- Cookies: Whether they are in convenient 100-calorie snack bags or packaged as gourmet treats, what you are getting is simply processing at its worst. From the additives and preservatives to the various types of sugar and sugar substitutes, you are getting a lot more than just flour, butter and eggs. One popular brand of chocolate chip cookie, for example, lists sugar twice in its ingredients in addition to high fructose corn syrup as well as a myriad of other hard to pronounce oils and additives.
- Crackers/Chips: It may say whole wheat, multigrain or vegetable on it, but at the end of the day, it is still a chip that has gone through the processing mill. Most of them are a combination of oils, flours and grains—none of which add up to a healthy snack. You are better off finding a natural snack packed with real ingredients (and less flour and oil) like a brown rice cake or a flaxseed cracker where the ingredients are minimal and natural.
- Breakfast Bars: This is one food you definitely do not want to eat for breakfast. Packed mostly with sugar, breakfast bars are cleverly marketed as a quick breakfast when you have to take it to go. But if you take a closer look at the ingredients (even on so-called healthier bars), sugar, high fructose corn syrup, natural fruit flavors (which is code for not real fruit) and a host of other odd sounding ingredients are really what you are getting. Luckily, there are bars that do live up to their healthy name and use only real fruits like dates and raisins as their sweeteners. However, nothing can, or should, replace a real breakfast complete with complex carbs, healthy fats, and protein.
- Soda: Even what you drink falls victim to over processing, and soda is probably the biggest offender. The ingredients are a laundry list of chemicals, sweeteners and flavorings. There is nothing natural about it—even in the sugar-free varieties. If you are craving the fizzy stuff, take plain seltzer and squeeze the juice from fresh fruit into it or mix it up in a soda machine. With all the great fruits out there, you can have a different flavor any time you want one and it will not be a detriment to your health.
- Yogurt-covered Raisins: Young kids love yogurt-covered raisins and why not? They are sweet, chewy and easy to take anywhere. However, they are anything but healthy. One particular brand has 26 grams of sugar and 28 grams of carbohydrates—for thirteen raisins! Raisins themselves are already high in carbohydrates and adding a sugary yogurt to them turns a healthy snack into candy. Your best bet is to throw some regular raisins into your low fat or non-fat Greek yogurt along with some fruit.
- Cereal: Breakfast cereal is probably the most misleading food because the pictures and descriptions on the boxes often allude to the contents inside being a healthy breakfast option. Whole grain, high fiber and heart healthy are the common themes on most of these boxed concoctions. However, if you look closely, you may (or may not) be surprised to find that sugar, high fructose corn syrup, several additives and way too many preservatives have been used to turn your healthy cereal into a sugary mess. Try to select cereals that have less than ten grams of sugar per serving, natural ingredients, and nothing artificial added to it.
- Bagels: Even if it is whole wheat, multigrain, garlic or an energy bagel, they all contain an exorbitant amount of carbohydrates (some topping 50 grams) with a calorie count of at least 300—and that is before you add the butter or cream cheese. Just like white bread, there is practically nothing natural about bagels—except for how bloated you may feel after eating one. Even those labeled organic or gluten-free still contain a high level of carbohydrates and still go through a lot of processing.
- Granola Bars: There was a time when people thought granola bars were a super, healthy snack. But now that we are becoming a lot wiser about the food choices we make, we are seeing just how little granola bars offer by way of good nutrition. Most contain high amounts of sugar (in several forms), preservatives, various forms of grains and rice (more carbs) and practically no healthy fat or protein whatsoever. Even a low-calorie granola bar at 90 calories has 18 grams of carbohydrates. Many throw in sugar-coated fruit or chocolate chips making the calories, sugar and carb count even higher.
- Pastries: Who does not like a good piece of cake or a cupcake every now and again? It is just a shame that most baked goods go through a lot more than just being baked. One popular cupcake brand boasts 30 grams of carbohydrates, 17 grams of sugar and 2.5 grams of saturated fat for just one of its cupcakes. Your best option is to stay as far away as possible from the bakery unless a special occasion warrants it.
Do not be fooled that foods labeled organic, gluten-free or sugar-free are better options. Too many foods try to pass themselves off as healthy when in reality they are nothing but glorified junk food. By reading labels, checking ingredients and knowing what constitutes a healthy amount of calories, fat, protein, sugar and carbohydrates per serving, you can avoid becoming the victim of these nutrition imposters. The more we know, the less of this stuff we will buy and maybe these over processed foods will find their way off of store shelves so healthier options can take their place.