When you look at food labels, it's easy to think certain foods are good for you. But words like "low-fat" or "heart-healthy" can actually be deceiving.
Miranda Hammer, a clinical dietitian at Montefiore Medical Center in the Bronx, reveals five foods and beverages that aren't nearly as healthy as they seem -- and what you should reach for instead.
Low-fat salad dressing
Buy a low-fat salad dressing and you're simply buying a product that swaps calories and fat for sodium and sugar.
"They're laden with preservatives and shelf stabilizers," said Hammer. "You're not doing your body any service by buying low-fat products."
Healthier choice: Make your own dressing by blending heart-healthy extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and something tasty, such as Dijon mustard.
"Blend these ingredients and you've created a delicious low-fat salad dressing," said Hammer.(Credit: iStock)
Just because your favorite athlete loads up on brightly colored sports drinks doesn't mean you should.
"People think they're so dehydrated that they need to fuel their body with Gatorade or Powerade, but it's unlikely," said Hammer of drinks that aim to replenish the electrolytes you lose when you sweat. "These drinks are loaded with sugar and artificial dyes you shouldn't put into your body."
Healthier choice: Drink water or have a piece of fruit instead.(Credit: iStock)
Your doctor may have told you to cut back on the butter because it's loaded with fat, cholesterol and calories -- but butter substitutes aren't necessarily better for you, said Hammer.
"Butter substitutes may contain zero trans fats, but we don't know what the chemicals in the additives and preservatives in these products do to our bodies long-term," she said.
Healthier choice: Use a tiny pat of butter or olive oil in your sauté pan and top your baked potato with yogurt instead.(Credit: iStock)
If you reach for an energy or protein bar to get through the day, you may just be eating a candy bar in disguise.
"These are a quick fix," said Hammer. "They contain a laundry list of ingredients which you can't pronounce that aim to add flavor. They also may contain calorically dense corn syrups and other sweeteners."
Healthier choice: Snack on a hard-boiled egg or an apple with nut butter.
"Either will give you a natural protein and fiber boost that will better fuel you," said Hammer.(Credit: iStock)
100-calorie snack packs (try nuts instead)
It's tempting to think those smartly-marketed 100-calorie snack packs are healthier for you because you'll eat fewer cookies or crackers overall, but think again.
"You should think of your foods in terms of quality versus quantity," said Hammer. "Those packages contain seven to nine little cookies so they won't be satisfying at all."
Healthier choice: Make your own snack pack by combining unsalted nuts with dried unsweetened cherries or cranberries. Or, snack on hummus and carrots, a combo that offers protein (in the hummus) and fiber (in the carrots).
"This is a great way to get your vegetables and protein at the same time," added Hammer.(Credit: iStock)