Written by: Shannon Corlett, MS, RDN, LDN
The articles about health foods that can ruin, destroy, or sabotage your diet are everywhere. Their words are eye catching and the message clear: if you don’t click on this link you may be preventing your weight loss success. Although some of the claims are not completely incorrect, this type of marketing is fear-based, and you risk avoiding nutritious foods and unnecessarily restricting your diet. If you focus instead on the nourishing qualities of foods and think about how they balance with the rest of your diet, many of these so-called saboteurs can easily fit into a healthy plan.
The claim: bananas are full of sugar!
Bananas contain fructose (fruit sugar) just like all the other fruits. This myth exists because one large banana has the carbohydrate content of about two servings of fruit, but so does a large apple or large pear. Each of these items also adds 3-7 grams of fiber to your day, plus the many nourishing vitamins and minerals they contain. Instead of avoiding fruit, choose smaller size at the grocery store and focus on balancing the snack with a nut butter or Greek yogurt to add extra protein.
The claim: trail mix is too calorie dense!
This claim is not completely unfounded: it is easy to over-eat trail mix. But if you’re looking for a quick and convenient snack to always have on hand, trail mix is hard to beat. Consider making your own mix at home with unsweetened dried fruit and unsalted mixed nuts, then measure out 1/4 cup servings into individual Ziploc bags. These are so easy to grab and go and they provide a powerful macronutrients combo to sustain you in between meals.
The claim: wheat bread is full of high fructose corn syrup!
Which bread? All of them? Whenever I see a generalized claim like this I am automatically weary and usually find that it is not applicable to all products (e.g https://www.foodforlife.com/product/breads/ezekiel-49-sprouted-whole-grain-bread). This claim really comes down to reading food labels. Instead of avoiding foods you enjoy, practice identifying undesirable additives and choose products with primarily whole ingredients. Start by looking at the ingredients list on your bread, the first word should be “whole” followed by the grain (e.g. wheat, rye, sorghum, millet, etc.) or “brown rice” if this is the primary starch.
The claim: yogurt is also full of sugar!
All yogurt contains some sugar from naturally occurring lactose (milk sugar), but this is different from the added sugars found in some brands. Consider buying a plain yogurt (the only ingredient should be “cultured milk”) and add your own fruit (1/2 cup of raspberries gives you 4g of fiber!). If that is not sweet enough, the American Heart Association allows for a little wiggle room when it comes to added sugars: up to 6 teaspoons (100 calories) per day for women and up to 9 teaspoons (150 calories) per day for men.
The claim: smoothies are full of sugar and calories!
Which smoothie? Who made it? What’d they put in there? When most people think of smoothie, the recipe is primarily fruit based, which can add up to a lot of carbohydrates intake. Instead, consider making a healthier option at home. Focus on vegetables, add a protein source, maybe a healthy fat, and a serving or two of fruit for taste and you have a balanced, on-the-go meal that’s packed full of vitamins and minerals. Here’s a sample recipe that only uses one serving of fruit (1/2 a banana), leaving you room to add a little extra sweetness if desired: https://www.thenutritionaddiction.com/blog/the-breakfast-smoothie
In today’s market of health foods and convenience options, it can feel nearly impossible to know what you should and should not include in your diet. There are marketing strategists studying all our buying behaviors to learn exactly which claims will convince us to purchase their products. But that does not mean you must be trapped in the deluge of constant marketing. With a little practice reading food labels, and a conscious effort to include whole foods in your diet, you can feel confident navigating the endless array of food choices!