Concealed Horrors: Five Awful “Healthy” Snacks

We try to be good. We sacrifice the meat for a veggie. We go low fat when we really want the creaminess of full fat. We make healthy choices even though something we like more is close to hand. We remind ourselves that our long-term health is more important than a burger. But, sometimes, if you saw the nutrition label, you would be horrified by the fact that the healthy choice can be so much worse.  

Today is Halloween but, instead of focusing on ghosts and ghouls, we’re taking a look at the grim realities of our virtuous choices. You might think that, by choosing one of these snacks over candy, you’re being healthy. But, for one thing, we tend to overeat healthy food. For another, these foods are tricks — not treats.

The Better Choice?

A recently TRUEed Australian article found that vegan burgers at a chain restaurant had more than twice the salt of a cheeseburger. It also had more than double the sugar, more than double the carbs and almost twice the fat. There was no category, that the article examined, where the meatless burger was better for you. Moreover, the article found, a vegetarian product intended to replace ground beef has five times the salt; gluten-free bread has more sugar and fat with less protein; and low-fat yogurt is much higher in sugar.

Having all this info dumped into our lap at once made us wonder what other foods we feel virtuous about that are secretly awful. Most of us would rather have a burger than a vegan burger and regular yogurt than low fat. Armed with this knowledge, we can make better choices by being reminded to read the labels. We started digging to see what other “healthy” food would surprise us. Some people in our office knew the foods before they appeared in our research, others didn’t, you may know things on this list but some might surprise you!

As a culture, American’s love snacks. And while some might be healthy, like cut up veggies and hummus, other things that seem good are not. Today we’re going to focus on the snacks that shocked us the most:

Veggie Straws


Ever looked at chips in the supermarket and thought, “No, I’ll be good,” and picked up Veggie Straws or something equivalent? We all have. It allows you to feel good about making the responsible choice. Unfortunately, made from potato flour, potato starch and corn starch, the number one veggie in the snack is potatoes!

Yogurt Covered Raisins

Image: USDA, Wikimedia

We already learned that low-fat yogurt is higher in sugar. But, we were surprised that, with 19 grams of sugar and five grams of fat, yogurt covered raisins aren’t much better than Raisinets. And, in fact, yogurt covered raisins aren’t covered in yogurt at all! The coating on the raisins is “typically sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, yogurt powder, emulsifiers and salt.” That does not sound appetizing!

Granola Bars

Close up granola bar. Image: Superbass, Wikimedia

When we think of granola bars, we tend to think of natural food and a healthy lifestyle. The term “crunchy granola” evokes the image of a barefoot hippy wearing a kaftan and sandals. Granola is a good for you snack with whole grains, a little sweetness and enough energy to get you through a meeting or long walk. Right? No. They’re chock-full of sugar and fat. And that’s the ones without chocolate and other added mix-ins! There are many recipes around the internet to make better for you granola. But part of the appeal of granola bars is that they take no effort and can be eaten on the go.

Dried Fruit

Image: Gilabrand, Wikimedia

Having knocked three of the snacks commonly thought to be healthy off your list, you might want to reach for a prune, dried fig, apricot or raisins. Fruit is good for you. Dried fruit is often delightfully chewy with a nice mouthfeel. They are deliciously sweet even when unsweetened. They have more fiber than fruit per ounce. Because of all that, dried fruit is a genuinely healthy snack. But, once sugar is added and portion sizes are ignored, you’ve ingested many more calories than you realized. As Dr. Anthony Komaroff said, “I rarely eat three fresh apricots or 30 grapes in the course of a few hours, but I frequently consume more than three dried apricots and 30 raisins in a few hours.

Rice Cakes

Image: BD2412, Wikimedia

At this point, you might be thinking, “Fine, I’ll stick to rice cakes when I want a little something between meals.” Rice cakes started to be viewed as a health food in the ‘80s and ‘90s when the diet fad was all about low fat. They’re usually around 35 calories. They have no fat. They’re great… They also have a glycemic index of 82 and can spike blood sugar. The gold standard of diet/health foods is awful if you are concerned about your blood sugar.

So there you have it, the top five foods that left us rethinking healthy snacking options! Of course, if you like these things, you do not have to cut them out of your diet 100 percent. One person in our office’s knee-jerk reaction to this article was, “Don’t try to take away my Nature Valley bars.” And that’s fine: if you work it into your diet. The number one thing you can do as a consumer looking after your health is read the labels. If you want a Nature Valley granola bar, be cognizant of the fact that a 42-gram serving has 29 grams of carbs. If you want dried fruit, measure it.

October 31, 2018
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