Wednesday, Jun 7, 2006
Five Foods to Fear
They may not seem like junk food. But nutritionists say these products are almost as bad for you as candy bars or soda
By JEREMY CAPLAN in Time Magazine
Most consumers realize candy bars and soda aren't going to work wonders for their health, but some nutritionists maintain lists of foods to avoid that go far beyond Cokes and Kit-Kats. From syrupy sports drinks to surprisingly sugary cereal bars, here are five supermarket foods health experts advise everyone to stay away from.
1) Syrupy Sports Drinks
Many parents think Gatorade and other sports drinks are healthy summer beverages, but such drinks are often high in both sodium and sugar. Michele Simon, founder of the Center for Informed Food Choices, says sugary sports drinks like Capri-Sun Sport are nearly as unhealthy as soda, and recommends that exercising kids opt for water instead. Kraft lists the first three ingredients as water, high fructose corn syrup and sugar, with 16 grams of sugar and 55 milligrams of sodium in every little pouch. "This is just another form of sugar water," Simon says. "Athletes in Florida running marathons may benefit from sports drinks, but for kids doing ordinary exercise, these sports drinks do more harm than good."
2) Sugary Cereal Bars
Breakfast cereal can be full of fiber, or full of, well, other stuff. And breakfast bars, a newer product aimed at fast eaters running off to school or work, can be just as unhealthy as the worst of cereals. Some have yogurt coatings which are actually composed of dextrose and partially hydrogenated soybean oils. Others are just sweetened cereals repackaged into a candy-bar like wrapper. One product that the Center for Science in the Public Interest says to avoid is Kellogg's Nutri-Grain Blueberry Yogurt Bars, which are high in sodium, low in fiber, and not much better for you than the sweetened stuff people usually call dessert.
3) Fatty "Instant" Meals
For those who love meals on the go, frozen dinners and pre-packaged lunches come in handy. But consumers looking for quick nutrition should probably look elsewhere, according to Amy Lanou, a nutritionist at the University of North Carolina at Asheville. "People think of turkey as a lighter meat, less fatty," she says. "But when you take a low-cost frozen dinner, they tend to be the cheaper, fattier cuts of meat." One product with surprising nutritional content is Swanson's Hungry Man XXL Roasted Carved Turkey, which clocks in at 5,410 mg of sodium per package. "Turkey may seem a quick meal, but between sodium, fat and cholesterol, you're challenging your body to deal with excesses it may not be happy to deal with," Lanou says.
4) Super-Sweetened Milk
Milk has long been a staple for lunch rooms and late-night snacks, but the new varieties of sugary milk are worth taking another look at, nutritionists say. Lanou recently examined the nutritional content of various chocolate milk cartons side by side with popular colas. "I don't think parents realize that when they offer up sweetened chocolate milk, they're generally giving their children ounce for ounce the same amount of sugar as sodas do," she says. A container of Hershey's Vanilla Cream Milkshake, for instance, has 560 calories and 77 grams of sugar. "If you're going to drink milk, choose a lower-fat version," Lanou says. "And consider water or a healthy juice instead."
5) Unhealthy "Health" Snacks
From gourmet potato chips to candied dried fruit, packaged snacks that have the look and feel of health foods are increasingly popular. Whole Foods, the mecca of organic, good-for-you eats, carries some of these, as do local health food stores around the country. Experts warn that though they may sound nutritious or may be billed as "organic," salty, fried veggie chips, for instance, are often more tasty than healthy. And health-watchers steer away from sweetened, packaged "fruit" products— such as fried banana chips— which can be high in saturated fat and contain far more sugar than the fruit they're derived from. "They're not far away from regular candy," says Tim Radak, a nutritionist and program manager at the Northern California Cancer Center. "They may throw in fruit juice and call them fruit snacks, but they're quite far from a real piece of fruit."