You’ve heard that you should never judge books by their covers, but what about judging foods by their packaging? Looks can be deceiving, especially at the grocery store where it’s easy to be tricked into thinking certain products are healthy when they’re actually far from it. If you haven’t been already, it’s time to start looking at nutrition labels and ingredients lists to set your shopping straight. We talked to a few registered dietitians and nutrition experts to get the scoop. Find out which foods to stop piling onto your plate and which of The 25 Worst ‘Healthy Snacks For Weight Loss it’s time to trash.
“There are usually too many fruits and added sweeteners in smoothies like honey and peanut or almond butter. The only time I recommend getting a smoothie is if you make it at home and YOU control how many sugar sources are added. I limit my clients to one fruit per smoothie.” – Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, of Real Nutrition NYC
Eat This! Tip: Not every smoothie needs to be a calorie bomb. Try some of these slimming Smoothies For Weight Loss, packing each with plenty of leafy greens, a limited number of sugary fruits, and a low-calorie base of plain Greek yogurt or unsweetened almond milk.
“Some flavored yogurts have as much sugar as a can of Coke. Instead, buy plain, unsweetened yogurt and flavor it yourself with fresh fruits. You can add in some nuts or seeds to give it a little crunch, too!” – Jen Flachbart, MS, RD, CDN, Plant Roots Nutrition, LLC
“Although coconut oil is loved by many, it’s not the healthiest oil like many people think. While 15 percent of the fat in coconut oil is medium chain triglycerides—a type of fat that is used for energy instead of storage—the other 85 percent is saturated fat. Many studies have shown that if saturated fat replaces unsaturated fat in the diet, it can raise your bad cholesterol. Because of this, the American Heart Association recently published a paper that states, ‘We advise against the use of coconut oil.’ While it’s totally fine to use it in moderation, it shouldn’t be an everyday oil. Instead, opt for vegetable or olive oil, both of which are associated with heart health and the Mediterranean diet.” – Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
“Yes, it is all natural, but sugar is sugar is sugar. When you don’t count the honey you use in your tea, yogurt, and oatmeal, it adds up to be added sugar, excess calories, and not a ‘free’ food.” – Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, Real Nutrition NYC
"Granola can be a nice additive to your morning yogurt or cereal, but some kinds can be loaded with fat and added sugars and add up to 220 or more calories per 1/4 cup. Try a low-sugar kind or make your own homemade granola where you can put in the ingredients you want.” – Jim White, RD, ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness Nutrition Studios
“Some protein bars are candy bars in disguise. They have just as much sugar and processed ingredients, perhaps with a little more protein and a fancier label. If you’re going to eat a protein bar, look for one under 200 calories with preferably no added sugar. As a rule of thumb, look for bars with a limited amount of ingredients.” – Jen Flachbart, MS, RD, CDN, Plant Roots Nutrition, LLC
Eat This! Tip: Finding a beneficial bar doesn’t have to be hard. Next time you’re at the grocery store, keep an eye out for anything on our list of the best protein bars.
“Nuts like almonds, cashews, and pecans are wonderful health foods because they are rich in fiber and nutrition; but when it comes to weight loss, just a few of these guys can go a long way. Although nuts contain healthy fats, they are very calorie dense. Just 1 ounce of almonds contains 160 calories with 14 grams of fat.” – Lisa Davis, Ph.D., Chief Nutrition Officer of Terra’s Kitchen
Eat This! Tip: That doesn’t mean you should banish nuts from your diet permanently. Just be sure to choose from the 6 Best Nuts For Weight Loss, pay attention to serving sizes, and eat them in moderation to keep yourself from going overboard with this satiating snack.
“Simply put, this is nature’s candy. When you dry the fruit, you remove the water and therefore make it more concentrated. So a plum becomes a prune and you can eat five prunes faster than you can eat five plums and get a huge sugar hit. No, thank you! Also, many dried fruits are sweetened with fruit juice or sugar to take away the tartness.” – Amy Shapiro MS, RD, CDN, Real Nutrition NYC
Apple Cider Vinegar
“While I definitely recommend using apple cider vinegar in marinades and salad dressings, I don’t really advise taking spoonfuls of apple cider vinegar to clear ‘toxins’ from the body. The majority of research on apple cider vinegar is on helping those with diabetes maintain a healthy blood sugar level. As a matter of fact, one Arizona State University study found that drinking two tablespoons of apple cider vinegar at bedtime may help foods sit in the stomach longer, which keeps blood glucose steady. But, the researchers noted that this would happen with any vinegar, not just apple cider vinegar. That is the only real reason to take a tablespoon of vinegar, not for weight loss or dissolving the body of toxins.” – Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
“The healthy fats are removed to make it lower in calories but are replaced with sugar. You’re better off enjoying the real stuff—regular peanut butter with the healthy fats to keep you full for longer.” – Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and personal trainer in NYC
Eat This! Tip: Make sure you choose a brand with the fewest ingredients possible. In fact, your peanut butter should only be made with peanuts and maybe salt. In fact, we tested 10 peanut butters and found the best one.
Gluten-Free Or Low-Carb Processed Foods
“People see gluten-free and think healthy. Just because they have this labels does not make the food any better than regular unlabeled junk food! A gluten-free cookie is still a cookie. Take the time to read the ingredient list on the back.” – Jen Flachbart, MS, RD, CDN, Plant Roots Nutrition, LLC
Pre-Made Protein Shakes
“Pre-made protein shakes are loaded with a ton of sugar and unnecessary ingredients to help with taste, consistency, and shelf life. If you aren’t careful, it’s easy to pick up a protein drink that contains twice the recommended amount of sugar for the entire day. A protein shake could be an excellent option if made at home where you are in control of the ingredients. Reading ingredient lists are key! Select a plant-based protein powder with a clean list to help cut down on artificial and added ingredients. Steer clear of brands that contain harmful ingredients like carrageenan, artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium and sucralose, artificial flavors, artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils.” – Gina Hassick, MA, RD, LDN, CDE
Eat This! Tip: Unfamiliar with protein powders? Don’t stress it. We Tested 10, And This Is The Best!
“I put fruit juice in the same category as soda. Sure, it has more vitamins and minerals than soda, but it is still a sugary beverage. Instead, eat the whole fruit, which also contains fiber and will be a lot kinder to your waistline. If you really love fruit juice and can't give it up, try water (or seltzer water) with a splash of the juice instead. This will give you the flavor of your favorite juice, but with a lot fewer calories.” – Jen Flachbart, MS, RD, CDN, Plant Roots Nutrition, LLC
“Agave is thought to be a healthier alternative to sugar because it has a lower glycemic index, meaning it doesn’t cause as great of a raise in blood sugar levels. The downside is that agave contains a lot of fructose, about 80-90%. Fructose can only be processed by your liver so when you take in more than what your liver can handle, the extra gets turned into fat. There is also some emerging research that shows a connection between high fructose intake and insulin resistance and heart disease.” – Gina Hassick, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, NCC
Light Salad Dressing
“The healthy fat from the oils are removed and replaced with additives and sweeteners for flavor. Enjoy the real stuff—full-fat dressing—and you're more likely to feel satisfied after your meal.” – Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and personal trainer in NYC
“Acai bowls have healthy ingredients but are very calorically dense. The portion sizes are usually enormous and the honey or agave that's drizzled on adds a lot of unnecessary sugars to the bowl, which already has a natural sweetness from all the fruit. I'd recommend ordering a small size and holding the added drizzle of sugar. Better yet, eat your fruit in its whole, natural state.” – Kristie LeBeau, MPH, RN, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Owner, Fresh Approach Nutrition, Inc.
Eat This! Tip: Stay away from this and other 15 ‘Breakfast’ Foods You Need To Give Up, going for Greek yogurt and fresh fruit in the morning instead to satisfy your sweet tooth.