If you grocery shop with a healthy diet in mind, the labels “fat-free” and “sugar-free” may jump out to you. However, these foods may not be as healthy as their labels make them sound.
Many fat-free and sugar-free foods have little nutritional value, and contain additives and artificial ingredients, according to this week’s “Take Care” guest, Kerri-Ann Jennings. Jennings is a registered dietician and the former editor of Eating Well Magazine. She also writes for Yoga Journal, Men's Health, the Huffington Post, and Cooking Channel TV. Her article "8 Healthy-Sounding Foods That Aren't," appears on the Food Network website.
Jennings gives advice on what, and what not to buy when trying to stay healthy. First up on her list to avoid:
Fat-Free Salad Dressing
When fat is taken out of a food, additives, such as sugar, are often the replacement, says Jennings. On top of the added sugar, fat-free salad dressing also takes away from nutrients the salad itself can provide.
“A lot of the vitamins and minerals in vegetables, and even the salad greens…have fat-soluble vitamins [E, A, and K],” Jennings said. “In order to absorb it, your body actually needs some fat.”
But if you're still looking to replace the fat from salad dressing, Jennings says adding natural fats to a salad, such as avocado or nuts, will also do the job of absorbing those vitamins and nutrients.
Cream of Wheat
Although plain cream of wheatis fortified with vitamins and minerals and has no added sugars, Jennings says it has very little fiber as far as breakfast foods go.
"It only has one gram of fiber," Jennings said. "It's equivalent to a slice of white bread."
Despite the lack of fiber, plain cream of wheat still isn't the worst thing for you. However, both cream of wheat and oatmeal that comes in instant packages, can be.
"Both of those types of instant packages have a ton of added sugars, and they can even also add caramel color, which sounds not that bad, but it's actually linked to cancer when you eat it in large quantities," Jennings said.
Along with this, Jennings also says instant oatmeal and cream of wheat packages contain many fats that are not good for your heart.
Although Vitamin Water may sound healthy with the name "vitamin" in it, it may not be as beneficial as it sounds.
Vitamin Water can be good for your body when exercising, but when used otherwise, Jennings says it can serve the opposite purpose it was meant for.
"The entire bottle is about 125 calories, and that comes from eight teaspoons of sugar, and that's a lot more sugar than people realize I think is in something like a Vitamin Water," Jennings said.
Jennings also adds that as with pairing vegetables and fat-free salad dressing, the vitamins and minerals in drinks like Vitamin Water won't even be absorbed unless paired with some sort of fat.
But if you're not a big water drinker, and you’re looking for a low-calorie beverage with some flavor, Jennings recommends seltzer water or club soda with a splash of juice.
Low-Calorie Sandwich Thins
Similar to the additives used to replace the fat in fat-free salad dressing, there are extra, artificial ingredients in low-calorie sandwich thins.
"They have a lot of extra fillers, they're very processed, and even the fiber in it doesn't really come from whole grains," Jennings said.
Instead, to decrease the amount of calories you take in from a sandwich, Jennings advises only using one slice of bread to make it an open face sandwich. She also adds that if you get your bread from a bakery, you can request it be sliced thin to make your own, healthier, low-calorie sandwich thins.
Although there can be many health benefits to Greek yogurt, Jennings says you have to know what to look for.
"If it's a whole milk Greek yogurt and if it's a flavored Greek yogurt, it can have a lot more calories than you're bargaining for," Jennings said.
She explains that just one cup of whole milk Greek yogurt can have up to 300 calories. To avoid this, Jennings recommends buying plain Greek yogurt and adding your own, natural, sweetener.
When an egg yolk is substituted, it's replaced with many additives, such as sugar and unhealthy coloring and flavorings, according to Jennings. On top of this, Jennings says by taking the egg yolk out of the egg, many vitamins, nutrients, and protein are lost.
"If you want to cut down on the amount of saturated fat in the eggs that you're eating, just use an extra egg white or two and one whole egg," Jennings said. "That way you're getting one egg yolk, but you're getting more of the protein without those other additives in egg substitutes."