Choosing the best foods for our bodies can be an overwhelming and confusing task. Words like “organic,“ “natural” and “low fat” are thrown around in the media, plastered on food labels and used to sway our nutrition decisions. So how healthy are some of the most popular “health food” choices on the market today?
While the oats in granola are a good source of fiber and iron, there are often hidden nutritional pitfalls in your morning bowl of granola. The biggest surprises come from serving size, fat and sugar content. Most granolas have small serving sizes of ¼ to 1/3 cup. Most people are eating far more, leading to increased calorie, sugar and fat intake. When it comes to sugar, don’t let the “natural” sounding ingredients fool you. Look for a granola with fewer than 5 grams of sugar or less.
Reduced-fat peanut butter
Peanut butter is actually much healthier than many people think. Consumed in the right portions, it can be a great source of non-animal protein and becomes a great snack when paired with a complex carbohydrate like apples or celery. And while the fat content can seem a bit scary, choosing a reduced fat version only cuts fat grams by around 1/3 while nearly doubling the sugar content. When it comes to peanut butter, full fat is best.
While oatmeal is almost always a better alternative to a high-sugar breakfast cereal, it doesn’t come without flaws. The most obvious being the often very high sugar and fat content found when reading the nutrition labels of the many instant oatmeal varieties. The best way to consume this high fiber food is to prepare it yourself using steel-cut or rolled oats. Sweeten it up without the unwanted calories and hidden ingredients by using fresh fruits, peanut butter and pure maple syrup.
Most of us know choosing whole grains is always the better option. This is especially true when it comes to bread, but don’t let words like “multi-grain” and “wheat” lead you astray. Read the ingredients list and look for “whole wheat flour” as the first ingredient listed. If the first flour product is refined (reads “bleached” or “unbleached enriched wheat flour”) you are not getting a whole grain product you hoped for.
Taryn Palmer is a registered dietitian for the Magic Valley YMCA.