Although most of us know that it is best to avoid or minimise the obvious “junk” foods, there are actually many perceived healthy foods and drinks which are not all that good for us either. Here is a list of eight such items and a little bit of perspective on each. Which of our “healthy” favourites are better kept as treats? Let’s take a look.
I find that whenever my friends are dieting or “eating healthy” their savoury snacks of choice become either pretzels or microwave popcorn. Although pretzels are a lower fat option than potato chips or savoury biscuits, they are unfortunately not healthy per se. Pretzels usually offer very little nutritional value, have a high glycaemic index (GI) and therefore don’t keep you full for long and have added sodium or artificial flavourants to give them more sensory appeal1,2.
Ordinarily popcorn is a relatively low-calorie, low-fat, high fibre snack. However, microwave popcorn on the whole is an exception to this rule. Compounds found in microwave popcorn (from the flavouring and bag) have been linked to lung disease, certain cancers and even infertility. Microwave popcorn is also usually high in fat and sodium. Homemade air-popped popcorn is unanimously agreed to be the best cooking method for popcorn, it also allows you to choose what gets added during preparation and seasoning1,3,4. Instead of adding large amounts of fat and sodium to your popcorn try healthier alternatives like cayenne pepper, mozzarella cheese or curry powder.
COMMERCIALLY BOUGHT MUFFINS
Muffins are a confusing one, because they can be made relatively healthily, the problem is that they usually aren’t. Commercially bought muffins often have a nutritional value comparable to chocolate cake (not much nutritional value at all), a high GI, loads of sugar and plenty of fat (including the “bad” trans fats). I think it’s the “healthy” flavours put into muffins that throw us off, e.g. blueberry or lemon and poppy seed. Choose a vendor that you know makes better alternatives or cook your own at home. Here is a delicious recipe that we created just for you: http://futurelife.co.za/futurelife-smart-snack-muffins/
The perception that sports drinks are healthy must be due to the association between sports and health. Basically sports drinks are made up of sugar, water and electrolytes, they are produced for refuelling and rehydrating during exercise lasting more than 60-90minutes. For someone not exercising, all these drinks are providing is sugar and next to no nutrients1.
Yoghurt is naturally a healthy, protein and calcium-rich snack with the added advantage of intrinsic probiotics. The danger with flavoured yoghurt (even with the unfrozen kind) is that it often gets loaded with added sugar. This together with extra sugar contained in frozen yoghurt toppings, can really make the “empty” calories pile up. Unfortunately those gut-healthy probiotics also struggle to survive extended storage time and the extreme temperatures associated with freezing. While a frozen yoghurt may be considered a better alternative as a treat, it is definitely not a healthy snack1,5.
JELLY OR FRUIT SWEETS
Fat-free and “fruit” flavoured. How could these sweet treats not be healthy? Unfortunately if you turn the pack over and read the ingredient list, you won’t find much more than various forms of sugar, gelatine, flavourants, colourants and a bit of fruit juice concentrate, if you are lucky! Rather snack on your favourite fresh fruits for a naturally sweet snack.
Although these could be considered the better option when compared to their sugar-sweetened counterparts, don’t let the word, “diet” fool you. Diet sodas contain no real nutrition, are high in sodium as well other artificial ingredients and despite containing virtually no calories, may be linked to obesity in the long run6.
Gluten-free is very trendy at the moment, however, there is no real need to go gluten-free unless you have celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity. Although you do get some very nutritious gluten-free snacks, being gluten-free does not necessarily equate to good nutrition. In fact there are many junk foods that make gluten-free claims on their packaging in order to lure customers under false pretences. On a side note, going gluten-free brings with it the risk of developing nutritional deficiencies and getting insufficient dietary fibre if special precautions aren’t taken7,8.