Now that Christmas day has passed, many people want to start eating healthy and get back on track.  What’s interesting is that many perceived healthy foods can actually trick people to believe they are a good choice when they may not necessarily be.  Don’t be fooled when you are shopping for your pantry or upcoming trip; let’s evaluate some of the offenders that can get you into trouble.

1. Energy Bars

Energy bars can be a great snack on the road, but some are a glorified version of a candy bar.  Your goal is to choose a bar with fiber, protein and a small list of ingredients versus one loaded with “stuff” you don’t need.

Bottom line: If a snack bar is easiest to tide you over, choose one that contains a moderate amount of calories, 2-4 grams fiber, and at least 10 grams protein 

2. Granola

The term granola sounds healthy and can be when it’s loaded with nutrition-packed ingredients. But some, especially store-bought granolas, are full of things that will send your diet spinning off-track. Granola cereals often contain oils, including high in saturated fat coconut oil, loaded with sugars, nuts, and other high-calorie foods.  A typical 2/3-cup serving has 220 calories and 17 grams of sugar.  What’s more, most people pour 2-cup portions – that’s a whopping 660 calories and 51 grams sugar!

Bottom line: Watch the portions. Granola can be a good choice, but just have 1/4 cup, and mix it with another less caloric cereal or sprinkle 2 to 3 tablespoons of granola on low-fat Greek yogurt. This way, you’ll be able to enjoy the crunch and flavor of granola, while minimizing the amount you eat.       

3. Salads

A typical green salad is low in saturated fats and calories and high in nutritional value. However, too much of the wrong ingredients can make a healthy salad take a turn for the worse.  Extras like croutons, bacon bits, cheeses, and fried or processed meats add excessive amounts of calories.  Not to forget all would be piled underneath a blanket of creamy dressing, an easy 1300 calories to spend that most of us don’t have.  Even “healthy” foods like nuts and dried fruit can add up if you load your salad with them.  Remember, just because its good for you does not mean eat as much as you want!    

Bottom line: Request your salad to be prepared with NO dressing (you could save up to 300-500 calories) and no croutons (another 70 calorie savings per serving). Instead, request these extras on the side, in hopes you will use less, or toss your salad with 1 to 2 teaspoons olive oil, unlimited vinegar and lots of veggies.

4. Smoothies

It’s true, fruit smoothies can be loaded with nutrition, and seem like a tasty way to help get your recommended fruit servings in, but they also contain plenty of calories- most from added sugar (often called turbinado). Many well-known smoothie restaurants pack in 500+ calories in a 20 oz glass! That’s the same amount of calories found in 12 glazed doughnut holes!

Bottom line: If you’re buying a smoothie, get a small size, ask for the “skinny” version and make sure it has protein!  Or make a nutrient-rich homemade version with 1 to 2 servings of fruit, 1/2 cup of skim milk,  6 oz low-fat Greek yogurt and water/ice to your liking.  If you want to really give it a nutrient punch, add in a cup or two of fresh spinach.  It might look funny, but with fruit in the smoothie, you won’t even taste the green stuff!  Bullet blenders can be a great “appliance” for the road as you blend the smoothie in the cup you will drink it from!

5. Sandwich Shops

A simple sub sandwich makes a satisfying and reasonably healthy meal. Veer off in the wrong direction, though, and you can easily consume more than 1,000 calories, not including the inevitable chips and soda. Sodium is a big issue too as many processed meats and condiments can add up to almost a day’s worth of sodium!  And, of course, saturated fat in creamy sauces and big ole buns tack on the calories.

Bottom line: Calories from sauces and dressing can add up quick, so ask for it on the side and use just about a tablespoon, or choose low-calorie dressing or honey mustard for about 50 calories. Load up on extra veggies – they lend moisture, nutrients, and satisfying heft to your sandwich.  Don’t forget to add fiber by ordering your sandwich on thin, whole or multigrain bread, topped with nuts, seeds, or oats.  Pair the sandwich with a side salad and water and you are good to go!              

So, as you are trying to eat better post-holidays, pay attention to the details of what you are eating.  Tracking your food in an app can also be helpful for some to increase awareness of calories consumed.  Get a plan and stay healthy out there!

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