Healthy Junk Food? Think Again

Junk FoodOnce you make the shift from an unhealthy lifestyle and the standard American diet (SAD for short), you probably still get food cravings for a snack. You’ve gone from the snack aisles in your grocery store to the snack aisles in your health food store.

Trust me, I’ve been there. You’re searching for the healthier option, and if you’re going to cheat on your diet, you want to cheat in the healthiest way possible. Your typical snack food, like crackers or chips, should be eaten in moderation. If you succumb to your craving, it is important to remember that you are still eating processed or refined foods. Eating a bag of chips with “natural” ingredients is still a bag of chips. It’s the art of illusion. It is a good thing that fewer ingredients are used; however, it doesn’t give you a free pass to eat them every day.

Your “healthier” snack foods give you a better option to satisfy your craving for salt or sugar, but are you really improving your health? Let’s take a look at the healthier alternatives to four snacks you will still find in the health food store.

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Chips

There are a lot of healthy keywords when it comes to chips and the “healthy” ingredient list, which might include organic sprouted quinoa, black beans, sweet potatoes, olives, flaxseeds, brown rice, lentils, hummus, green pea crisps, apple crisps, and the list goes on. Are you having dinner or are you munching out?

There are some potato chips that will be labeled as non-GMO, which is also an important quality to have in any food, including your junk food. On paper everything looks right: Three or four ingredients (potatoes, safflower and/or sunflower and/or canola oil, and sea salt), 4.5 g of fat, and 170 calories per 30 to 32 chips. It can be a baked chip or a fried chip—the oils used to make the chips will denature the product by cooking it at high temperatures. When any potato chips are fried, no matter the ingredient list, the carcinogen acrylamide is produced.

Candy

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I’ve seen organic lollipops and organic cherry licorice in the health food store. Does it mean it has less sugar? A conventional licorice contains unhealthy ingredients such as palm oil, glyceryl, artificial color (red 40), artificial flavor, and the preservative potassium sorbate. Each piece is about 33 g, and contains 14 g of sugar and 100 calories. An organic cherry licorice would contain organic corn syrup, organic rice flour, organic rice starch, organic apple juice, organic concentrated fruit juice (cherry), and organic flavor (cherry, citric acid). One serving is considered about 40 g and has about 19 g of sugar and 140 calories. You don’t get the possible unhealthy side effects from the abundance of chemical ingredients of the regular candy; however, sugar is still sugar.

Chocolate Bars

A lot of people tell me they eat healthy; however, chocolate remains a mainstay in their otherwise clean-eating regimen. If you’re eating chocolate every day, there’s an issue with sugar and sweets, but if you eat some chocolate on occasion, what is the “healthy” option? The average store-bought chocolate bar is made and processed with sugar, chocolate, cocoa butter, cocoa processed with alkali, milk fat, lactose (milk), soy lecithin, PGPR (emulsifier), vanillin (artificial flavor), and more milk, for example.

Now what about the organic chocolate bars? Giddy Yoyo produces organic chocolate bars made from organic raw cacao. On the package it says that it is food (not candy), and the ingredients are certified organic raw arriba nacional cacao pasta, certified organic raw unrefined cane juice crystals, and certified organic raw arriba nacional cacao butter, love and gratitude. Each large chocolate bar contains two 31 g servings with 12 g of fat, 9 g of sugar, and 166 calories. To satisfy your craving, and to obtain antioxidants, cacao over cocoa may be the way to go.

Granola Bars

Granola bars are historically that “healthy” snack put in your children’s lunchbox. As a responsible parent, should you reconsider that choice? There are some that taste great and have all the peanuts and almonds that you crave; however, what about all those other ingredients? Some are dipped in almond butter and have several sugar ingredients (high maltose corn syrup, sugar, tapioca syrup), and chemicals such as maltodextrin (may contain MSG). They can also contain common GMOs, canola oil and soy. One granola bar contains around 160 calories, 7 g of fat, 3 g of protein and 13 g of sugar.

Nature’s Path produces gluten-free granola bars, and has healthy ingredients such as flaxseeds, macaroons, pumpkin seeds, chia seeds, apple, strawberry and dark chocolate chips. They are also USDA certified organic and non-GMO verified, but they may be a problem for people with food allergies or sensitivities. They are produced in a facility with dairy and soy; however, soy and dairy are not listed as ingredients. One bar contains 140 calories, 4 g of fat, 3 g of protein, and 9 g of sugar. This healthier brand of granola bar has less sugar and better ingredients. It would be the better alternative; however, are there healthier snacks for your children?

Healthy Snack Options

What should you eat instead of the “healthy” junk food options? Your body really needs nutrient-dense whole food snacks, such as fruits or vegetables that will give you energy throughout the day. Bananas, apples, avocados and cucumber slices are good choices. Also, make your own trail mix with some walnuts, almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds and sunflower seeds. Consider some of these ingredients for a smoothie in the morning or afternoon.

If you give into your “healthy” junk food craving on occasion, it’s not the end of the world. Just keep in mind that it’s not as healthy as you think.

Sources:
Traister, J., “Potato Chip Health Risks,” LIVESTRONG.com website, March 2, 2011; http://www.livestrong.com/article/395810-potato-chip-health-risks/.
“76% Original,” Giddy Yoyo website; http://www.giddyyoyo.com/?portfolio=original, last accessed June 24, 2014.
“Gluten Free Selections Trail Mixer Chewy Granola Bars,” Nature’s Path website; http://shop.naturespath.com/Gluten-Free-Selections-Trail-Mixer-Chewy-Granola-Bars/p/NPA-891369&c=NaturesPath@Bars, last accessed June 24, 2014.