Healthy eating can be confusing, especially when certain food products are marketed to us in a way that make them seem 'healthy' and 'all natural'. The trendy (and often expensive) food and drinks flooding our social media feeds doesn't help either.
More often than not, these following foods should be seen as a 'sometimes' food due to their high amounts of sugar, salt and fat.
The risk then with thinking these foods are healthy is that we may eat more of them more often, or miss out on other foods which are healthier and essential for overall health.
"If you think something is healthy and it's tasting really good, you might end up overeating it and if you're overeating these foods it can result in excess consumption of sugar, fat or salt," Chloe McLeod, accredited practising dietitian, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"You can also end up eating more of these foods and missing out on actual healthy food."
Foods that aren't as healthy as we think include:
- Muffins -- large serving size and often contain high amounts of sugar, fat and refined flour
- Raw desserts -- often contain high amounts of sugar and fat
- Muesli bars -- often high in added sugar
- Granola/toasted muesli -- often high in added sugar and oil
- Smoothies -- often high in sugar
- Vegetable or rice chips -- often high in fat and salt
- Juices -- contain excessive amounts of sugar and little fibre
- Gluten free products -- often highly processed with added salt and sugar
- Instant porridge -- often high in sugar
- Protein bars -- often highly processed and contain excessive sugar
- Multigrain bread -- can often use refined white flour (not wholemeal) with only a few seeds and grain added
- Banana bread -- often contains refined flour and high in sugar
"Often gluten free products are marketed as healthy, but a gluten-free muffin is still a muffin," McLeod said.
"Veggie or rice chips aren't necessarily healthy either, but often their packaging and marketing make it appear like they are. The veggie chips might be sweet potato or beetroot rather than potato but they're still going to be high in fat and salt."
Smoothies and juices in particular can be surprisingly high in sugar. Some popular smoothies can contain up to 81 grams of sugar -- to put that into perspective, the recommended daily intake of sugar for the average Australia adult is 90 grams.
"Smoothies and juices can be a real trap for excess sugar, particularly a fruit juice," McLeod said. "A typical glass of orange juice could have anywhere between six and eight oranges in it. You wouldn't sit down and eat that many oranges in a sitting, so you can see how consuming the sugar that's in this amount of fruit is going to have an effect on you in the long-term."
Raw desserts are another food which is often praised for being healthy but, in fact, are often too high in sugar to be considered overly healthy.
"Although some of them are healthy, most have 'healthy' sugar or sweetener added and that doesn't make them calorie free options," McLeod told HuffPost Australia. "They usually contain high amounts of sugar and coconut oil, meaning eating that too much raw desserts is going to result in excess sugar and fat consumption."
Of course, this is not to say every version of these foods is unhealthy, or that they're 'bad' or that we can never have them. It's about balance and treating yourself is important, too.
If you do really want to have that muffin or bar just eat it, but be mindful of the portion size and the frequency.
To make a healthier choice, McLeod recommends to be savvy and check the sugar, fat, salt and fibre content -- or better yet, try making them yourself.
"There are going to be healthier versions of these foods, definitely. Just check the label and nutrition information panel," McLeod said.
"For sugar, we're aiming for less than 10 grams per 100 grams and for fibre we're aiming for more than 7.5 grams per 100 grams.
"With fat content, it depends on what the product is and how it's been made. For something to be 'low fat' is less than three grams per 100 grams, but it doesn't matter if it's not low fat. We usually recommend to aim for around 10 grams per 100 grams. In some cases, for example when the product contains a lot of nuts which is healthy, it might be higher than that."
For salt, aim for foods which contain 120mg of sodium or less per 100 grams. More generally, look for ingredients which begin with 'whole grain' or 'wholemeal'.
"Look for bars, cakes and muffins that are made from healthy ingredients (whole grains, nuts and seeds) and there are a lot of those out there. They don't have to be unhealthy all the time," McLeod said.
Making your own cake, muffins, muesli bars and smoothies means you can control what goes into your favourite foods, giving you the choice to use whole grain ingredients (like wholemeal flour or oats) and make low sugar options (such as a berry smoothie with added greens).
"If you really want to have that muffin or bar just eat it, but be mindful of the portion size and the frequency," McLeod told HuffPost Australia. "Often you see those cafe muffins which are bigger than your fist, so maybe you could share it with a friend."