When I shop at Whole Foods, I feel like I've got the grocery store equivalent of a "Get Out of Jail Free" card -- and I toss foods into my cart with abandon.
Gluten-free cookies? They're healthy!
Multi-grain bread? That freshly baked "Seeduction" loaf won't make me pudgy.
But after a few months of working out like an Amazon woman and shopping for "healthy" food at Whole Paycheck, my scale still isn't budging. Which is why I called in the big guns: clinical nutritionist Stella Metsovas, BS, and registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli, RD. Here's what they told me: Shopping at health food stores can be a dieter's worst nightmare. Why? Because it can fool you into thinking everything is good for you -- even when you know deep down that those organic oreos and artisan crackers are as fattening as the stuff that's sold at Super Target.
To help me in my pursuit of truly healthy foods, they gave me this cheat sheet to bring to the health food store along with my shopping list. Here are the foods I'm now steering clear of at Whole Foods:
If you have a gluten intolerance, that little "gluten-free" label can be a literal lifesaver. But if you don't have a gluten intolerance, you're really not doing yourself any favors by avoiding the ingredient. "Gluten-free does not equal healthier," says Metsovas. "These products just replace wheat flour with brown rice flour, which isn't much better for you." She adds that many gluten-free products can be loaded with sugar and starch. "You're getting tons of carbs, and very few nutrients, with these packaged foods," says Metsovas.
What could be bad about tea? If it doesn't come from your own teapot, be warned: "Bottled teas are often sweetened with sugar, and many of them are essentially just uncarbonated soda," says Giancoli. Need proof? Honest Tea Honey Green Tea has a whopping 18 grams of sugar. And even the Classic Green Tea has 9 g of organic cane sugar.
In general, the convenient pre-made salads are healthy. The dressings, however, are another story. "Salad dressings can be filled with sugar," says Metsovas. She's spotted ones with up to 50 g in one serving! That's bad as it is, but there's another problem with a skimpy salad and sugary dressing. "Dressings with high sugar cause your blood sugar to spike, so you'll be hungry and craving more sugar soon after you finish," she says. If your only options are dressings with a lot of sugar in them (and you can't eat your salad dry), Metsovas says you're better off skipping the salad and grabbing a sandwich instead, since it'll keep you feeling full for longer.
Shouldn't six grains be better than one? Not if those six grains had all their nutrients stripped out of them, which is often the case with foods labeled "multi-grain." The real term you want to look for is "whole grain," says Giancoli. Whole grain means the product hasn't been refined. What's so wrong with refining? Essentially, refining grains chemically bleaches the flour, removing the natural vitamins and minerals at the same time, says Elaine Wilkes, PhD. After the bleaching process, the flour is "enriched" with synthetic nutrients, but it's really not the same as the original whole grain nutrients. Wilkes describes it as "dead bread."
You'd never consider a can of Coke to be healthy, but the promises of "natural flavor" and "organic sugar" on bottles of sodas like Izze and Jones Soda make them almost seem OK, right? First of all, Wilkes says "natural flavors" are a joke. "If a label contains 'natural flavors' it doesn't mean that it's natural or healthy," she says. "Artificial and natural flavors are manufactured at the same chemical plants as other flavors. They have nothing to do with nature."
OK, maybe this one shouldn't be too shocking, but Giancoli says, "a cookie can be vegan, but it's still a cookie." Translation: While that cookie may not have any butter or lard in it, it can still have plenty of fat (via vegetable oil) and sugar. Metsovas does concede that vegan or organic desserts are "technically healthier, since they typically contain fewer refined ingredients." But, she adds, "you'll still put on weight even if it's natural fat and sugar."
More from TotalBeauty.com: