The Health Food Blind Spot: How It’s Sabotaging Your Diet
You’ve traded butter for olive oil, sugar for agave, and regular old milk for the almond variety. You drink green juice by the gallon, aim to make raw foods a staple of your diet, and stay away from red meat as much as possible. Foods with “low-sodium,” “sugar-free,” and “all-natural” labels fill your grocery cart. And yet, despite all of your health-conscious ways, your skinny jeans still feel tight. The (somewhat) good news is you’re not alone. The bad news is you’ve fallen victim to the health food blind spot.
Keep reading to learn more about where your diet efforts are taking a wrong turn.
The “everything in moderation” rule seems to fly out the window when there’s a bowl of “healthy” food in front of you. You probably wouldn’t dig into to a bag of gummy bears and polish it off (at least not contentedly), but what about grapes or dried cranberries? Fruit and dehydrated fruit make convenient snacks, but they’re not as virtuous as you may think. Eat one bunch of grapes, and you can add 75 grams of sugar to your daily total. Dried fruits can be even worse because manufacturers tend to add sugar to tart fruits like cranberries and cherries. Fruit has plenty of nutritional benefits, but that old spot on the food pyramid you remember from grade school health class—the one that places it equal to vegetables—is not the most accurate representation. Keep high-sugar fruits, like tropical produce, bananas, and grapes to a minimum.
You congratulate yourself every time you skip brown rice in favor of quinoa or farro, but don’t get too proud. While these “supergrains” are certainly the better buy (they’re high in fiber and protein, shown to lower cholesterol, and the list goes on), it’s not as if you’re eating celery. Just one cup can have between 200 and 260 calories. The healthy low-calorie paradox applies to other swaps you’ve probably made. Traded in butter for olive oil? If you keep the serving size the same (one tablespoon), you’ve added 17 calories to butter’s 102 count. If you’re sugar- and artificial sweetener-free, you’ve probably made the switch to agave, and thus added five calories per one-teaspoon serving. Do your research on the new healthy alternatives that pop up, and only keep the ones that make sense for you.
When your carrot stick bypasses the ranch dressing and lands in the hummus, you know you’ve made a good choice. But at a glance, the nutrition label on your hummus can be misleading—70 calories looks pretty nice, until you read a little closer. That’s 70 calories per two-tablespoon serving. Have you ever had just two tablespoons of hummus? Most of us don’t measure out scoops of hummus, but if you typically inhale half a tub at a time, you may want to rethink hummus as diet food. Nuts are another health food that can cause trouble. One ounce is the serving size for nuts. It’s also the size of a shot glass, which makes a great measuring tool at home. But when there’s a dish of nuts in front you, it becomes very hard to practice portion control. Count out 15 cashews or almonds, and then cut yourself off.
There’s a juice bar on every corner and another one stocking every grocery store in town. And sure, drinking raw juices can be a great way to get in a serving of veggies, but be mindful of the other ingredients in your green juice. On its own, a concoction of kale, spinach, and celery is hardly going to win any taste tests. So many varieties end up adding as much sugar as you would find in a can of soda. And while coconut water may be a hydration powerhouse, most of us don’t need that electrolyte-filled boost. Unless you’ve just completed a 90-minute, high-exertion workout, your body really isn't thirsting for the extra sodium and potassium. Save yourself 45 calories, and drink regular water instead.
Brussels sprouts are high in potassium, low in sugar, and virtually fat-free—on their own. But when was the last time you ate a big helping of steamed, no-frills-added Brussels sprouts? Most of us turn to recipes that call for parmesan, bread crumbs, and bacon to make our sprouts more delectable. Here’s a not-so-surprising newsflash: Maple-glazed veggies are going to pack on the pounds. How you prepare your food is just as important as the actual food itself.
Seeing the gluten-free label or green organic”stamp on the box of cookies you’re buying doesn’t change the fact that you are indeed buying cookies. Just like regular old cookies, the gluten-free, low-sugar, all-natural varieties are still high in fat, and may be even higher in calories than the original versions. No matter what health food qualifier you find on your packaged foods, you never have a free pass to bypass the nutrition label. Look for snacks and treats that have less than seven grams of sugar to keep your shopping cart in check. And remember: Fresh kale and kale chips dusted with nacho cheese zest are not the same (even if you buy them from Whole Foods).
Have you been living in the health food blind spot?