Whether you’re trying to lose weight or just want to overhaul your diet, loading up on nutritious, better-for-you snacks is one of the best things you can do to keep yourself fueled in between meals and on track with your goals. However, there are some “healthier” options that may end up ruining your efforts. Here are some of the biggest offenders, according to dietitians.
Granola has seemingly been a health-food snack for decades, topping yogurt parfaits and lining the shelves of specialty health foods. But it can also be a sugar bomb. “In just 1/4 cup of granola, there can be up to 170 calories and up to 10 grams of added sugar,” Jim White, RD, ACSM, and owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios, told POPSUGAR. “Plus, it is so good that most people overeat it.”
Speaking of granola, they add even more sugar to yogurt parfaits, which are already chock-full of the sweet stuff — even if yogurt is the main ingredient. “They often have lots of sugar, especially if they are flavored, and then they have granola (again, lots of sugar) and honey,” Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, and founder of Real Nutrition, told POPSUGAR. “I always educate my clients to read the label because these usually have as much sugar as a can of soda or even a candy bar!”
“Juice is full of sugar, albeit natural sugar, but sugar nonetheless,” Lara Field, MS, RD, LDN, told POPSUGAR. “When we drink juice, we consume calories, but we don’t feel satiated so we keep on eating.” Instead, she recommends fresh fruit instead of fruit juice. “The added benefit of fiber in whole fruit keeps us feeling full, in addition to packing a diverse array of vitamins and minerals.”
Protein bars seem like an easy way to get more of the important macronutrient and refuel after a tough workout. But many contain sketchy ingredients. “Most protein bars are full of unhealthy ingredients like palm oil, vegetable oil, sugar, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, and preservatives,” Dina Garcia, RD, LDN, told POPSUGAR. “Even if you opt for a bar with ‘cleaner’ ingredients, they still aren’t as filling or nutritious as eating real food.” Instead, she recommends six ounces of Greek yogurt with a cup of frozen berries and one tablespoon of pumpkin seeds for about as much protein as a bar, with far fewer additives and ingredients.
Fruit in Canned Syrup
“You might think canned fruit is as healthy as fresh. It can be, but here’s something you should watch out for: if the label of a canned fruit indicates that it’s canned in ‘light syrup’ or ‘heavy syrup,’ this means that the fruit has sugar added to it,” Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition, said. “You can read the ingredient label to make sure it contains nothing but fruit. Fruit canned in juice or water is usually a safe option.”
Flavored Instant Oatmeal
Oatmeal is a healthy breakfast packed with nutritious whole grains and filling fiber, but not all store-bought oatmeal is the same. “Oatmeal is great, but some of the flavored kinds can have added fats and sugars,” White said. “I would recommend sticking with plain oatmeal and adding in your own fruit to sweeten it.”
Gluten has gotten a bad rap over the last decade, with many people eschewing bread and grains in the name of losing weight. But gluten-free doesn’t always mean healthy. “Although [gluten-free foods are] wonderful for those who suffer from celiac disease, they are often made from ingredients that are more ‘white’ than healthy,” Shapiro said. “Think: potato bread, rice, and corn. Oftentimes, these products have a long ingredient list and are frequently low in fiber, which can lead to sugar spikes and even constipation. Read your labels and look for whole foods, few ingredients, and fiber.”
Deli meat is relatively low in calories and high in protein. But it’s also extremely processed and can be potentially harmful for your health. “Even the lower-fat versions of these cured meats contain the preservative sodium nitrate,” Suzanne Fisher, MS, RD, LDN, told POPSGUAR. “Nitrates are linked to potential heart disease risk and are known to promote inflammation.” Chronic inflammation can lead to heart disease, she added.
Low-Fat Peanut Butter
Although peanut butter is high in fat, it’s the good kind of plant-based monounsaturated fats, which can prevent heart disease. “The fat in peanut butter is filling and heart healthy,” Gorin said. “When fat is removed, extra sugar and other filler ingredients are added. Look at the ingredient labels of peanut butters in the store and choose one with just roasted peanuts.”
Unless you’re an endurance athlete training for hours at a time, you don’t need fancy sports drinks — plain old water should do. “Sports drinks can be great for athletes exercising for long bouts,” White said. “However, many people are drinking sports drinks and not exercising enough to warrant it. There are a lot of added sugars that can lead to unwanted weight gain.”
If regular yogurt is good for you, then frozen yogurt must be a healthy alternative to ice cream, right? Not exactly. “Oftentimes, frozen yogurt is lower in fat but higher in sugar,” Shapiro said. “If sugar isn’t burned off, it turns into fat and can cause you additional cravings.” She added that all the extra toppings also add up: cereal, candy, and even nuts and fruit.
Even if candy is made without sugar, it’s still candy, meaning it’s void of any nutritional value. “Sugar-free doesn’t necessarily equal healthy!” Gorin said. “What many people don’t realize is that many sugar-free candies are made with sugar alcohols, which can cause tummy troubles for some people, especially when consumed in excess.”
If you’re a fan of salty snacks, then pretzels may seem like a healthier alternative to potato chips since they have fewer calories and less fat — but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. “Lots of my clients like pretzels because they are low in fat,” Shapiro said. “However, they are also low in fiber, which means that the carbohydrates in the food will convert quickly to sugar in your body, causing you to become hungry quickly and possibly leading to more snacking, [eating] more calories, and weight gain. Low-fat foods do not always mean healthy.”
Image Source: POPSUGAR Photography / Lexi Lambros