Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

Ask a nutrition student: Health food hoaxes

Melanie Westfall

When I go to the grocery store, I feel overwhelmed with the wide variety of health foods. I feel like every item carries some kind of health benefit.  Some of these food items can’t be what they seem — what should I make sure to avoid?

— Diet Detective

If only more shoppers could have the same curiosity as you, Diet Detective! You are totally correct in thinking that many snacks don’t nutritionally live up to the healthy impression they give.  Here are three of the trickiest health food hoaxes you should be sure to avoid.

I’ll start off with the first meal of the day: Don’t place granola in the same category as breakfast cereal. It should be considered a topping. One cup – the size of a small fist — contains almost 600 calories and approximately 24 grams of sugar — more sugar than a glazed doughnut!

The serving sizes of many granola cereals are a meager half cup, and we all know how easy it is to over-pour (and overeat straight out of the box). If you must have granola in the morning, try mixing it with a “puffier” cereal to bulk up the volume and cut out the calories.

When it comes to snacks, you may feel like you’re making a healthy choice by selecting dried fruit instead of cookies, cake or candy — but don’t be fooled! Not all dried fruits are created equally. A glance at the ingredients panel of many dried fruit packages reveals the presence of sweeteners, sugar and oils. Dried cranberries’ sweetness, for example, comes from added sugars. You may recall that natural, fresh cranberries are tart.

We also run into a problem with serving sizes when dealing with dried fruit. Take a normal sized grape, remove all of the water from it, and the fruit shrinks to a raisin. So it makes sense that one cup of seedless grapes has about 100 calories, whereas one cup of raisins has almost 500. If you keep your portion sizes in check, dried fruit doesn’t become a problem, but if you’re like me, and tend to snack right out of a bag, it’s easy to eat more than just one serving. 

Another snack food scandal involves a popular post-workout treat: protein bars.  Next time you pick up a bar that boasts a high protein content, compare the nutrition facts to those of a candy bar.  Containing anywhere from 170 to 400 calories, the sugar, saturated fat, calorie and fiber stats of some seemingly healthy snacks can mimic a chocolate candy.

Robert Shmerling, MD, wrote a Harvard Health Blog comparing a Snickers candy bar to nutrition bars. He commented that many protein bars weren’t all that different from Snickers nutritionally. And although a protein bar contains more protein, this variance won’t make a huge difference to anyone who consumes a well-balanced diet.

To avoid poring over nutrition labels of the numerous protein bars at the grocery store, my advice is to grab a piece of fruit and low-fat Greek yogurt or a turkey and cheese roll-up instead.

It may take a little bit of sleuthing, but you are totally capable of exposing the disguise of not-so-healthy snacks. Now that you know the nutrition facts, this case is closed.

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Ask a nutrition student: Health food hoaxes