7 foods that aren’t always as healthy as they seem

Some so-called ‘healthy’ foods can have extra ingredients and sneaky calories, fat and salt, which can put them in the ‘unhealthy’ category. We look at seven foods that aren’t as healthy as you might think, and dietitian Marika Day offers some alternatives.

OneLife  staff writer

OneLife staff writer

Staff writer

When it comes to healthy eating, it can be a challenge to stay on track. But what about the foods that we already accept as being good for you? Is it possible that some of those choices contain extra ingredients that are causing our best laid nutritional plans to go awry? Here are seven common healthy choices that may not be as good for us as we think. Plus, accredited dietitian Marika Day offers some alternatives you can select instead.

1. Muesli

If you’re in the habit of kick-starting your day with a bowl of muesli, you might want to take a look at the back of the packet. While wholegrain oats are good sources of fibre and iron, many varieties of off-the-shelf muesli are packed full of sugar. Portion size can also play a role, as many recommended servings are far smaller than people realise. A single serve of breakfast cereal is 30 grams (about the size of an egg), which means a larger bowl could contain as many as five serves.

Marika’s suggestion: “I would look for natural muesli that isn’t toasted, and that doesn’t have added sugar. If you have a quick look at the ingredient list, you can see if there’s sugar added to a product. Or, you could try making your own.”

2. Flavoured yoghurt

Yoghurt is often touted as a healthy food choice thanks to its levels of calcium, vitamin B, and protein. Additionally, yoghurt varieties that contain healthy, live bacteria have been linked to improvements in gut health.

While all this is true, not all yoghurts are created equal. Fruit yoghurts commonly found in the supermarket often have significant levels of added sugar in the form of sweeteners. Many on-the-go breakfast options that also include granola or muesli are higher again in sugar content, making them more comparable to desserts than breakfast food.

Marika’s suggestion: “Look for a natural unflavoured yoghurt and then add in your own fruit or a sweetener to your liking. Even if you’re using something like honey to sweeten your yoghurt, you’ve got control over the amount of sugar that’s going into it.”

3. Fruit juice

There’s nothing wrong with reaching for a tall glass of orange juice, right? Well, that depends. Fruits are rich in natural sugars that are good for you in moderation. Unfortunately, when it comes to juice, you’re consuming many more pieces of fruit than you would typically eat in one sitting – without the benefit of the fibre content.

In fact, according to the Department of Health, one 250mL serve of pure fruit juice contains an average of six teaspoons of sugar – the same ratio as a can of soft drink (nine teaspoons per 375mL). That number can be even higher again if the juice is made from concentrate and fortified with additional sweeteners.

Marika’s suggestion: “When it comes to fruit juice, I think that you’re better off drinking water or eating the fruit. That way you’ll get the fibre as well. Or, try juicing vegetables and then adding a piece of fruit to sweeten it – while still keeping sugar to a minimum.”

Make your #onechange

Next time you’re grocery shopping, double-check the ingredient list on foods you purchase often. You may be surprised by what you find.

4. Sushi

Sushi can be a safe nutritional bet, but its content can vary so wildly that it can stray into unhealthy territory. Watch out for styles that contain breaded or fried ingredients (we’re looking at you, panko prawn). Go easy on the condiments like Kewpie mayonnaise (which is high in fat at low volumes) and try and choose low-sodium soy sauce where possible.

Marika’s suggestion: “Avoid the crumbed and deep-fried varieties. Sometimes the rice used for sushi is sweetened with sugar, which a lot of people aren’t aware of. Choose things that are available widely in Japanese restaurants that aren’t your typical sushi rolls – like fresh salmon sashimi or edamame.”

5. Sports drinks

Although they’re marketed as the perfect complement to a hard workout, sports drinks aren’t a necessary tool for the vast majority of the population. The composition of most of these products is sugar and salt that’s mixed with water. In fact, many popular brands available in Australia contain between 9-19 teaspoons of sugar per bottle.

Marika’s suggestion: “Essentially, these are products for athletes to use when the situation requires it. We’re talking about intense exercise for greater than 90 minutes, where they’re really needing those carbohydrates. They’re not a healthy daily choice. I’d come back to water as your drink of preference, but if you’re looking for electrolytes, you could try unflavoured coconut water.”

6. Low-fat and fat-free labelled products

When you’re in the supermarket, it can be tempting to reach for the packets that proclaim that they’re ‘low-fat’ or ‘fat-free’. Often, the fat that’s omitted from these products is replaced with sugar or salt to boost flavour.

Additionally, fat is satiating – so when it’s absent from a meal you may find yourself overeating to compensate. The Australian Government guidelines for fats recommend the regular consumption of polyunsaturated fat (found in fish and nuts) and monounsaturated fat (found in olive oil and avocado) as part of a balanced diet.

Marika’s suggestion: “Don’t take ‘fat-free’ labels as an indication that something is healthy. For example, a bag of lollies is low-fat. Instead of reading the marketing claims on the front of the label, take a look at the ingredient list. A lot of people go straight to the nutrition information panel on the back, but I would look at the ingredients first. Then you can see what’s going into that product, and make a decision based on that as to whether it’s healthy.”

7. Restaurant-made and pre-packaged salads

Salads are synonymous with good health, but it’s easy enough to include ingredients and dressings that significantly compromise the nutritional integrity of the dish – especially if you’re not making them yourself. For example, McDonald’s crispy chicken caesar salad contains more calories than two of their cheeseburgers (623 versus 302 apiece, respectively) as well as comparable amounts of total fat and sodium.

Marika’s suggestion: “In terms of pre-packaged salads, the biggest thing that I’d suggest is avoiding the dressings that come with them because they’re often creamy and quite high in fats and sugars. If you’re at a restaurant, ask for some olive oil and lemon juice or balsamic and get it on the side so you can control how much you’re putting on.”

OneLife  staff writer

OneLife staff writers come from a range of backgrounds including health, wellbeing, music, tech, culture and the arts. They spend their time researching the latest data and trends in the health market to deliver up-to-date information, helping everyday Australians live healthier lives. This is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances. The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as medical, health, nutritional or other advice. You should obtain professional advice from a medical or health practitioner in relation to your own personal circumstances.

The information in this article is general information only and is not intended as financial, medical, health, nutritional, tax or other advice. It does not take into account any individual’s personal situation or needs. You should consider obtaining professional advice from a financial adviser and/or tax specialist, or medical or health practitioner, in relation to your own circumstances and before acting on this information.