As we continue our series on psychology and nutrition, we come to the topic of foods that pose as healthy options but can end up being anything but good for you, especially if consumed in medium to large quantities on a regular basis. We call these “trap foods.”
There a few primary reasons trap foods can pose as healthy foods. The first is marketing. Certain foods, such as granola bars, have been promoted in a way to make them seem as though they are always a healthy food; even the name itself (granola) sounds like it must be a food for the fit when may actually not be.
The second reason trap foods exist is that they start with something healthy and whole, like oatmeal, and then create such a processed product, such as oatmeal packets, that it barely resembles the original food for which it is named. Thus, what was nutritious at first no longer is.
Finally, trap foods are created when a particular item, such as salad dressing or coffee creamer, claim they are low sugar or low fat. What regularly happens is that the substitute used to create artificial sweetness or heartiness, is in fact not only artificial but just as unhealthy as what was originally removed. It is safe to say that while there are certain healthy options that do exist for these substitute purposes, the cheaper the food, the more likely that unhealthy options are used for these enticing reasons.
With that being said, here are our entries for the top 10 trap foods in no particular order:
Here’s something scary. Many yogurts contain more sugar and artificial ingredients than ice cream. But yogurt can be an excellent food to consume, if the right one is chosen. It can be packed with protein, calcium, vitamins, and live culture, or probiotics, enhancing the gut microbiota. Many notice significant improvements in GI issues after adding this into their diet. The key is aiming for low fat (<1.5g of saturated fats) and low sugar (<8 g of sugar) in whatever you buy.
2) Oatmeal (Packets)
On average, you will consume 12 times the amount of sugar from an instant oatmeal packet compared to a regular bowl of oatmeal. Although the cost may not seem like much, a 1/2 cup of oatmeal runs around 10 cents per bowl, while instant packs cost around 25 cents per bowl. You could save close to $100 a year just by switching up your oats to the natural, real variety and be a lot healthier for it.
3) Peanut Butter
Unfortunately, all peanut butter is not created equally. Unless the peanut butter you’re buying contains only 1-2 ingredients, it’s most likely packed with extra fats and sugar. Peanut butter can be a very processed food and exceptionally calorie-dense. Just 2 tablespoons equal around 180 calories. Limiting this or switching it out for a healthier dip or spread can help cut back on unwanted calories.
4) Granola Bars
Although these are not typically high in calories, they fail to provide our bodies with much of anything. Unless the granola bar is packing ≥3g of fiber and ≤5 g of sugar, it most likely is full of processed ingredients such as sugar alcohols and artificial ingredients that can have pretty harsh effects on your health. Taking a look at where your calories are coming from will help in choosing a healthy option.
5) Coffee Creamer
On average, people use at least twice as much coffee creamer as the label suggests. This turns the typical 35 calories to 70 per cup. Although sugar-free sweeteners cut down on calories, beware of what is being used to sweeten the creamer. Sucralose (Splenda) is commonly used and has been found to have side effects, including a negative impact on gut bacteria. Using a more natural sweetening option like Stevia or Monk Fruit along with half-and -half (which contains only milk and cream) is a healthier way to get that coffee creamer taste.
100% Juice can be deceiving. This means that any fruit juice can be used in the product, not necessarily just the one being advertised. Juice is also typically best in moderation. Most contain high amounts of sugar and lack the fiber found in fruit. Think about adding water to your juice or substituting a healthier piece of fruit.
Although this can be a healthy snack option, the way it’s made makes all the difference. Microwave popcorn typically contains artificial flavoring and unnecessary calories. Opt for air-popped or stovetop popcorn for a healthier option.
Although a quick and easy option, Pop-Tarts are loaded with sugar. In fact, 1 Pop-Tart serving is equal to 1 can of coke. If you’re looking for a fast and easy breakfast option, consider switching to a protein bar with <10g of sugar.
Did you know the highest calorie items at Donut Bank are the muffins? We tend to think of muffins as a healthy option, but they are often loaded with sugar (about the same as a 20 oz coke) and can pack over 500 calories. Going for a bran option can cut out calories & sugar while increasing fiber intake.
10) Salad Dressing
A typical serving of salad dressing has over 100 calories, but looking at where those calories are coming from is just as important. Many salad dressings have high saturated fats and artificial ingredients. Choosing a vinaigrette dressing can cut calories in half, limit unhealthy ingredients, and increase your intake of healthy fats.
Theresa Scheller is a nutritionist and owner of Real You Wellness, www.realyouwellness.com. James Schroeder is a husband and father of eight children and a pediatric psychologist. He is the author of four books and numerous articles, which can be found on Amazon or his website, www.james-schroeder.com. Send comments to [email protected].