Thursday, February 24, 2011

Health Food Imposters

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Dr. Madelyn Fernstrom

Are you confused when it comes to foods labeled “healthy”? So many foods sound like they’re good for you, but combining terms like “natural” and “organic” with appealing photos, can often derail a healthy eating program.

I’d like to share some of my food product pet peeves. These products are everywhere and I’d like to set the record straight with a few of the biggest offenders. I hope you’ll post some of your own!

Yogurt-Covered Raisins: These are about as far as you can get from yogurt. The high-sugar coating of the raisins provides no value-added, only calories. If you don’t want plain raisins, just grab a tiny handful. These are not a better choice than a serving of chocolate-covered raisins. Ditto for the yogurt-covered pretzels.

Vegetable Chips: Don’t be fooled by the pictures of colorful fresh veggies on the package. Inside are fried veggies – with very little nutritional value. After all – potato chips and corn chips are also “veggie chips”. These are salty, high-fat calorie bombs – and not a vegetable alternative. If you eat them, know they’re just a salt/fat treat – and watch those portions!

Spinach or Tomato Pasta: While you might think these provide a serving of a vegetable along with the pasta, these “colored” pastas have very little actual vegetable content. Enough to color, but not to nourish. Keep your portion to one-cup, and don’t over-indulge thinking you’re making a better choice. Better to look for a whole wheat version than a “veggie” version.

Fruit Rolls: Whether in nuggets, strips, or rolls, most of these versions are fruit-juice based, and not the equivalent of serving of fruit – despite the picture of fruit on the package. And they’re pricy – often more expensive than a piece of fruit (especially the organic varieties). Read the labels carefully – some versions DO contain only concentrated dried fruits – and you’ll know from the price! While these are fine as a treat, avoid using these as a fruit replacement.

So – what other health food imposters have you come across?


  1. Confused about granola bars. I've started the Nature Valley bars, and while they have whole grain oats, the second ingredient is sugar (listed w/12g). Is that alot?

  2. You're not the only one confused about granola bars. These are just glorified candy bars. Whole grain is not the right buzzword here - and you've figure out the right one. The second ingredient is sugar - nearly half the calories. So, if you are looking for a treat as part of your eating day, it's fine, but it's a low-nutrient option.