Healthy foods that aren’t so healthy

I recently led a grocery store tour for a group of local runners. I learned a lot preparing for this event and was reminded of how misleading so-called healthy foods can be. Thanks to clever marketing schemes, foods that really aren’t any better than junk foods are often assumed to be nutritious choices by the public.

1280px-mccoys_crispsWalk down the natural food aisle of the grocery store, and you’ll see the shelves stocked with black bean chips, spinach fries and vegetable chips. Since they’re made from vegetables, they must be healthy, right? Think again! Compare 28 grams of Lay’s Classic Potato Chips and Terra Original Real Vegetable Chips.

  Potato Chips Real Vegetable Chips
Calories 160 150
Protein 2 grams 1 grams
Carbohydrates 15 grams 16 grams
Fibre 1 gram 3 grams
Fat 10 grams 9 grams
Saturated Fat 1.5 grams 1 gram
Vitamin A 0% 0%
Vitamin C 10% 0%
Calcium 0% 0%
Iron 2% 4%

When comparing these two chip options, you’ll see that the vegetable chips are really no better than the normal potato chips. They have virtually the same amount of calories, fat, carbohydrates and protein. If you want a treat, select whichever option you enjoy more and then enjoy it in moderation.

Chips are certainly not the only misleading foods in the grocery store. Let’s take a look at granola bars. Vector is famous for marketing their products towards athletes, making it an easy choice for the busy athlete. However, just compare Vector Energy Berry Burst Energy Bar and a Lucky Charm Treat Bar.

  Lucky Charm Vector
Calories 200 220
Protein 2 grams 9 grams
Carbohydrates 36 grams 35 grams
Sugar 19 grams 20 grams
Fibre 1 grams 2.4 grams
Fat 6 gram 4.8 grams
Vitamin A 6% 25%
Vitamin C 4% 32%
Calcium 15% 35%
Iron 15% 28%

While the Vector Energy Bar is higher in the listed vitamins and minerals, the calories, sugar and fat content isn’t all that different from a Lucky Charm Treat Bar.

Don’t be fooled by the marketing tactics; if you want to get the most out of your workout, don’t reach for a Vector Energy Bar post-exercise. Check out my past blogs on post-exercise nutrition (part-1 and part-2) for some post-workout nutrition ideas that will actually help you properly recover.

honeyAnother common misconception is that just because something is more “natural”, it’s better for you. Many people are scared to eat cookies or muffins made with normal sugar or flour, but as soon as it’s made with honey, maple syrup or a gluten-free flour, they feel that it’s okay to eat these treats. However, these foods often provide no additional health benefits, and because people think they are more nutritious, they end up eating more. For instance, the table below compares 5 mL of white sugar, honey and maple syrup.

  White Sugar Honey Maple Syrup
Calories 16 22 18
Carbohydrates 4.2 grams 5.9 grams 4.6 grams

As you can see, honey and maple syrup actually contain more calories and carbohydrates than white sugar. All three options have negligible amounts of protein, fat and trace amounts of vitamins and minerals. If you must use a sweetener, select the one you most enjoy, and remember those muffins made with honey are no better than the ones made with regular sugar! The same trend can be seen when comparing ¼ cup of the gluten-laden all-purpose flour and almond flour.

  All-purpose Almond Flour
Calories 110 160
Protein 4 grams 6 grams
Carbohydrates 22 grams 6 grams
Fibre 1 gram 3 grams
Fat 0.4 gram 14 grams
Vitamin A 0% 0%
Vitamin C 0% 0%
Calcium 0% 6%
Iron 10% 6%

flourAs the above table highlights, almond flour contains more calories and fat than all-purpose flour. Additionally, in Canada, all-purpose flour must be enriched with various vitamins and minerals (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, folic acid and iron), while almond flour does not have to be enriched with these vitamins and minerals. Again, if you enjoy almond flour over all-purpose flour or have a gluten allergy, then there is nothing wrong with using it, but don’t be fooled into thinking you can have as much as you want of a treat just because it was made with almond flour.

The point of this blog was not to deter you away from these products, but to make you more aware that seemingly healthy options can be rather deceiving. I plan on holding more grocery store tours in the New Year, so stay tuned!

This week, I will also be launching my website, which will contain information to sign up for a monthly nutrition newsletter. If you are not already doing so, please subscribe to my weekly blog and don’t forget to follow me on instagram: @the.running.dietitian.

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