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With so many light varieties of microwave popcorn on the market, it's easy to think that this snack is healthy, but with high levels of sodium and the chemical diacetyl, some health professionals caution about making this a regular snack. A better choice? Putting a few plain kernels in a brown paper bag and popping your own. You control the flavoring! [Click to Tweet this tip!]
Light Salad Dressings
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Have you ever looked at the ingredient list on light salad dressings? They're about a mile long! Filled with preservatives and other additives you can't pronounce—not to mention sodium and sugar—you’re much better off drizzling your veggies with a little extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
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Nuts and dried fruit trail mix is obviously a healthy choice, right? Wrong! While plain, natural mixes of unsalted nuts and unsweetened dried fruits can make for a good portion-controlled, high-energy snack, many mixes throw in chocolate chips, loads of salt, and added sugars. Since a small handful easily contains 300-plus calories, read your nutrition labels closely!
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With rolled oats, nuts, and dried fruits, granola seems so healthy. What is misleading though is how much sugar and extra calories are lurking in granola. A bowl of this stuff can easily contain 500 or more calories—and that's without the milk! Indulge smartly by choosing high-fiber varieties with low sugar. And stick to the recommended portion size on the label.
Artichoke Spinach Dip
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With artichokes and spinach in it, this seems like a veggie-rific dip, but be warned. Just a few tablespoons can pack hundreds of calories and unhealthy fat grams. Instead of ordering this out at a restaurant, try this better-for-you recipe at home. Dip raw veggies instead of chips or crackers for an even healthier swap!
Flavored Fat-Free Yogurt
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Don't fall into the fat-free trap. Just because something is fat-free doesn't make it healthy. In fact, many flavored yogurts have upwards of 15 grams of sugar in that tiny 6-ounce serving! Our advice? Buy plain, fat-free Greek yogurt and flavor it up with some fruit or even a small drizzle of honey. That way, you control what's in it!
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While dried fruit does contain fiber, vitamins, and minerals, many companies add sulfur and sugar to make it better for store shelves. While you can buy unsulfured and unsweetened varieties in health food stores, why not just eat fresh fruit instead? It's much more filling and has fewer calories per serving!
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Soy has many health benefits, including being high in protein and potassium and low in cholesterol. However, those tasty chocolate and vanilla varieties? They add so much sugar and unnecessary calories! Save the flavored soymilks for the occasional dessert and choose unsweetened or plain varieties for your everyday drinking instead.
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With so many energy drinks on the market, many of which promise to pump you up and give you a killer workout with added caffeine, vitamins, and minerals, it may be tempting to think that these drinks are healthy, but they aren't. Similar to supplements, energy drinks aren’t regulated by the FDA, so it's best to stick to plain ol' water to rehydrate and whole nutrition to energize!
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Smoothies have long been the darling of the health-food world. Although some smoothies made with simple, whole-food ingredients can be healthy, don't get fooled into thinking anything with the name "smoothie" is good for you. Some smoothies are made with lots of added sugars, high-calorie ingredients like chocolate syrup, or even use full-fat ice cream as a base. Your best smoothie bet? Make one at home so that you know exactly what's in it!
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You've probably heard that when in doubt of what to order out, a turkey sandwich is always a safe bet, right? Well, it depends on where you're eating. Highly-processed deli meats can be high in nitrates and sodium, which is hard on the heart. Not to mention that turkey sandwiches are oftentimes loaded with full-fat mayo and include huge portions of bread (white or wheat, too much is too much). As always, check those nutritionals before you eat to know what kind of turkey sandwich you're really getting!
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Made with yogurt, granola, and fresh fruit, a parfait seems pretty harmless, but a little certainly goes a long way. In fact, unless made at home with the right ingredients, this "healthy" snack can easily contain heavy dessert-like numbers for calories, fat, and sugar. When in doubt, just eat some fresh fruit instead.
Blue Corn Chips
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Blue corn chips seem healthier than regular white or yellow corn tortilla chips, but they really aren't that different, thanks to similar calorie, fat, and sodium counts. Don't let that rich blue color fool you!
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There's no doubt that fish is healthy. But when you fry it, coat a bun with butter, and layer on tartar sauce or mayo, there's little "health" left in it. To get the full benefits of fish, skip the sandwich altogether and enjoy a plain grilled fillet with some steamed veggies and rice pilaf instead!
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There was a time about 10 years ago when anything in a wrap became synonymous with “health food.” Problem is, even when you fill wheat tortillas up with tons of veggies and lean protein, the ginormous tortilla itself can contain 400 to 800 calories—not to mention the high-calorie sauces usually in them. Your best bet is to split a wrap with a friend or order it sans tortilla!
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The low-fat muffins at coffee shops always look so good. And although they are a reduced-fat version of the full-fat muffins they sit next to, they are by no means actually healthy. In fact, when most manufacturers take fat out, they have to replace it with something to make up for the lack of taste. And that something is usually sugar, making most low-fat muffins not even that less caloric than their full-fat counterparts and probably less filling.
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Gluten-free products are all the rage these days. Although some gluten-free products are healthy, by no means does the label "gluten-free" equate to health. If it's packaged or processed -- gluten or no gluten -- it's not as healthy as other whole foods you could be eating. The best gluten-free foods aren't products at all; They're fresh fruits and vegetables!
Frozen Diet Dinners
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A pre-portioned frozen meal may be convenient and seem like a great way to keep your calories in check, but when it comes to nutrition, most diet dinners just don't stack up. Filled with preservatives, too much sodium, and few veggies, these are better left in the freezer case.
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Canned soups can make for a filling lunch or dinner, but even the reduced-sodium and low-fat version aren't as healthy as they seem. Most cans of soup have 400 or more milligrams of sodium per cup—and really, who just eats half the can? High sodium can raise blood pressure, lead to bloating, and just generally make you feel sluggish. No fun!
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We all know pizza isn't the healthiest food choice, but veggie pizza? It has vegetables, so it must be healthy, right? Not so fast. Some fast-food joints load their veggie pizza with extra cheese to make up for the lack of meat or use oil-soaked dried tomatoes and olives for flavor. Your best bet? Go for thin crust veggie pizza with half the cheese, watch portion sizes closely, or consider making your own at home!
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Pasta made with spinach may seem healthier than white (or even wheat) pasta, but sadly, it's not. Although the noodles may be green, the amount of spinach actually in there is so small that it doesn't add up to much benefit—and it certainly doesn't justify eating a huge bowl of it. You're far better off having a half cup of whole-wheat pasta and a side salad with spinach.
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Don't be fooled by wheat-bread products. If the package doesn't specifically say "100-percent whole wheat,” then it's probably mostly white bread with just a little wheat flour mixed in for marketing. Also: Make sure each slice has at least 2 grams of fiber—another mark of a truly healthy bread.
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The word "diet" doesn't always equal healthy, and that's certainly the case for diet soda. Made with artificial ingredients and flavorings, it's not only unnatural and high in sodium, but regular diet soda drinkers have been shown to eat more calories after consuming diet cola. While the reasons aren't fully understood, researchers suspect it's the body's way of making up for calories it thinks it received in the diet soda but didn't.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
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Peanuts are full of healthy monounsaturated fats, so when it comes to choosing a peanut butter, it's best to go with a natural version of the full-fat variety. Most reduced-fat versions contain the same number of calories per serving because when they take the fat out, they add sugar and other fillers in. Ick!
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It seems simple enough. Fruit is healthy, so a fruit cocktail should be a good choice. But most fruit cocktails are made with a sugary syrup that does nothing but drive the calories up without adding any nutritional value. You're better off eating a piece or two of fresh fruit instead!
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Don't get us wrong, 100-percent fruit juice does contain tons of vitamins and minerals. However, unless you're looking to gain weight or subsist on a liquid-only diet (um, no fun!), fruit juice is a quick way to drink a bunch of calories without filling you up. Not to mention that many fruit juices on the market don't even contain 100 perfect fruit juice! Instead of drinking your juice, make a point to chow down on two to three servings of whole fruit a day.
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Beans are awesome because they're so high in fiber and are a plant-based source of protein. But baked beans—particularly the canned kinds in all flavors—can also be extremely high in sodium, sugar, and additives. What's a girl to do? Be savvy about reading those labels, or make some at home where you control the seasoning.
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With less fat than potato chips, these have been called "healthy" since the fat-free craze of the 90s. However, most pretzels have no real nutritional value and are made with white flavor, which quickly converts to sugar in your bloodstream, spiking your blood sugar and causing you to want to eat more and more. (Ever notice how pretzels rarely fill you up? That's why!) Unless you're training for a long-distance event or are eating them with another dish that includes fiber and protein, you're better off avoiding pretzels.
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Since pasta primavera is usually made with lots of fresh spring vegetables, it probably seems like a smart choice on the Italian menu. But don't get bamboozled. Unless you're the one preparing it, there’s a good chance the finished dish will be overloaded with cheese and oil, making this "light" meal, not so light at all!
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The pieces of actual veggies in veggie chips are so thin and so processed—whether they're baked or fried—that most of the nutrition from the original vegetable is gone. Again, you're better off eating raw veggies instead! Are you noticing a theme?
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It's impossible to generalize that all protein bars are unhealthy, but it's safe to say that if you flip most of them over and read the nutrition info, you might be shocked. Unless organic, most protein bars are highly processed, even featuring artificial ingredients and fillers. Bottom line, if your protein bar has more than 200 calories or 8 grams of sugar, it's more like a candy bar with added protein than health food.
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Don't be fooled by misleading labels: sports drinks are little more than flavored water mixed with sugar and electrolytes. Sports drinks are ideal for workouts that last longer than an hour or for when you're working out in hot weather and sweating a lot, but for a short indoor workout or just as a beverage? No way, man.
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Don't get us wrong. Tea is healthy—when you brew it and control what's in it. But when you buy flavored tea in a bottle or can? Lots of added sugar, sodium, and artificial flavorings get involved, making this drink less than ideal.
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Another darling of the 90s dieting-decade, rice cakes may have a nice crunch with few calories, but there's little nutritional value in them. Plus, the new flavored varieties have the added downside of having sugar and salt in them. While fine as a treat in moderation, these aren't really giving your body much nutrition.
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In almost all cases, frozen yogurt is better for you than full-fat ice cream. However, that doesn't give fro-yo a free pass to become a regular staple in your diet. No matter how many types or toppings they come out with, it's still a treat that's high in sugar and can quickly add up in calories if you don't keep portion sizes to a half-cup (which is so little!).
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No matter if the granola bars in question have fruit, nuts, chocolate chips, or a ridiculous amount of fiber, they're almost always very high in sugar (which is usually high-fructose corn syrup) and low in nutrients. If you need a snack on the run, you're much better off having an apple and a handful of almonds. About the same calories, and your body can use it!
Organic Snack Foods and Cookies
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Just because something is organic doesn't mean that it's healthy. Remember, organic or not, junk food is junk food!
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Dried veggies as salad toppings are somewhat new to the grocery store aisles. While they seem healthy and provide a nice crunch to salads, they also add salt and calories without many vitamins. Trade them for unsalted sunflower seeds to get that crunch with vitamin E, magnesium, and thiamine.
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Nuts are a wonderful health food when eaten in moderation. But roasted nuts? They take a good thing and coat it with not-so-great-things like sugar and salt. Try to limit your nut consumption to plain raw nuts. And if you want to make your own flavored nuts, roast some in the oven with spices like turmeric, pepper, or even hot sauce!
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Salads can be healthy or incredibly unhealthy, especially at fast-food and chain restaurants. Research calorie counts before you dine, and don't forget to check the nutritionals on salad toppers like croutons, nuts, and salad dressings. Extras like these can quickly turn a healthy salad into a calorie bomb.
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Protein is important for our bodies to build muscle and stay strong, but regularly downing protein shakes in place of meals isn't healthy. Many are highly processed, high in sugar, and despite being fortified with vitamins and minerals, you're missing out on having real healthy and filling food.
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Whether they're whole-wheat or white, baked or fried, croutons don't offer much nutritional value. If you like them for their crunch, try tossing crunchy veggies like green pepper strips or heart-healthy walnuts in your salad instead.
Signature Sushi Rolls
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We always think of sushi as being so healthy and low calorie. While it can be, those house-specialty rolls that include mayo, cream cheese, or anything fried? Warning! Unhealthy food! Here's a good rule to follow: If you wouldn't consider an ingredient healthy on its own, don't expect it to be any healthier just because it's wrapped in nori!
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Although some veggie burgers are filled with healthy beans, mushrooms, brown rice, and vegetables, others--especially those at restaurants--can be far from healthy. They’re often held together by butter or oil and large enough to make up two to three meals.
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Ordering a veggie omelet at a breakfast diner can be a good choice, but you have to order one like Meg Ryan from When Harry Met Sally: no oil or butter, no cheese, egg whites only and steamed veggies (not veggies sautéed in oil). Jump through those nutritional hoops, and you can keep considering this healthy.
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Sure, turkey burger is leaner than ground beef. But that doesn't always mean a turkey burger is a healthy choice. Pay particular attention to what type of ground turkey it is (turkey breast is the most lean) and the toppings. Some sugary cranberry sauce here, a piece of cheese there and a buttered bun on top are sure-fire ways to turn this burger into a calorie bomb.
Grilled Portabella Sandwich
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This meat-free sandwich sure is delicious--but beware if you're ordering it out. Mushrooms absorb flavors like a sponge and chefs are notorious for soaking them in salty condiments and oils. And don't even get us started on the cheesy toppings and massive buns they can come on!
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Whether it's a fruit roll-up or those little gummy fruit snacks, even if it's all natural, you're better off eating a piece of real fruit. You'll be more satiated, you'll consume less sugar and calories, and you'll get more nutrition bite for delicious bite.
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Choosing whole-grain chips over potato chips may be a smart snack choice. The problem is, you tend to eat more of the multi-grain version because they're billed as "healthy." Unless you're indulging, get your whole grains from more nutritious sources such as quinoa, wild rice, or beans.
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Once thought to be better for you than butter, margarine is now squarely on the unhealthy list. Although many brands have taken the trans fats out, it's still best to use healthier oils like olive and coconut when cooking!