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Are You Sure You Want to Eat That?

5 foods that may be less healthy than they seem

I know from experience that there may be many obstacles on the way to eating a healthy meal and, for some, reaching their weight goal. Some obstacles are easier to spot, such as all-you-can-eat buffets or gigantic desserts that come with your dinner. But certain food traps are sneakier. I often see my patients tricked by portion distortion, confusing food labels, hidden fats and sugars, and more. It can be especially frustrating to make what you think is a good food choice, only to be fooled by an imposter. I’ve made a list of five frequent offenders; do you recognize these con artists?

The Offender: Turkey Burgers

The problem: Many of my patients are thrilled to see turkey burgers on the menu, but I am decidedly less excited. To make the burgers moist, many restaurants and food manufacturers grind the meat and fatty skin together, creating a burger that’s often as packed with saturated fat as a common beef burger. Plus, some of those restaurant burgers are the size of a small plate and topped with cheese or bacon, making this option 1,000 or so calories.

My alternative: Save turkey burgers for home grilling, when you can make them with meat that is at least 90 percent lean. If you do want to order one in a restaurant, skip the fatty, high-calorie toppings and bun; top with mustard and fresh veggies instead.

The Offender: Veggie Burgers

The problem: Don’t assume that “veggie” burger means “healthy” burger! While I’m happy vegetarian options are increasingly easy to find, one veggie burger may have different nutritional values, carbohydrate, and protein content than another. The main ingredients can vary widely; some of the most common include soy concentrate, mushrooms, beans, wheat, and the list goes on. Because the ingredients can vary so much, it’s hard to know exactly what nutrients and calories you’re getting. For example, a soy burger may have only several grams of carbohydrate and a respectable twelve- to sixteen grams of protein. A wheat or mushroom-based burger, on the other hand, may have twenty-five or more grams of carbohydrate and a measly six grams of protein. Add a bun, and you may be well over your carb goal without having any sides. Sometimes the sodium is over the top too.

My alternative: For burger bliss, read labels carefully. Soy, whole grains, and veggies all add fiber to veggie burgers but you should aim for less than 325 mg sodium and twelve or more grams of protein per burger, or add protein in the form of reduced-fat cheese. Read through labels in the supermarket and, when you find a type of burger that fits your meal plan, make a note, and try to order a similar variety when eating in a restaurant. Skip the bun if your patty is carb-heavy. Then pat yourself on the back for dining on a burger with fiber, not loads of saturated fat. 

The Offender: Entrée Salads

The problem: A salad topped with chicken sounds virtuous enough and quite tasty, too! But salads can be sneaky and those topped with seemingly healthy chicken can be a particular diet trap. I tell my patients to ask how the chicken is prepared and check out what else is in that salad. It’s not uncommon to find a bowl of lettuce covered with fried chicken tenders, bacon, and cheese, all swimming in salad dressing. This might technically qualify as a salad but it certainly isn’t a healthy option.

My alternative: At home, toss a bowl of lettuce with different types of non-starchy vegetables. Then top it with grilled chicken, roasted turkey or water-packed tuna, and a measured amount of dressing. If you’re dining out, tell your server that you don’t want fried or greasy meats. For dressing, use my favorite dip and stab method. Here’s how: Lightly dip the tines of your fork into the dressing. Then stab your salad to get just a small taste with every bite. I love it, because you get the flavor you want without unnecessary calories and fat.

The Offender: Sugar-Free Sweets

The problem: It seems to me that there is an entire aisle of the supermarket dedicated to sugar-free sweets, and, as an RD and CDE®, you might think I would send my patients living with diabetes there. But, as I tell them, sugar-free doesn’t mean carb-free, calorie-free, or (necessarily) healthful! Some research suggests that sugar-free foods can actually make you crave sugar more, so ultimately you may take in more calories overall. What’s more, most sugar-free packaged foods have replaced the sugar with sorbitol and other sugar alcohols, which may cause gas and stomach discomfort.

My alternative: Read the “Nutrition Facts” panel for the amount of carbohydrate, calories, and saturated fat in each serving. Then decide how that fits into your meal plan and whether you might be better off eating a small portion of the regular version of the treat.

The Offender: Energy Bars

The problem: These nutritious-sounding bars often have no more than a smidgeon of wholesome, less-processed ingredients such as nuts, oats, and fruit. The bars are often full of added sugars, artificial flavors, and saturated fats – some culprits may be worse than eating cookies!

My alternative: Fresh fruits and vegetables are almost always a better snack, so try limiting bars to times when you need the prepackaged convenience, such as on a hike or bike ride. Choose a bar with at least three grams of fiber, no more than two grams of saturated fat, and no trans fat.

Jill Weisenberger, MS, RD, CDE*, is the author of Diabetes Weight Loss Week by Week, contributing editor for Environmental Nutrition, and has written for many publications including EatingWell, Diabetic Living, Her Sports + Fitness, and LifeScript. Weisenberger is a paid contributor for the DX. All opinions contained in this article reflect those of the contributor, and not of Sanofi US, its employees, agencies, or affiliates.

*“Certified Diabetes Educator” and “CDE” are certification marks owned and registered by the National Certification Board for Diabetes Educators (NCBDE). NCBDE is not affiliated in any way with Sanofi US. NCBDE does not sponsor or endorse any diabetes-related products or services.

© 2013 The DX: The Diabetes Experience

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