You've probably seen health bloggers' smoothie bowls on Instagram, or have been told to try different protein bars post-workout to repair damaged muscles, but when it comes to these "healthy" foods, they aren't always as good for you as you might think.
Many nutritionists prefer you ditch them, or read labels very carefully to avoid any health traps being popularized online or in the marketing world. Here are a few health foods you shouldn't be so keen on adding to your diet, without doing your research.
While these bars may be marketed as healthy, they're actually packed with either artificial sweeteners or sugar alcohols. "The former has some research that shows disruption of our gut bacteria, which we now know are responsible for not only digestion but also energy levels, metabolism and mood," says Kelly R. Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN.
What's more, the sugar alcohol content can also cause bloating and even diarrhea in many individuals, as well, she says. Your best bet? Pay attention to your stomach and see how you feel after eating them.
While plain yogurt is fair game, be wary of those sweetened varieties. "Many yogurts (both Greek and regular) are loaded with sugar, sometimes up to 30 grams. That's more than the American Heart Association recommends in a whole day," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, MS, RDN, and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club.
"I prefer to start with plain Greek yogurt and add [my] own fruit, vanilla, cinnamon or preferred sweetener. A little goes a long way," she says. If you need a grab and go option, look for one that's naturally sweetened with around 7-12 grams of sugar per 5.3 oz cup, she suggests.
Trail mix can have some benefits from nuts, but it is often high in sugar, contains added corn syrup, and has high fructose and sulfur dioxide preservative content, especially if dried fruits have been added to the mix, says Dr. M Daniela Torchia, PhD, MPH, RD.
And, if you're having a "dessert" trail mix, it's even worse. "Chocolate or high sugar yogurt chips that are also part of many trail mix packages," can be loaded with calories, sugars, and fats.
"There are some lower sugar, higher nut content trail mixes available at health food stores, but be sure that it includes more nuts/seeds vs. sugary product," she says.
It's not just a morning, yogurt parfait that can be a calorie bomb, but also your typical substitute for a bowl of ice cream. "Some frozen yogurt can be full of sugars, food coloring, [and other harmful additives] in milk content if milk is sourced from injected or supplemented cows," (where the product will then contain antibiotics and hormones), Torchia says.
Plus, that froyo might taste great going down, but it may give you a sugar rush, leaving you fatigued and hungry shortly after, she says. "There are companies that use fresh fruit and mix it into unsweetened organic frozen yogurts," so opt for those, she says. "Also, it's smart to watch the portion. A half cup to 3/4 cup is really different than consuming 2 cups with syrup on top," she says.
Healthy smoothies often go beyond proper portions, leading to excess sugar, calories, and carbs per beverage. "Though fruit is packed with fabulous anti-cancer fighting properties from their polyphenols, and anti-oxidant phyto-chemicals (plant chemicals), a smoothie is an unnatural way of consuming excessive amounts of fruit at once without chewing," says Torchia.
For instance, "one 12 oz. fruit smoothie can have more sugar, fructose, than a medium soda, and those calories will need to be stored as fat if your body cannot process all that sugar," she says.
We usually eat fruit, chewing it and getting the fiber in to feel full. "This is the first part of digestion, and it's necessary to begin the digestion process, as the brain receives a message from your mouth receptors to let your tummy know it's time to begin the process of dealing with fructose," she says.
However, when you bypass chewing, you have a large influx of fructose that will increase blood glucose and promote fat storage. Think about it this way: "Six ounces of juice has 4 to 6 tsp. of sugar from fructose, and it takes about 3-4 oranges to give you one glass of juice," she says.
"Many of my patients come to me and say, 'I've been trying to lose weight, I eat healthy... I eat cereal in the morning, and instead of dinner, I have cereal...' The problem with that for many people is that unless cereal is replacing extremely unhealthy fast food, cereal often is loaded with GMO grains (the verdict is out on that and different countries don't allow GMO grain agriculture) and pesticides [that] are quite high in certain oats, and corn, and they are devoid of enough protein and fiber (unless you get organic BRAN which tastes like straw, I've been told)," Torchia says.
Cereal is high in carbohydrates, low in protein, and it gets digested quickly. "If you want cereal, use organic high fiber, no added sugar types, with added almonds to add protein, and do not have more than a serving, as indicated in the box," she says.
Yet, your best move here is to forego cereal for something hearty with protein and nutrients, instead. "Once we substitute [cereal] with scrambled eggs and veggies, most of my patients feel more energized, and often lose weight," she says.