you can guarantee that there are better sources of vitamins than processed or canned foods found on grocery store shelves. The vitamins found in these products are almost always synthetic and not exactly the same thing you would find in raw fruits and vegetables.
If you are truly looking for an “excellent” source of a vitamin or nutrient, you should look in your grocery’s produce, meat and dairy sections. You’ll find natural sources of vitamins like:
- Calcium (important for bone strength & health) – Green leafy vegetables such as spinach, turnip greens and collard greens. Also found in grass-fed dairy products like yogurt (organic and full-fat) and cheese (organic and raw).
- Vitamin A (supports eye health) – Sweet potatoes, carrots, and leafy greens like spinach, kale, collard greens, turnip greens, and Swiss chard.
- Vitamin B12 (promotes blood health, supports brain & nervous system function) – red meat (organic and grass-fed), salmon, and yogurt (organic and full-fat).
- Vitamin C (powerful anti-oxidant, reduces oxidative stress) – papaya, bell peppers, strawberries, broccoli, pineapples, brussel sprouts, kiwi, oranges, and grapefruit.
- Vitamin D (normalize insulin levels and blood pressure, reduce inflammation, needed to absorb and metabolize calcium and phosphorous) – salmon, tuna, trout, eggs, and sunlight.
#8: Sugar Free
More and more people are learning of the benefits of a low sugar diet, and food companies know this. You can find many items labeled as “sugar free” in grocery stores today. Unfortunately, these sugar-free foods are just as bad or even worse than having actual sugar. Manufacturers are adding artificial sweeteners to compensate for their lack of taste. These include Saccharin, Aspartame, and Sucralose, all of which have been found to have harmful effects on the body (cancer, hormone dysregulation, and suppressed immune function).
Eliminate diet drinks and foods. They are notorious for their use of artificial sweeteners. Most breath mints and chewing gum are also sweetened with these products. Look for xylitol sweetened gum and mints. Also, stop using artificial sweeteners in your diet. Opt for stevia, xylitol, honey, maple syrup, or raw cane sugar to sweeten your coffee, tea, etc.
This was always cracks me up. Friends and family members pick me up products all the time because they thought id like it because it says “non-gmo”. Though this is a nice gesture, I always shake my head as I look to the back of the package and see corn syrup and food colorings. Who cares if its non-gmo but has 20 other ingredients that will kill you.
Real Food Snacks
All of this “worst healthy snacks” business may be leaving you wondering what you can grab when you’re on the go. Keep the snacks low in salt and sugars, void of hydrogenated oils, and high in good fats and clean protein. Here are some of my favorite healthy snacks to keep on hand: https://nuvisionexcel.com/health/healthy-snacks-at-work/. Other options include grapefruit, guacamole/hummus and veggies, and chickpeas.