A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Think twice before eating these 10 health foods

Buzzwords and claims about health benefits of certain foods can complicate dietary choices intended to improve your health.

Illustration - Bag of groceries - Health food mythbuster

Check nutrition labels and portion size for meals and snacks, even if they’re commonly considered health foods.

These 10 items often labeled “health foods” may not always be as healthful as you think, said Ashley Short, a Marshfield Clinic Health System registered dietitian. Look closely at portion sizes, ingredients and nutrition labels before adding them to your diet.

1. Breakfast bars

Eating breakfast is good, but eating a candy bar every morning isn’t the best choice. Some breakfast bars are loaded with sugar but have little fiber or protein, much like candy bars. Make sure your grab-and-go breakfast has more than 5 grams of protein and 3-5 grams of fiber.

2. Calorie-control packaged foods

100 calories for a package of cookies sounds great, but calorie-control packaged foods won’t satisfy you.

“It’s better to have a more filling snack that has a good balance of nutrients, like apple slices with a tablespoon of peanut butter,” Short said.

3. Fruit juice

Although 100 percent fruit juice is a better choice than juice with added sugar, it’s no substitute for whole fruit, which has fiber to improve digestion and lower cholesterol.

4. Gluten-free baked goods

Gluten-free cakes and cookies may contain just as much sugar and fat as their gluten-containing counterparts. Avoiding gluten isn’t necessary unless you have celiac disease.

5. Honey, maple syrup and agave nectar

Natural sweeteners are perceived as more healthful than table sugar because they’re minimally processed. However, natural sweeteners increase blood sugar and contain calories just like table sugar. If you prefer natural sweeteners, use the smallest amount needed.

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6. Nuts

Portion size is everything when it comes to nuts. A palm-size portion of nuts is a great snack, but sometimes it’s hard to stick to one serving. Try putting 1-ounce servings of nuts in containers to help with portion control.

“Snacking on a whole cup of nuts throughout the day is about 800 calories,” Short said. “Your sodium intake will start to add up if you’re eating salted nuts.”

7. Processed organic foods

Unfortunately, organic doesn’t always mean good for you. Sweets made with organic ingredients usually have about the same amount of sugar and fat as non-organic sweets.

8. Salads

Salads aren’t automatically healthful meals. Croutons, breaded meats, creamy dressings and cheese can turn them into calorie bombs. Swap these ingredients for lean meats, light dressings and lower-calorie toppings.

9. Sea salt

Table salt comes from a mine and is processed to remove other minerals, while sea salt is made through evaporation of ocean water or water from saltwater lakes.

“Sea salt is considered more natural than table salt, but they contain the same amount of sodium. Both should be used in moderation,” Short said.

10. Wheat bread

Look past the packaging and color when it comes to wheat bread. The first ingredient on the nutrition label should be whole-wheat flour. Choose bread with at least 2-3 grams of fiber per serving.

For more about healthy foods, talk to a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Learn more about Nutrition Services Find a nutritionist

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  1. Mar 21, 2024

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