8 ‘Healthy’ Snack Foods That Aren’t as Healthy as You Think
Snacks are not the enemy. Healthy snacks and healthy snacking habits are a great way to cure hunger pangs between meals and get a host of extra nutrients and fibre that you might not get elsewhere in your diet.
But there are forces at work that can make snacking an enemy of your health and weight loss efforts. From the plainly obvious to the sneakily hidden, you should do everything you can to avoid these pitfalls of snacking.
1. Unhealthy Snacks
This is the most obvious danger in snacking. Snack food manufacturers often cram their products with sugar, salt and fats to make them tastier. But when they do, they also make those snacks a terrible choice for your health and weight management.
There’s one rule of thumb that can help you separate the healthy from the unhealthy in the world of snack foods. Snacks that have anything added, like salt on peanuts, or are processed, like potato chips and cheesies, are generally not going to be your healthiest choices.
Snacks that are raw, closest to their natural state, like nuts, seeds and fruit, will usually be your healthiest options.
2. Over Snacking
Even if you’re eating the healthiest snack in the world, eating too much is not good. Try to be aware of when you’re eating snacks ‘unconsciously’, like when you’re stressed or engrossed in a tear-jerker movie, to reduce the times when you overeat without knowing it.
3. Choosing ‘Healthy’ Snacks that are not Really that Healthy
This is the sneaky one. These are snacks that look, taste and feel healthy, but on closer inspection, are really just as bad as many unhealthy snacks.
The problem with point number three is that it’s tough to know when you pick a snack that you feel is good for you, but it really isn’t as good as it seems. You might choose a snack wrapped in a package that makes ‘healthy’ claims, like ‘low-fat’ or ‘gluten-free’. Or you might choose a snack that looks very healthy, with whole nuts and seeds plainly visible.
But in both of those cases, there are lots of examples where those snacks can do more bad than good.
Here are just some examples of ‘healthy’ snack foods that might be hiding some decidedly unhealthy traits.
1. Granola/Energy Bars
These are among the sneakiest culprits of the ‘looks so healthy, but really aren’t’ pitfall in snacking. Often packed with whole nuts and seeds, or listing ingredients that would make a nutritionist’s mouth water, who could argue that these can be unhealthy.
But a majority of energy and granola bars are coated in saturated fats and sugar to make them tastier. Many energy bars have high levels of artery-clogging hydrogenated oils too. Check the ingredients and nutrition labels before choosing an energy/granola bar. But to avoid all the unhealthy stuff, you should start making your own granola bars.
2. Gluten-Free Anything
This could be one of the greatest case studies ever for marketing students. Gluten in foods is only a problem if you’re a celiac (about 1% of the population) or have some other sensitivity to the gluten. For everyone else – the vast majority of the population – gluten poses no health risk and eating gluten-free products could rob you of important vitamins, minerals and fibre. In fact, if you went on a completely gluten-free diet, you would run the risk of suffering nutritional deficiencies if you didn’t take care to get those nutrients elsewhere in your diet.
Yet, somehow, food manufacturers have made ‘gluten-free’ analogous with ‘healthy’. Not only can gluten-free snacks actually reduce your intake of healthy nutrients, food manufacturers actually charge more for them because of the demand they have generated.
3. Packaged Turkey Slices
Let’s cut to the chase here. The Globe & Mail cites a 12-year European study of almost 500,000 men and women that linked a steady diet of cold-cut deli meats to ‘premature death’. That’s the gravity of the potential ill-health effects of regular cold-cut meets, also called processed meats, which include ham, pastrami, salami and bologna (and some meats not considered ‘cold-cut’, like bacon and sausages). Cold cuts are unhealthy because of the high levels of saturated fats, salt and cancer-causing nitrites.
That same article states that only a few studies include turkey slices in their definition of processed meats. As such, the turkey slices you get at the deli or sub shop enjoy a reputation for being a healthier choice that is a lean source of protein. But when you buy turkey slices in a package to make your own snacks, they are usually packed with the same high levels of sodium, fillers and carcinogenic nitrites found in regular cold cuts.
4. Flavoured Greek Yogurt
Greek yogurt is like regular yogurt that’s been working out. Like all yogurts, it’s a great source of lots of nutrients, including protein, calcium, potassium, zinc and vitamins B1 and B12, just to mention a few.
But greek yogurt turns up the good stuff a notch or two by delivering even more protein and vitamins, more probiotic bacteria, fewer carbs and less lactose.
But it’s when food manufacturers try to make greek yogurt even more awesome that they actually end up doing the opposite. In an effort to improve flavour, manufacturers have added healthy-sounding fruit flavours to greek yogurt, like blueberry, orange and peach. But, in addition to the real bits of fruit, they throw in up to 30 grams (over seven teaspoons) of sugar, which is one more than the recommended intake for the entire day.
If you enjoy flavoured greek yogurt, buy the plain yogurt and add your own fruit.
5. Non-Dairy Creamers
Sounds like a good idea. If you love the taste of real cream, but can’t come to terms with the 18% fat content of ‘half and half’, non-dairy creamers give you the chance to get the flavour without the fat.
But you get a lot more too. Like synthetic chemicals mixed with hydrogenated (artery-clogging) oils and sugars. The sugars spike your insulin levels and the chemicals increase inflammation in your body. No alternatives here, just avoid non-dairy creamers.
6. White Rice Cakes
One of the pure pleasures of snack foods like potato chips, cheesies and nachos is the satisfying crunch they deliver (ever eaten a soft cheesy?!). Rice cakes seem like the perfect solution to the crunch fix in a healthy snack. Low-calorie, low-sugar and low-fat mean that they check many of the boxes most of us have for choosing healthy foods.
But white rice is processed and much of its fibre is removed to get that nice, white colour. But that makes it a high-glycemic food and its simple carbs are delivered to your system in a way that can pump up your insulin and blood sugar levels, which in turn triggers your body to store fat. Choose whole-grain brown rice cakes instead.
7. 100-Calorie Packs
Sometimes food marketing can seem downright mean. Just when you begin turning the corner towards a healthier diet, out pop ‘100-Calorie’ packs of all your old favourite snack foods like potato chips, chocolate chip cookies and even cheese nips. They can’t hurt can they? After all, they’re only 100 calories!
But they can hurt in a big way. High calories are just one reason that processed snack foods are unhealthy. From unhealthy fats, to stunningly high levels of sodium and sugar, there are all kinds of health and weight loss enemies lurking in any package, regardless of the size or number of calories.
But, perhaps worst of all, by making it seem more acceptable to eat processed snack foods, ‘100 calorie’ packs can completely derail you’re your weight loss and healthy eating habits by making it attractive to continue to eat precisely the foods that are at the root of the problem.
First, each new member of the ‘super’ food category, and there seems to one every month, are very likely a healthy choice for your diet. But where they might have a negative effect on your health is in stopping you from eating some of the other good stuff you need.
If, in jumping on the band wagon of a the latest super food, you neglect to keep your diet balanced by getting a variety of nutrients from a variety of sources, you could create certain deficiencies that can manifest themselves in cravings that could affect your health and weight loss efforts.
The Bottom Line:
Almost every fruit and vegetable is a ‘superfood’ – or a great source of nutrition, antioxidants and inflammation-reducing properties. If you feel like trying something new, go ahead, but don’t let it take you away from all the great fruits and veggies you already eat.
One of the toughest parts of making the shift to healthy snacking is cutting through the hype, marketing and false information. The nutrition consultants at your local Herbal One Centre will help you do just that.