Healthy Foods? Uncovering The Myths Behind The Labels


With the incredible amount of diet claims and “waistline-friendly” foods constantly hitting the market, its no wonder so many of us are utterly confused and clueless as to whats actually healthy and whats not so nutritious. To put it in perspective, think of eating well like assessing the status of your closet. When youve got that one great little black dress, a killer pair or two of jeans that make your butt look phenomenal and a couple of pairs of designer heels, youve got the basic building blocks for a stellar wardrobe. Well-fitting, quality goods that make you feel like a million bucks. But when was the last time you looked at your fridge, pantry or plate with the same thought in mind? Maybe New Years 2008, maybe never?

If your diet is need of some damage control, here are five foods you may have thought were uber-healthy, but might want to reconsider.

Artificial Sweeteners | Diet Sodas | Sugar-Free Items
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Battling your diet soda addiction or constant craving for something anything – sweet? Sure, sugar-free and no-sugar added foods skip the sugar, but you end up swapping it for artificial sweeteners and other man-made ingredients. And though you think youre getting a free ride because diet or sugar-free means zero calories like with diet sodas or other beverages, its not always the case. Plenty of artificially sweetened items still have a decent amount of calories just like their regular counterparts. But overall, why are sweeteners not always ideal? Because our bodies have a tough time registering the fake stuff and it can easily leave you unsatisfied and going back for seconds. Also, since sugar-free foods taste super sweet, so you may find yourself craving sweets more often.

The Simple Fix: Stick with the real stuff in small doses and youll end up eating less but with greater satisfaction in the long run.

Weight Loss Foods Gone Wrong, High Fiber Claims
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That bran-fortified muffin may be loaded with calories. Photo:

Yes, foods naturally high in fiber, like fruit, vegetables and whole grain carbs, are nutritional rock stars. They keep our digestion running smoothly and keep us more satisfied for longer, which in turn, helps immensely if youre looking to lose any extra lbs and want to keep them off. But take natural sources of fiber out of the equation and youve got the potential for a botched recipe. From yogurt to water to ice cream to sugary-sweet snack bars, every newly hyped product on shelves seems to have extra fiber added.

Dont let marketing claims fool you, heres the catch. Added fiber powders, the type of fiber going into packaged products, is digested differently in our bodies than fiber thats found naturally in foods and doesnt have the same effect as the real stuff.

The Simple Fix: Words like maltodextrin, inulin, polydextrose and oat fiber indicate added fiber on food labels and ingredient lists. Instead, look for natural, whole sources of fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains.

“Organic” Snacks
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Be mindful of “organic” labels. Photo:

Just because its organic doesnt mean youre in the clear. Shocking, but those cheese puffs are still cheese puffs even if they say “organic” on the label. They, along with a host of other organic chips, cookies, candies and other treats, often still have just as many calories, sugar and salt as many conventional brands.

The Simple Fix: Keep snack portions in check and focus on organic items that really are worth the extra cents like dairy products, meats, poultry and eggs and certain fruits and vegetables that dont have thick skins or rinds.

100 Calorie Packs
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Nabisco 100 Calorie Oreo pack, available at

They might be perfectly portioned, but 100 calorie packs arent as satisfying as you might think. Theyre typically lacking fiber and have you filling up on empty calories, which can lead to munching on multiple bags. Stick to basics and take a quick glance at the serving size on the package before diving in.

The Simple Fix: If youre a sucker for pre-portioned items (lets admit it, theyre pretty cute and convenient at times), reach for real, wholesome foods that provide you a little “value add” like 100 calorie packs of almonds, trail mix, all-natural cheddar cheese or mozzarella sticks or fiber-rich mini bags of popcorn.

Soy: Whats The Real Story?
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Soy enhanced products: GeniSoy Soy Crisps and Soy Protein bars, available at

In and out of the debate spotlight, soy often goes from “good” to “bad” in a flash. True, it can cause some digestive upset and bloating if your body doesnt handle it well and it may increase breast cancer risk if theres a significant family history, but natural sources of soy can also serve as a primary source of plant-based protein for vegetarians and vegans or as an alternative calcium source for those who are lactose intolerant. The catch is that countless products now tout high-protein claims and have processed soy protein in the ingredient list (read: greater potential for serious bloating or digestive issues) . Bottom line, its processed and if your body doesnt like it, its going to let you know fairly quickly.

The Simple Fix: Stick with natural, less processed sources of soy like edamame, tofu, soy milk and tempeh (fermented tofu) and pack in a good sources of protein, calcium and iron.

Liquid Assets: Vitamin-Enhanced Waters & Fruit-Protein Smoothies
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Not to get cheeky, but if youre looking for a way to literally increase your assets, one of the easiest ways to do it is with empty beverage calories. Vitamin-enhanced waters and fruit/protein smoothies and shakes may seem healthy, but are too often loaded down with excess calories and a days worth of added sugar, potentially 12 teaspoons or more! Just 100 extra calories per day can equate to 10 extra pounds gained over a single year. Just a stat worth considering when youre grabbing for your next beverage.

The Simple Fix: Get your vitamins from the real stuff, fresh fruits (and veggies) without all the added sugar and calories.

Want more diet tips? Check out Marissa’s new book The Cheater’s Diet!

Follow us and Marissa on Twitter: @StyleCaster @NourishNYC

Marissa Lippert is a registered dietitian in Manhattan and knows great food when she tastes it. Voted by Citysearch as one of New Yorks Best Nutritionists for the past three years, Marissa is the founder of Nourish, a nutrition counseling and media communications firm, where she helps individuals live, eat and cook more healthfully without giving up delicious food.

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