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7 healthy foods that are secretly not

Don't cheat yourself! Be on guard for foods that seem healthy but aren't.
Do you know you're reaching for?bark/Flickr

Whether you’re going paleo, gluten-free, losing weight or just trying to eat right for a long life, it can be tough weeding through the grocery aisles as packages promise good health (and a butt that looks great in your jeans).

Before you make your healthy choices, take a look at our list of seven foods that pretend to be healthy, but are secretly holding you back.

Green juices

Green is the color of life and springtime newness, so drinking the green stuff should be healthy, right?

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Vegetable juices aren’t unhealthy, but even if you juice your veggies without any added sugar or fruit, you’re missing out on fiber, which can leave you feeling less full and result in a binge session later.

Fiber naturally occurs in foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts. Whether you buy juice or make it yourself, you might only get one gram of fiber in a one-cup serving – a long way from the American Heart Association’s recommended daily intake of 25 to 30 grams.

Insoluble fiber is what people think of as “roughage.” Insoluble fiber isn’t broken down by the gut and keeps your colon exercised and your bowels happy. Soluble fiber helps keep you feeling fuller longer, which is why eating an apple keeps you feeling satisfied longer than a glass of apple juice does.

Sushi

Sushi, high-protein and low-carb, makes us feel like we’re eating a superfood, but there are a few things you need to look out for when going raw.

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The added fat and calories in crispy tempura and ingredients like cream cheese can make you drop your chopsticks. If you’re watching carbohydrates (as in watching them not go in your mouth), it can be hard to gauge how much sticky rice is wrapped around your roll.

Another pitfall to frequent sushi ingestion is mercury. You might recall “Entourage” star Jeremy Piven'smaintaining that he bowed out of a Broadway revival in 2014 only because he was suffering from mercury poisoning.

While critics say his claims are suspect, fish commonly used in sushi rolls, like tuna, sea bass and swordfish, are often high in mercury contamination.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has a guide to making the right choices for sushi fish.

Ancient grains

The term “ancient grains” isn’t a technical one – it is actually a “feat of marketing,” according to The New Yorker.

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Grains that people have been eating since the advent of farming might be higher in protein than the more common wheat or barley, but not all. Cereals made with heirloom grains like quinoa, farro, amaranth or spelt aren’t necessarily making use of the whole grain. Just as you check the ingredient list on your breads for whole grain flours, turn the cereal box over before you buy.

Protein bars

“High protein” doesn’t always mean low-carb. The next time you pick up a protein bar, take a look at the nutrition label. Is it more than 200 calories? Does it have more than 8 grams of sugar? If so, it’s more candy bar than protein bar.

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If you’re eating a protein bar as a snack, be sure to look at your calorie count.You might blow half of your day’s calorie allotment in one chocolate-covered sitting. Protein bars are a quick, convenient grab, but might not fill you up as long as a balanced, properly portioned meal.

You also don't have to worry about "net carbs," which is the what results when you subtract fiber totals from carbohydrate totals. Fiber still provides calories, which are still entering your body as you masticate a snack or meal-replacement bar. "Net carb" math doesn't make them go away.

Gluten-free foods

“Gluten” is a big, trendy buzzword that might be getting too much credit for dieting disasters.

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A gluten-free diet is a must for people with celiac disease, a hereditary autoimmune response to the protein found in wheat, rye and barley that attacks the small intestine. When the lining of the small intestine is damaged, which could take years to heal, nutrients can’t be properly absorbed.

The rest of us don’t really need to avoid gluten, nutritionist and personal trainer Tammy Lakatos Shames, one-half of the Nutrition Twins, told Metro.

“In fact, many gluten-free foods are less healthy than their gluten counterparts,” Lakatos Shames said. “Often, to make the food palatable, gluten is often replaced with fat, sugar or other fillers that make the food less healthy and higher in calories —and also often higher in carbohydrates and lower in protein.

“Gluten actually is a protein, so this makes sense. And in fact, a recent Australian study supports this as it found that gluten-free foods contain less protein than their gluten-containing counterparts.”

Lakatos Shames added that the real dieting disaster rears its lower-protein head when people think gluten-free means it's OK to have a second slice of cake or piece of bread.

Rather than focusing on gluten-free foods, the Nutition Twins suggest “focusing on less-processed foods and foods that are packed with antioxidants and fiber, like fruits and vegetables!”

Spray butter

“This product is terrific,” a recent reviewer of I can’t believe it’s not butter wrote on the product’s website. “The flavoring is great and you can just use as much as you want with no calories, no fat.”

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Spray butter’s too-good-to-be-true promises of zero calorie buttery taste could leave you saying “I can’t believe it’s not zero calories!”

Butter sprays — typically made of soybean oil, buttermilk, sodium, thickening agents, preservatives and flavoring — contain about 1 calorie per spritz, but companies only have to report when a serving contains more than one calorie.

Look at the bowl of popcorn. Look at the spray bottle. Look back at the bowl of popcorn.

One spray?

Topping popped kernels, vegetables or other foods yearning for grease with spray butter can easily load up the calories and chemicals.

With 8 ounces of extra virgin olive oil and two teaspoons of butter extract, you can make a spray butter that is more natural than that yellow pump – provided you stay honest about how many times you hit the flavor-delivering trigger.

As Mom always said, "You're only cheating yourself."

Low-fat peanut or nut butters

If you’re looking to trim your waistline, fat seems like the enemy, but your peanut butter isn’t the place to trim the fat.

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A serving of low-fat peanut butter has the same amount of calories as a serving of the regular sticky stuff, which means less of the heart-healthy, monounsaturated type. Some dietary fat is needed to keep you satisfied for longer, keep your hunger hormones in check and to aid in the absorption of some vitamins.

Low-fat peanut butters contain more sugar and more sodium then their full-bodied cousins, which can make your sugar intake jump from 1 gram per serving to 4 grams and sodium spike to 220 milligrams from 105 milligrams.

Before you turn the jar to peek at the back label, look at the front. Is this a butter or a spread? PB spreads only have to contain 90 percent peanuts. Reduced-fat spreads get away with 60 percent.

Ideally, the nut butter in your pantry or fridge should have one ingredient: nuts, whether that’s our legume friend, the peanut, or almonds or cashews. Some natural nut butters also contain salt. If you have to decide between hydrogenated fats and sodium, go with the shorter ingredient list.

If you’re looking for peanut-y flavor with 90 percent less fat, PB2 is a dehydrated version of peanut butter. The peanut oil is removed, which makes it less than ideal for spreading, but a killer choice for smoothies, cookies, Thai dishes and other recipes.

And OMG, hi, peanut butter cookie pancake recipe! Take your flapjacks from flabby to fabulous with this PB2 pancake recipe that has 4 grams of sugar, 4 grams of fiber and almost 10 grams of protein.

 
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