When it comes to eating healthy foods, some may be more deceptive than others. Sure, we know that a piece of fruit is better than a cupcake to satisfy a sweet tooth, but why is lean turkey breast better than pork? And what about granola, gluten-free, and non-dairy products.
The answer, it turns out, is that some of these so-called “healthy” food substitutions do more harm than good, experts say.
For instance, gluten-free foods are sometimes pushed to boost digestive health and promote weight loss, but aren’t always the healthiest option for those without celiac disease.
“Those with Celiac disease must avoid gluten, but now it has become a trendy thing to do,” registered dietitian and nutrition coach Stephanie Brust tells Newsmax Health. “[But] often, gluten-free items contain more additives to replace the function of gluten. Just because a cookie is gluten free doesn’t make it a healthy cookie.”
Elizabeth Snyder, a dietitian at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, adds that gluten-free foods are actually denser, and higher in sugar, fat, and harder-to-digest carbohydrates per serving than conventional foods, according to “Eat This, Not That.”
Here are other common food swaps that are actually doing more harm than good.
Granola for cereal: 70 percent of Americans view granola as healthy, according to a poll commissioned by The New York Times. Unfortunately, only 30 percent of nutritionists feel the same. Why? Granola is basically cereal with sugar on it. Many granola products actually carry the same amount of sugar as their cereal counterparts. Instead, try a low-sugar, high-fiber cereal which can give you a third of a day’s worth of recommended fiber intake.
Sandwich wrap for sliced bread: Most slices of bread contain roughly 100 calories, while many wraps can have two to three times that amount. Watch out for tortillas especially, as manufacturers often add fat in the form of soybean or hydrogenated oils to maintain flexibility. A burrito wrap from Chipotle contains over 600 milligrams of sodium, according to their online nutrition calculator. Stick to regular sandwich bread or swap out for a lettuce wrap instead.
Non-fat dairy for full fat: Non-fat dairy products often have fewer calories than full fat alternatives, but they aren’t be as filling so you may consume more. A review published in the European Journal of Nutrition found that people who ate full-fat foods were less likely to become obese or diabetic than those who opted for low-fat items. It’s important to remember that most vitamins are fat-soluble, which means you need to eat some healthy fats in order to reap their benefit.
Egg whites for whole eggs: Contrary to a long-held myth, egg yolks aren’t bad for you. Studies have found that cholesterol-rich eggs can actually lower LDL “bad” cholesterol because of their high concentration of healthy fats. The yolk contains fat-fighting nutrient choline.
Veggie burgers for meat: Unless you’re a vegetarian, stick with the animal-based burger. Veggie burgers tend to be low in protein and high in carbs, making them the less healthy choice. Veggie burgers, when sandwiched between two buns, can also cause a spike in blood sugar.
Turkey bacon for pork: Although turkey meat will save you about 13 calories and a gram of fat per slice, it adds a ton of sodium to your diet, which is not good if you have high blood pressure. Pork also offers more heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids than turkey does.
Almond milk for cow’s: Almond milk has significantly less protein and calcium than cow-based milk. Most almond milks are also sweetened with added sugars and contain emulsifiers like carrageenan that have been banned from organic products due to their connection to inflammatory bowel conditions.
No salad dressing for dressing: Good news for salad dressing lovers: You’re better off not skipping it. According to Iowa and Ohio State University researchers, a little bit of fat from dressing with your vegetables helps the body absorb cancer-fighting and heart-healthy nutrients. Stick to two tablespoons of an olive-oil based dressing for maximum health benefits.
Pressed juice for smoothies: When your sweet tooth kicks in, it’s better to opt for a piece of fruit or a smoothie than a pressed juice. Pressed juices don’t contain any digestion-slowing fiber but they do have a ton of carbs and sugar — two things that are best in small quantities. Instead, opt for a smoothie with a scoop of muscle-building protein powder and some chia seeds.