Healthy Foods That Aren't

Fast-food salads. Fast-food chains are attempting to shape up their reputations by offering healthy alternatives to the usual burger-and-fries combo. But a number of salads on their menus are extremely high in fat and sodium.

McDonald's Bacon Ranch Salad with Grilled Chicken (no dressing) contains cheddar and jack cheeses, bacon bits and liquid margarine amounting to 260 calories (90 of which come from fat) and 1,010 grams of sodium. A McDonald's Hamburger contains slightly fewer calories with about half the sodium (granted, the salad is nearly three times the size of the burger).

Fruit juices. Though doctors recommend you eat a variety of fruits to meet your daily requirement of vitamins, drinking fruits isn't comparable. Many packaged and processed juice drinks are loaded with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavoring and very small amounts of actual fruit juice. That adds up to nothing more than a lot of empty calories in a single serving. Even drinks that are 100 percent juice lose fiber and possibly nutrients during processing. Try eating a nice juicy orange or tangerine instead!

Diet sodas. When it comes to misleading consumers about weight loss, one of the worst offenders is diet soda. Sure, there are 0 grams of fat, carbohydrates and cholesterol, but there are also 0 grams of protein and dietary fiber, nutrients essential for maintaining good health.

The sole item with any value listed on the nutrition label is sodium, and most diet sodas have around 30 milligrams of it. Experts believe a diet high in sodium may contribute to developing high blood pressure. And some research has linked diet soft drinks to weight gain. As an occasional treat (or to wean yourself off the regular stuff), diet soda may be okay, but the best beverage for weight loss and in general is water.

Fat-free cookies. Deceptively innocent in appearance, fat-free cookies are a food to avoid when you're trying to eat healthily. These tiny treats often contain partially hydrogenated oil for flavor and extended shelf life. "Hydrogenation," according to Grieger, "creates trans fatty acids, which are now indicated on all food labels and are known to increase the risk of heart disease." Try making your own cookies at home with our cookie makeover tips.

Gourmet snack mixes. These bags of nuts, dried fruits and seeds contain the basic ingredients for healthy snacking, but when they're combined and packaged for convenience, they often contain, like fat-free cookies, partially hydrogenated oil and other preservatives that aren't part of a healthy diet.

According to Grieger, when it comes to these misleading "healthy" foods, "It all depends on how much of them you eat. We need to look at our overall lifestyle and pattern of food choices to really get a handle on obesity. Obviously we haven't done that yet, or we would have the answer to this problem!"

Reviewed by Susan Janoff, MS RD LD/N

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