ENERGY BARS Don’t let the advertising fool you—these are not legitimate alternatives to a healthy snack. Even if they do contain vitamins, minerals, and fiber, they are sweet treats, not health food. At least opt for varieties that offer whole grains, nuts, or dried fruit, and not those with chocolate or caramel.
GRANOLA Manufacturers insist this dense, whole-grain cereal is a healthy breakfast alternative, but they often add honey, sugar, and oil. A quarter-cup serving can have 150 calories—before you even add milk. Instead, try using granola as a topping lightly sprinkled on yogurt, health muffins, or oatmeal. And if the package lists three or more types of sugars in the ingredients (honey, brown sugar, and molasses, for instance), give it a pass; health food stores usually stock less-sugary alternatives.
TRAIL MIX Also known as GORP (“good old raisins and peanuts”), this snack is popular with both kids and adults. Yet, it was originally meant for hikers undertaking rigorous activity, not TV-tray noshers. The calorie-dense nuts and dried fruits are not meant to be gobbled by the handful, so watch portion control.
FRUIT YOGURT Yogurts that feature fruit at the bottom also contain extra sugar and preservatives. Stick with plain or vanilla varieties for your probiotic protein boost, and try adding fresh fruit, nuts, or flaxseeds.
PITA CHIPS Watch out, consumers—these so-called healthy snack chips can have as much fat and sodium as a bag of name-brand corn chips. Look for baked and seasoned varieties rather than fried, salty ones.
LO-CAL FROZEN MEALS Most of us love the convenience of popping a low-calorie dinner into a microwave. But not only do many frozen meals contain high levels of sodium, they also short-change diners on greens, with their small portions of limp, waterlogged veggies. Consider augmenting your meal with a salad or a serving of vegetables or fruit.
PACKAGED SANDWICH MEAT Some of these sliced meats have fewer calories than their deli-counter counterparts because they are packed with water, but they can also be very salty, especially those with smoky or peppery flavorings. Plain turkey or chicken are your best options.
FRUIT JUICE When it comes to increasing your intake of vegetables and fruits, as recommended, drinking fruit juice is one convenient solution. Unfortunately, many juices contain only marginal amounts of real fruit juice, if any, and most 100 percent fruit juices have had the beneficial fiber removed.
LO-CAL SALAD DRESSING Any foods with low-fat or fat-free labels are holdovers from days when saturated fat was falsely vilified. Manufacturers found that removing fat also removed flavor, which they made up by adding copious amounts of sugar. Simply use smaller portions of dressing or sour cream, rather than “diet” varieties.
CANNED SOUP This is “old news” in the nutrition world— canned soup may be good, but it is also loaded with salt. Try buying low-sodium soup and seasoning it with a little salt and the savory flavors of black or red pepper and spices, like basil, oregano, cilantro, cumin, or dill.
BROWN RICE Whole-grain brown rice offers more health benefits than white rice and is more filling, but it’s not high on taste. Try combining whole grains with rice or regular pasta, and season the mix with herbs and spices.