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NUTRITION: 'Healthy' foods dietitians avoid

Flavored and sweetened oatmeal and granola. Oatmeal and granola are thought to be part of a heart healthy diet. They are very nutritious foods, high in soluble fiber and rich in antioxidants. However, packaged and flavored oatmeal and granola can contain high levels of sugar, sodium and even fat.

Oatmeal and granola are easy to make in large batches and have available for quick and easy weekday breakfasts. Making your own not only allows you to control the nutritional content of the product but you can customize your own flavors. Another sugar loaded breakfast item is sweetened yogurt. Just like oatmeal and granola, opt for plain unsweetened yogurt and customize your own flavor. Use fruit to add sweetness and season with spices like cinnamon, nutmeg, cocoa and ginger or even herbs like thyme and mint.

Fat free peanut butter and salad dressing. In general, when a food manufacturer removes fat from an item such as peanut butter or salad dressing, they add in sugar and sodium to compensate for the flavor lost from fat. Look for peanut butters and salad dressings that contain unsaturated fats such as canola, olive or peanut oils. Another benefit of having full-fat salad dressing is that the fat will help people absorb the fat-soluble vitamins that are abundant in leafy green salads. Remember to be mindful of your portion size.

Veggie chips and veggies fries. Veggie chip packaging features pictures of fresh vegetables. Packaging claims these “veggie” chips have less fat than potato chips. But flip over the bag of veggie chips and read the ingredients. The first two on the list are dehydrated potato and potato starch. Next on the list: salt. Last, tomato puree and spinach powder.

After evaluating a few brands of vegetable chips, I learned they range from 100-140 calories with 6-10 grams of fat per one-ounce serving. Veggie chips will give you some vitamin C, vitamin A and maybe a few milligrams of potassium and vitamin K.

Let’s compare that to Classic Lay’s potato chips. The ingredients are potatoes, vegetable oil and salt. Lay’s Potato Chips contain 160 calories and 10 grams of fat per one-ounce serving. Lay’s also provides some vitamin C (potatoes are high in vitamin C), potassium, vitamin B6, niacin and vitamin E.

So, are “veggie” chips any healthier than regular potato chips? Maybe a little. But I get frustrated with foods that tout exaggerated farm-fresh appeal, making them appear much healthier than they actually are.

Pre-made meat alternatives. I often encourage people to eat less meat, but many pre-made meat alternatives are highly processed and contain high amounts of sodium. These products also may not be any lower in fat or calories than real meat. It would be better to get your protein from beans, lentils, eggs, nuts, seeds, whole grains and dairy.

Juice. Current dietary guidelines are to consume at least five servings of fruit and vegetables per day and one cup, or 8 ounces, of juice. The juice does equal one serving of fruit, but let’s compare a serving of juice to a serving of whole fruit (1 cup or approximately one-half of a large apple or orange).

Unsweetened orange juice contains approximately 112 calories, 21 grams of sugar and 0.5 grams fiber. An orange contains approximately 85 calories, 16 grams sugar and 4.3 grams of fiber. Unsweetened apple juice contains approximately 120 calories, 28 grams of sugar and 0 grams fiber. An apple contains approximately 65 calories, 13 grams of sugar and 3 grams of fiber.

The sugar content of the whole fruit is much less than the juice, and the fiber content of the whole fruit is greater than the juice. The fiber from whole fruit plays a crucial role in maintaining stable blood sugar and may help you feel fuller. Be mindful that juice products can even contain added sweeteners. Instead of drinking juice, make your own smoothie. Use whole grains such as oatmeal, unsweetened dairy such as plain Greek yogurt, and a variety of fruits and vegetables. Or simply grab an orange or apple. Fruit is one of the most convenient grab-and-go food items.

I want to emphasize: I do believe that all foods can fit into a healthy diet plan. However, the foods featured in this column are foods that have relatively quick and easy substitutions that are more healthful or more satisfying.

Brenda Schwerdt, RDN, LD, CNSC, is a clinical dietitian at St. Luke’s hospital. Contact her at

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