By Melanie Haiken, Forbes Contributor
It’s mid-January, and you’re still on track to fulfill your New Year’s resolution to eat healthier and lose weight. You finally broke your soda habit, you avert your eyes in the cookie aisle, and you make yourself eat popcorn instead of chips whenever possible. But you might be shocked — and not a little upset — to find out that some of the “healthy” snacks that now fill your cupboards are packed with hidden fat, sugar, and calories. (But guess what? some foods actually burn fat. Those are the ones you want to eat more of.) Here are just a few of the worst culprits lurking on health food store shelves.
1. Soy Milk
Compared with milk — the most common comparison — soy milk isn’t particularly high calorie. One cup of soy milk contains approximately 130 calories, which is more than the 100 calories of nonfat milk, but fairly comparable to the 120 calories in skim. The problem comes when you read further, and see that there are 9.8 grams of sugar in one cup of plain soy milk. And if you choose the flavored varieties, they’ll be still higher in sugar. Some of the sugars in soy milk come from the soy itself, but much of it is from cane sugar or, as it may say “dehydrated cane juice”, the very type of white sugar many of us are trying to avoid.
2. Banana Chips
Yikes! That was my reaction when I finally read the fine print on one of my favorite late-night munchies. First of all, a “serving” consists of just 13 pieces – barely a handful. My typical night’s intake is probably triple that. Next, the fat content — in those paltry 13 chips lurk 10 grams of saturated fat, a whopping 48 percent of your daily allowance. And note that this is saturated fat – the kind that’s terrible for your heart and arteries and is typically associated with meat, cheese and other animal products. Why do banana chips contain so much saturated fat? Because they’re soaked in coconut oil, which is listed as the second ingredient, following bananas. Now, according to a report in the New York Times, scientists are busy arguing about the health status of coconut oil, which is indeed a saturated fat but is not considered as evil as the fat in meat. The distinction seems to lie in whether the coconut oil used is partially hydrogenated (bad) or virgin (good) and my label does not tell me that. Either way, with 160 calories in just 13 measly chips and 11 grams of total fat, they’re no replacement for the cookies I’d honestly rather have.
Apologies in advance to those of you who start your day by stopping by the local deli — this news will be unwelcome. The average 4-inch bagel contains between 300 and 500 calories — and that’s just the bagel itself, before you add the cream cheese or other toppings. “Schmear” your bagel with just two tablespoons of regular cream cheese and you’ve added another 100 calories and 6 grams of saturated fat. The same bagel — sans toppings — gives you a quarter of your daily sodium allotment, too.
4. Coated or Candied Nuts
I’m not talking about anything that obviously belongs in the candy department, like chocolate-covered hazelnuts or Jordan almonds. I just mean the nuts that come with a light savory-sweet coating, such as those you’d toss in a salad. Well get this; 1/4 cup of “lightly candied” walnuts contains 17 grams of fat (2 of them saturated), or 26 percent of your total daily allowance. That means that with a handful of nuts you’ve eaten a quarter of all the fat you should eat in a day. Then there are those 8 grams of sugar; in fact glance down at the ingredient list and you’ll see sugar listed right after the walnuts themselves. While nuts themselves are calorie-rich, they’re also a good source of with healthy fats, fiber, and protein. But stick to buying them raw and toasting them yourself, to avoid the added oils.
Make it yourself and you control what goes into it; hopefully oats and not a lot else. But buy store-bought packaged granola and you’re getting a lot more sugar than you bargained for, and some unwanted fats as well. One small (2/3 cup) serving of one popular granola, for example, has 210 calories, 60 of which are from at. The total fat content is 7 g, or 11 percent of your day’s allotment, and along with that fat come 15 grams of sugar. That’s a lot of sugar, and sure enough the ingredient list reveals cane sugar as number two, right under oats.
6. Dried fruit
Dried cranberries had become a staple of both my morning oatmeal and my evening salads, until I noticed the 22 grams of sugar listed on the label – and that’s just for a quarter of a cup. The calorie count isn’t so bad at 96 but the problem is, these calories are almost as empty of nutrition as if you were topping your cereal with M&Ms. Go down the list of nutrients and you see pretty much everything listed as zero – zero iron, zero protein, and even the fiber comes in at just 1 gram. About the only nutrient of significance is vitamin C at 18% of your daily recommended allowance, but you could get more than that in an apple, and almost ten times that in an orange. If you just have to have dried fruit on your cereal, choose a type that’s naturally sweet to begin with. Raisins, for example, typically have no added sugar because grapes are sweet. Even so, drying concentrates those natural sugars, so dried fruit will always pack many more calories than fresh.
This is another case where concentrating the original ingredients raises the calorie density. And then there are all those extras like yogurt, protein powders, even ice cream, that can undermine all your good intentions. Let’s start with a simple fruit smoothie; a banana and berry smoothie from Jamba Juice has 400 calories. Choose one of the sweeter combos, like banana, peanut butter and chocolate, and you’re downing a decadent 770 calories in one glass. And the Peenya Kowlada, which features pineapple sherbet? Ouch – 960 calories, or about half the daily allowance for a typical adult woman. Even smoothies made at home contain more calories than if you ate the fruit itself, simply because they’re more concentrated and thus more calorie-dense. Keep your smoothies healthy by using water or ice as a base rather than fruit juice, adding nonfat plain yogurt instead of flavored yogurt or ice cream, and exercising reasonable portion control.
The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.