As a trainer I spend a lot of time talking to people about their health, mostly about the challenges of trying to maintain a healthy diet. I've found that one of the hardest places for my clients to eat well is when they are at work between meetings or on the go. We all know that food courts could do a better job of replacing fast food joints with healthier restaurants and offering better options in their stores. But it's also true that when we're busy, we're part of the problem! We're often stressed and distracted. We're carrying several bags, running to meetings, dodging crowds, avoiding lines, and frantically trying to get somewhere on time. Because we're so focused on our destinations and not our health, it's easy to make poor decisions when it comes to food.
Since it's my mission to make it easier for you to be healthy, all the time, everywhere, and since it's summer and we all love to look and feel great at this time of year, I've created a list of five commonly thought of healthy foods to avoid. They may seem like healthy choices, but actually they're not.
#1: Trail mix
A prepackaged mix of dried fruit, granola and nuts has mistakenly gained a status of "heart healthy." The truth is that one cup of regular trail mix has about 700 calories (that's a lot for a snack!) and an excess amount of sugar, oils, and preservatives.
Pre-packaged trail mix is more like a dessert since it's typically loaded with extra salty nuts, sugar-packed fruits like dried bananas (the crisps are fried!) and chocolate. So unless you're doing a strenuous hike on mountain trails and need the fuel, trail mix isn't the ideal snack for you.
What to eat instead: Make your own trail mix at home and take it with you. Stop by the nearest supermarket where nuts and berries are sold in bulk and mix your favorites together. Look for raw (not roasted) almonds, walnuts and pecans with low or no salt. Sprinkle in naturally dried fruits such as raisins, apricots, or cranberries. For extra nutrition, try adding seeds, such as pumpkin or hemp.
People often hear the word smoothie and think it's a healthy snack or meal replacement, but most are very high in sugary ingredients such as fruit juice, frozen yogurt, honey, and bananas or they contain a lot of fat (think ice cream, peanut butter, syrups or chocolate). Some smoothies can have as many as 600 calories — more than a fast-food hamburger!
What to eat instead: Make your own smoothie in the morning and bring it with you so you know exactly what's in it. Start with a few ice cubes and then either almond milk or just water as your base. Then add naturally flavored protein powder, ground flaxseed, hemp seeds, chia seeds, liquid fish oil and psyllium husk for fiber. If you're having a smoothie as a meal replacement, making one like this will give you a good dose of protein, fiber as well as a lot of healthy fats which will keep you full and satisfied to hold off hunger for more than a couple of hours.
#3: Pre-packaged salads
Salads that are packaged nicely always look healthy, but the truth is, we know nothing about the contents of that clear plastic package. The greens could be weeks old, devoid of their health benefits and the pre-packaged salad dressing that comes with it is often loaded with sugar, salt and excess fats from unspecified oils. Pre-washed greens have also been linked to outbreaks of E. coli and other bacteria so you may think twice about buying these salads.
What to eat instead: You can always try to wash and bag your own lettuce and veggies at home before you leave. But if this isn't possible (for most of us, it's not) consider your upcoming schedule when you do your shopping. Pick up some bars that are lower sugar and other items that keep for a while (carrots, celery, apples) so you can quickly throw them in your bag in the morning.
#4: Fruit-flavored yogurt cups or parfaits
This might be hard to believe, but some fruity yogurts have more sugar than a candy bar. A single serving of yogurt can contain as many as 25 grams of sugar, which is what you're supposed to have in an entire day according to the American Heart Association (six teaspoons for women, nine for men). Plus a lot of these parfaits are topped with granola so once your insulin is spiked from the sugars in the fruit there is a good chance that you will store all of those carbohydrates as fat.
#5: Red or white wine
Whether you're at a lunch meeting or already in a bar after work, you may want to avoid drinking wine because you think it's healthier than other alcohols. Yes wine does have resveratrol, a chemical with antioxidant properties, but it also contains sugars, carbohydrates and throws off your body's hormones. Also, when we're tipsy and dehydrated, we tend to make poor choices about the ways we replenish the electrolytes we lost from the alcohol. We tend to go for sugary drinks and greasy foods afterwards.