5 foods that sound healthy - But really aren't

Gluten-Free Diet: Healthy or Just a Fad?
Gluten-Free Diet: Healthy or Just a Fad?

Many foods with so-called "health halos" can be diet disasters. Here are five foods that may be fooling you.

Gluten-Free Foods

According to a recent national survey from Consumer Reports, 63 percent of U.S. adults believe that a gluten-free diet will improve their health. About one-third said they buy gluten-free products or try to avoid gluten. However, a clinical trial published in August in the journal Digestion found that nearly 90 percent of those who think they're "sensitive" to gluten actually have no problem digesting the protein.

Unless you've been diagnosed with celiac disease or a gluten sensitivity, eliminating gluten from your diet may have unintended consequences. Here's why: Gluten-free foods often have more calories, fat, sodium, added sugars and cost more than their gluten-containing counterparts. Studies have found that people following a gluten-free diet are often deficient in several nutrients, including B-vitamins, magnesium, calcium, iron and zinc. Other research finds adherence to a gluten-free diet is associated with weight gain.

Dark Chocolate

You've probably heard that dark chocolate is good for your heart – and that it may even help you maintain memory as you age. In fact, a study last year in Nature Neuroscience found that after eight weeks, older adults who consumed high amounts of cocoa flavanols daily made significant improvements on tests that measured attention and memory. And, a study in the British Journal of Nutrition, first published online in September, reported a predicted reduction of 10-year risk for developing cardiovascular disease of 22 percent among subjects who had a flavanol-containing beverage twice daily, compared to those who drank a placebo beverage.

Problem is, the flavanols naturally present in the cacao plant are responsible for the health benefits, and not all dark chocolate contains appreciable amounts of these beneficial compounds, which are often destroyed in the manufacturing process.

To reap the heart- and brain-boosting benefits of cocoa flavanols, look for sources that guarantee the amount of cocoa flavanols, such as stick packs or capsule supplements, and that can deliver a healthy boost without loading up on calories and fat.

Energy Bars

If you're a fan of the energy bar for a quick pick-me-up, choose wisely. Not all energy bars are bad for you, but some are filled with added sugars and artery-clogging saturated fat. Plus, some of the bars can pack in over 300 calories – much more than most people need for a between-meal nosh.

If you need a healthy snack, it's good to fuel up with a mix of high quality carbs and protein that you can make yourself, like one-quarter cup of trail mix – nuts mixed with raisins – or some low-fat cheese and three to four small whole-grain crackers. Or try one of these DIY energy bars: vegan dark chocolate or this cereal-based bar.

Low-Fat Foods

"Fat free" and "low fat" may seem like a great way to slash fat and unwanted calories from your diet, but that's not what happens to many processed, reduced-fat foods. That's because added sugars are often used to make up for the reduction in fat. In some cases, the reduced fat version may have more calories than its fat-containing counterpart.

Cornell University researchers have also reported that people eat larger servings when they're given low-fat snacks. Studies from Cornell University Food and Brand Lab found that people who chose low-fat snacks ate up to 50 percent more calories. The authors concluded that when people see low-fat, they assume the portion size should be larger, as they believe low-fat equals low in calories.

Flavored Yogurt

If you're not careful, yogurt can quickly go from a healthy choice to a diet disaster. Plain yogurt naturally contains around 12 grams, or 3 teaspoons, of milk sugar per cup. Naturally occurring sugars are found in foods such as fruits, vegetables and dairy products, but are not considered a health threat. However, if you eat flavored yogurt, you could be getting 15 or more additional grams of added sugar and 60 or more extra calories.

Keep yogurt healthy by choosing plain, low-fat or nonfat varieties, and stir in a teaspoon of honey, maple syrup or all-fruit spread for a hint of sweetness. Best bet: Opt for fat-free Greek yogurt, which is lower in sugar than regular plain yogurt but often has double the protein to keep you satisfied longer.

Copyright 2015 U.S. News & World Report

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