One of the questions I get as a holistic nutritionist is, are these foods healthy for us? As people embark upon their new health journeys, I see people stocking up on “healthier” alternatives, such as store-bought salads, protein bars and plant-based vegan burgers. The food industry is masterful in fooling us into thinking that we are eating healthy, whereas some of the processing that goes into these foods are actually not that great for you.
Let me help you navigate my top 5 food traps- don’t let them fool you!
Seriously, what? Salads are the #1 go-to that my clients turn to for a healthy meal. Don’t throw out salads yet- I want you to take a closer look at the labels though. Usually the culprit is the dressing. Look at the picture I posted here- things to watch out for is total fat content, added sugars (I’ve seen up to 15 g of added sugar!), and eye-watering amounts of sodium.
What can you do instead? If you prefer to stick with the store-bought prepared salads, consider not using their dressing and making one yourself. If you’re up to the challenge, consider making your own salad. You can meal prep the ingredients beforehand and make multiple meals out of them. This is one of our most popular salad recipes we’ve posted.
2. Plant-based Vegan Burgers
Meat alternative burgers have been all the rage, with nationwide rollouts to fast food chains, restaurants, grocery stores and warehouse superstores like Costco and Sams. You can’t walk into a major grocery store and not see a dazzling display of polished new vegan meat alternative burger displays outshining the traditional beef patty.
However, I have my doubts about the most popular “engineered” plant-based burgers on the market. Just to word “engineered” makes me a little nervous, but just looking at the label you can see high amounts of of saturated fat, sodium, and highly processed ingredients. Many of us with more sensitive digestive systems have also reported feeling gassy, bloated, nauseous or feelings of general indigestion afterwards. We also feel suspicious of any plant-based food that has spend over $70 million in research and develop to press a few plants together into a burger patty. It makes us wonder- is this a frankenfood?
If a burger is really what you are craving, we suggest searching for ones made of whole foods, such as black bean or lentil burgers. Look for the word “whole” in the label, which reassures us that minimal processing has gone into it.
3. Protein Bars
Nothing makes us sadder than this one, because when we are busy out there, this is one of the easiest foods to grab. Most of the protein bars out there are loaded with highly processed ingredients and red flag ingredients such as sugar, gut-busting sugar alcohols and saturated fat. If protein bars are a part of your everyday lifestyle, make sure it is made with whole foods (watch for processed ingredients, such as “hydrolyzed proteins”) and has a limited sugar content. Many protein bars contain as much sugar as a candy bar. If that is the case, just hand me the Snickers!
If possible, make your own trail mix with mixed raw nuts and seeds and maybe a few pieces of low sugar dark chocolate. We love bringing a smoothie in a shaker cup on our busiest days, such as this delectable pistachio cream smoothie that is rich in both protein AND fiber to keep us going all day.
4. Veggie Straws and Chips
Did you know that potato chips are also technically veggie chips? Chips are a combination of processed starchy vegetables, salt, oil (hello fried foods!), and starch. Veggie chips tend to be associated with vegetables so people believe they are getting healthy veggies instead. However, they lost most of their nutrition when they were processed.
“Veggie” chips are actually only marginally more nutritious than potato chips, so we generally view them in the same category. When it comes to these snacks, we recommend moderation, because at the end of the day, we also know how good they taste. For a healthier daily alternative, we recommend snacking on carrot sticks, celery, jicama or making your own kale chips.
5. Instant Oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is one of the most popular breakfasts for most people, but it’s a deceptively processed food. The oats are rolled and processed to a point where it’s easier to digest and cook (hence, the word instant), but it can end up spiking our blood sugar and reducing the amount of wholesome fiber that we are actually looking for in oats.
Many of the popular flavors in instant oats are also loaded with sugar, which can cause feelings of hunger. If you still have a craving, try making your own overnight oats or try this Apple Pie Smoothie, which tastes exactly like a cinnamon apple oatmeal, but is loaded with the protein, fiber and healthy whole carbs you would want out of a wholesome breakfast that fuels you all morning.
This list is by no means a comprehensive list of all the “health” foods that have fooled us into thinking they were healthy. However, it gives us a start to thinking for ourselves when we start committing to a healthier lifestyle. Take some time to read your labels and watch for fat, sodium and sugar contents. Look for the word “whole foods” on the backs of the label, which ensures minimal processing. And don’t forget to have grace on yourself if you ever find yourself accidentally snacking on one of these things. The best news of all- you have all the tools to get yourself back on track tomorrow.