The main ingredient in white bread is refined, bleached flour. Refined means that before being ground into flour, the wheat underwent the highest level of processing, and multiple parts were removed to extend shelf life. These parts include the bran and the hull, which hold the bulk of the protein and fiber content. Wheat and multi-grain breads are usually made from white flour despite their deceiving names. A 100-percent whole-grain bread will always list a whole-grain ingredient first on the label.
Bottled Salad Dressing
Not all salad dressings are created equal. Bottled dressings, particularly those in the center aisles, often have high fat content and contain added sugar, sodium, and preservatives to extend shelf life and emulsify the ingredients. Healthier options for bottled dressings exist, and they're usually found in the refrigerated section. No matter where in the store your dressing is sold, be sure to check not only the nutrition label, but also the ingredient list.
Check out our guide to basic vinaigrettes. Making your own vinaigrette at home is super easy and requires less than 5 ingredients.
Unless you have a diagnosed allergy, you should generally avoid these products. Gluten is a protein network naturally present in wheat, barley, and rye. It is responsible for the wonderful texture of baked goods. When gluten is removed from food, other ingredients are added to make up for the loss in texture. If you are trying to snack smarter, a “gluten-free” label doesn’t necessarily make your snack a healthier option.
Instant Oatmeal and (Most) Dry Cereals
Oatmeal is considered a generally healthy breakfast choice. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Instant oatmeal packets often contain added sugar and artificial flavorings. It does count as a whole grain, but still we recommend old-fashioned oats and then jazzing them up on your own with milk, honey, fresh fruit, and cinnamon.
Dry cereals are also notorious for high sugar content, despite how healthy the packaging and ingredients may seem. Sugar-laden cereals will keep you less full and satisfied and may even lead to more mid-morning snacking. To choose the best dry cereal, follow the 5-5-10 rule: 5 grams of fiber, 5 grams of protein, and less than 10 grams of sugar.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Some food items naturally have a higher fat content and should be kept that way. Peanut butter is one such food. Regular peanut butter and reduced-fat peanut butter actually contain around the same amount of calories,. However, sugar and starchy fillers are added in place of healthy fat in the reduced-fat option. Peanuts are a good source of heart-healthy, monounsaturated fat and should be the only ingredient in your peanut butter (ok, and maybe a little salt).
This includes packaged deli meats and processed meats, such as hotdogs and sausages. Packaged deli meat tends to be high in sodium and may contain preservatives in the form of sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate. Some brands have one third of the daily recommend intake for sodium in just one 2 oz. serving. Opt for roasting your own turkey or purchasing fresh slices.
Hot dogs are highly processed and typically made from low-quality meat. Even all-beef dogs can contain more 550 mg of sodium per link. If you're going to have one, be sure to read labels and pick one with an ingredient list you can read and the lowest sodium number you can find.
“Fat-Free” Snack Foods
A label that reads “fat free” does not mean that the food is low calorie. When naturally occurring fat is removed from a snack food, a fat substitute or filler was likely added in its place for taste and/or texture. Check the ingredient list of your snack foods and opt for products with natural ingredients and the least amount of added sodium and sugar for the most nutritional bang for your buck.
Yogurt-covered raisins, almonds, pretzels, and even granola bars are abundant in the snack aisles. Yogurt in the dairy section and the “yogurt” that covers these snack foods have very different nutritional blueprints. The yogurt that covers snack foods is generally made with sugar, hydrogenated oil, milk, and yogurt powder. If it's covering your food, it's just adding saturated fat, trans fat, and additional sugar to your food. Instead, try buying plain Greek yogurt and mixing in your own nuts or dried fruit.
If you are engaging in day-to-day light activity, such as housework or walking, you do not need a sports drink. Sports drinks were created for intense workouts and endurance training to provide water, energy, and electrolyte replenishment. Sports drinks can contain almost as much added sugar as soda and should be consumed sparingly. Instead, opt for flavored water or coconut water to refresh and rehydrate.
Soda contains a concentrated amount of sugar and calories while providing no nutritional benefit. In fact, one 12-ounce can of Coca-Cola has almost double the sugar of a full-sized Snickers candy bar.
Diet sodas are not off the hook either due to high amounts of artificial sweeteners. These sweeteners do not add calories to the beverage, but they provide an intense sweetness that can dull your senses to naturally sweet foods, such as fruit. Though you are not taking in extra calories or sugar, you still receive no nutritional value from these diet drinks. If you crave the fizz, try club soda or a flavored sparkling water instead.
Flavored Milk and Yogurt
Milk and yogurt are essential dairy sources that provide an array of nutrients, such as vitamins A, D, B6, and B12, protein, and natural sugar. If you purchase flavored milk, like chocolate, strawberry, or a non-dairy vanilla, you may be drinking up to 18 grams of sugar per cup. Yogurt has 12 to 18 grams of naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose (milk sugar). When additional sugar is added for flavor, one cup can contain up to 29 grams of sugar per serving. (That’s more than a Twinkie!) We recommend sticking to unflavored milk and plain Greek yogurt and adding your own fresh toppings if desired.
Some would argue that processed cheese, or “prepared cheese product,” is hardly cheese at all. Processed cheeses typically contain additives, emulsifiers, food coloring, saturated vegetable oils, and added salt. Regulations define what ingredients can be in cheese in order to label and sell the product as cheese, so be sure to check for these labels. Steer clear of products labeled as “cheese food,” especially those found in a spray can (eek!).