Bad news: Drenching your salad in fat-free dressing or eating granola by the handful isn’t doing you any favors. The good news? We’re here to bust some snacking myths—and provide you with truly healthy alternatives
In small doses, granola is super satisfying and can provide many health benefits (it’s high in fiber and unsaturated fats, which lower cholesterol). But add in excess sugar and chow down portions that could feed three people, and this iconic hippie-friendly snack isn’t so wholesome anymore. Look for brands that are low in sugar like 18 Rabbits, artisanal mixes sold at your nearest farmers market, or make your own, and keep in mind that a 1/2 cup serving averages about 200-250 calories.
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Smoothies / Yogurt Drinks
Sugar bombs strike again. The typical bottled yogurt drink you’ll find on grocery shelves (organic or not), contains about 40 grams of sugar. (That’s 10 teaspoons!) To put that in perspective, a healthy adult’s entire day’s recommendation of sugar is 48 grams. Grab an “all-natural” fruit smoothie for lunch and you might be downing upwards of 500 calories. Ditch the extraneous sugar and calories and make a shake or smoothie at home using fresh or frozen fruit and a touch of honey for sweetness.
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High in fiber yes, but also potentially way too high in fat, sugar, preservatives (if they’re pre-packaged) and calories (if they’re the size of a softball). Let’s be honest, oftentimes they’re essentially a piece of cake in a muffin cup. Go retro and think back to muffins like your grandmother might have made, which were probably about 1/3 of the size. Bob’s Red Mill offers a great muffin mix if you’re short on time, otherwise check out some of BA’s easy recipes for home-baked goodness.
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Whole Wheat Wraps
They might sound high-and-mighty in terms of health value, but whole wheat wraps can be deceiving depending on the brand. Many skimp on the fiber—actually, many brands have virtually nil—and add up to nearly 300 calories…and that’s before the turkey, avocado and cheese. Look for wraps with at least four grams of fiber and around 150 calories each.
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If you’re looking to drop a few pounds or eat more healthfully, fat-free or reduced fat cheese may not be your answer. It tends to be less flavorful and satisfying than full-fat cheese, so you have to eat more to feel full, which can translate to overdoing it on calories. A recent Harvard study (viewable here) published in the Annals of Internal Medicine also found that full-fat dairy products, cheese included, may lower the risk of diabetes. So go ahead and eat that beloved gorgonzola or gouda—in small portions.
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Fat-Free Salad Dressing
These “light” dressings line grocery store shelves, beckoning dieters with a healthy halo of sorts. But they’re generally crammed with extra sugar or high fructose corn syrup to make up for flavor, and they are too often missing all the heart-healthy olive oil (or grapeseed, canola, walnut or avocado oil) that makes vinaigrettes both good for you and delicious. Opt for real, full-fat dressings and you’ll fill up much faster (likely on less food) with good-for-you fat. Aim for 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing per serving.
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At a mere 60 calories a pop, rice cakes are crunchy, light, and semi-tasty. But at the end of the day, they’re also fairly void of any decent nutrients, plus, the favored versions pack in extra sugar. They’re essentially empty calories…and most of us can chomp down a whole lot of them (which turns 60 calories into an easy 240 calories). If you love them, make them more filling and nutrient-dense by smearing on some natural almond butter or hummus. Or opt for the crunch of fresh fruit or whole grain crisp bread crackers with some cheese, peanut butter, or hummus.
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Once a staple of the fat-free diet, pretzels don’t add much to the fiber category. Like rice cakes, you’re dealing with a snack that’s not filling in a satisfying way, and that could lead you to consume too many empty carbs. And while we all love a little salt sometimes, sodium totals can rack up if you’re eating a lot of pretzels. Look for oat bran or whole grain pretzels and for a more satisfying snack, stick to a standard serving size (10-15 depending on the brand and size). Dip them in natural peanut butter, hummus, or guacamole.
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They sound inherently healthy, but frozen veggie burgers can contain more processed filler ingredients and sodium than actual vegetables or beans. Look for low-sodium veggie burgers that have short ingredient lists (with real ingredients that you recognize and can pronounce). Or try to make your own.
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Diet Sodas, Drinks, and Teas
Zero calories isn’t always a good thing, particularly when diet or sugar-free drinks are loaded with artificial sweeteners. (Not exactly an all-natural, wholesome additive!) Sweeteners may increase sugar or carbohydrate cravings, and if consumed in great quantity, may actually impact weight gain. Instead, choose a naturally sweetened soda (on occasion, it does contain calories), or unsweetened iced tea. Or, have fun making your own iced tea and flavored sodas at home with fresh, seasonal ingredients.