You Call That Health Food?

Just because the label says it's good for you doesn't mean it is.

ByCassandra Forsythe, M.s. and Adam Campbell

May 29, 2008— -- Take a moment and consider this logic: 1. Fat-free foods are healthy. 2. Skittles are fat-free. 3. Therefore, Skittles are healthy.

Make sense? Of course not. But it's exactly the type of reasoning that food manufacturers want you to use.

You see, in our example, we started with a false premise. That's because the term "fat-free" is often code for "high-sugar" -- an attribute that makes a product the opposite of healthy. Case in point: Johns Hopkins University researchers recently determined that high blood sugar is an independent risk factor for heart disease. So high-glycemic foods -- those such as sugars and starches that raise your blood sugar dramatically -- are inherently unhealthy. (See Skittles, above.)

Unfortunately, faulty food logic is far less obvious when you're shopping outside the candy aisle. Why? Because making healthy choices isn't as simple as knowing that beans are packed with fiber, or that fruits are loaded with disease-fighting antioxidants. After all, manufacturers often add ingredients, such as sugar, that can instantly turn a good snack bad.

As a result, many of the products that you think are wholesome are anything but. And that's why we've created our list of "healthy" foods that you can -- and should -- live without.

The upside: Yogurt and fruit are two of the healthiest foods known to man.

The downside: Corn syrup is not. But that's exactly what's used to make these products supersweet. For example, a cup of Colombo blueberry yogurt contains 36 grams (g) of sugar, only about half of which is found naturally in the yogurt and fruit. The rest comes in the form of "added" sugar -- or what we prefer to call "unnecessary."

The healthy alternative: Opt for Dannon Light 'n Fit Carb & Sugar Control Yogurt, which has 90 percent less sugar than regular yogurt does.


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The upside: Beans are packed with fiber, which helps keep you full and slows the absorption of sugar into your bloodstream.

The downside: The baked kind are typically covered in a sauce made with brown and white sugars. And because the fiber is located inside the bean, it doesn't have a chance to interfere with the speed at which the sugary glaze is digested. Consider that 1 cup of baked beans contains 24 g sugar: That's about the same amount in 8 ounces of regular soda.

The healthy alternative: Red kidney beans, packed in water. You get the nutritional benefits of legumes, but without the extra sugar. They don't even need to be heated: Just open the can, rinse thoroughly, and serve. Try splashing some hot sauce on top for a spicy variation.

The upside: The seaweed it's wrapped in contains essential nutrients, such as iodine, selenium, calcium, and omega-3 fats.

The downside: It's basically a Japanese sugar cube. That's because its two other major components are white rice and imitation crab, both of which are packed with fast-digesting carbohydrates and almost no protein.

The healthy alternative: Real sushi made with tuna or salmon. These varieties have fewer bad carbohydrates, while providing a hefty helping of high-quality protein. Better yet, skip the rice, too, by ordering sashimi.

The upside: Granola is made with whole oats, a nutritious food that's high in fiber.

The downside: The oats are basically glued together with ingredients like high-fructose corn syrup, honey, and barley malt -- all of which quickly raise blood sugar.

The healthy alternative: Grab a low-sugar meal replacement bar that contains no more than 5 g net carbs -- those are the ones that affect blood sugar -- and at least 15 g protein. We like Myoplex Carb Sense.


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The upside: Most pasta-salad recipes include a variety of fresh vegetables.

The downside: The main ingredient is white-flour pasta, a close relative of white bread.

The healthy alternative: Egg salad has no impact on blood sugar, and a University of Connecticut review reports that there is no connection between egg consumption and heart disease.

The upside: One English muffin -- two halves -- has half as many calories as two slices of bread. So it's better for a breakfast sandwich.

The downside: Most English muffins not only raise blood sugar significantly but are nearly devoid of fiber, protein, and vitamins. This makes them a great example of a food that provides only empty calories.

The healthy alternative: One hundred percent whole-wheat English muffins are a decent start, but we like the kind made from sprouted grains, which contain no flour and are packed with nutrients. For instance, Food for Life sprouted-grain English muffins have twice as much fiber and 30 percent more protein compared with the typical 100 percent whole-wheat version.

For more "healthy" foods that you can -- and should -- live without, click here.


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