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Buyer Beware

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Read the fine print before you assume something is good for you

It’s a new year and a time for new beginnings. Most of us start off making resolutions to exercise more, eat a healthy diet and relinquish bad habits. In our attempt to shed extra holiday pounds, many will peruse the supermarket aisles, throwing only the healthiest selections in the basket. Before heading to the grocery store, take note, because several foods perceived as healthy may not be as good for you as you think.

Take a closer look at these foods and drinks:

Cereal bars
These seemingly healthy breakfast and/or snack bars are made primarily from enriched flour and sugar. Enriched flour is white flour that has a minimal amount of whole grain added so that the label can advertise “wheat.” If you reach for one of these in the morning, you will find yourself very hungry shortly after because it lacks the fiber and protein that help fill you up. You will typically experience a quick, sugar-fueled energy surge, followed by a noticeable energy slump. Look beyond the front of the box and check out the nutrition facts and ingredients. Select whole grains with at least 3 grams of fiber per serving, with the first few ingredients stating “whole wheat” or “whole grain.” This applies to crackers, breads, cereals, as well as other whole-grain products.

Sugary cereals “made with whole grain”
If you think your kids’ breakfast cereal is now improved because it’s made with “whole grain” (e.g., Cocoa Puffs, Fruity Pebbles), unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Like the cereal bars, these breakfast foods are made with white flour and packed with sugar. In addition to checking dietary fiber content, also look for less than 7 grams of sugar per serving. The majority of these cereals are like pouring sugar into a bowl in the morning or having a candy bar for breakfast.

Fiber One bars
The fiber in a Fiber One bar is not the same as traditional fiber (like whole grains, beans and fruits and vegetables) with its many health benefits. This type of “manufactured” fiber is often referred to as inulin or chicory root on the ingredient list. It’s not harmful to eat, but it will not lower cholesterol, aid with weight loss and digestion, stabilize blood sugar and so forth. The first three ingredients in the Fiber One bar include chicory root, sugar and chocolate. You may as well have a Hershey bar.

Vitamin Water
How can a drink with the word “vitamin” in the name not be good for you? Advertising can be deceiving. This very popular beverage is loaded with sugar and has minimal vitamin content. If you’re trying to get slim in the New Year, beware of drinking your calories. This is true for some other seemingly healthy drinks like pomegranate or acai juice (or any 100 percent fruit juice), V8 Splash, sweetened green tea and sports drinks. These drinks can pack as many calories and sugar grams as a soft drink. While the 100 percent juice does have more health benefits than sodas, you should go for water or light/diet versions of juice if weight is a concern. Other lower-calorie drinks include Vitamin Water Zero, G2, Propel, Crystal Light or sparkling water. Or try brewing your own green tea if you’re craving something besides plain water.

100-calorie packs, pretzels, baked chips and rice cakes
Like cereal bars, these snacks are low in calories but also low in nutrients that help keep you full. These snacks will only make you hungrier for more, shortly after you eat them.

Granola bars and cereals
For a long time, granola was considered a “health food.” So many candy-type ingredients have been added to these bars and sugar added to cereals that they have decreased in nutritional value. While the fat content is mainly unsaturated, look for ones with less fat and sugar. If you like granola bars, a great alternative is the South Beach Protein Fit bar. Each bar contains 8 grams of protein and is lower in sugar. And try making your own granola cereal using whole oats, nuts and honey and bake with or without oil.

Dried fruit
Dried fruit does contain some healthy nutrients such as iron, but for the calorie-conscious, they are very easy to overeat. Dried fruit loses a lot of its nutritional value (including phytonutrients) during the drying process, and calories and sugar become more concentrated. You will eat more calories for less volume. It’s more nutritious and satisfying to eat fresh fruit.

Stay tuned next month to read about foods we may perceive as unhealthy that actually have some surprising health benefits.