There's a lot of mixed messages out there when it comes to diet, nutrition and food.
While social media and online 'health gurus' aren't helping, a big part of the problem is the clever use of marketing and buzz words on food and drink products, which make us believe products are healthy -- when they're actually not.
"I think food companies often want to go down that angle of marketing products as healthy, even though they might not in all aspects be a healthier option. And consumers really need to watch out for that," Alison McAleese, LiveLighter campaign manager and accredited practising dietitian, told The Huffington Post Australia.
"One of the main dangers is that you think it's a healthy option so you overeat the products.
"The other one is having it instead of something that genuinely is healthy. For example, eating a product that says it contains fruit and looks healthy, but might not actually have much fruit in it. You may have this instead of an actual piece of fruit."
Don't worry -- checking whether a product is healthy or not is easy. Try these top tips.
"Things that come in a packet often aren't as healthy as the raw, unprocessed alternative, particularly when it comes to fruit and vegetables. So, buying as minimally processed as possible is best," McAleese said.
"Anything that comes in a packet, make sure you're using the back of the packet to check the nutrition label and ingredients, rather than looking at the marketing and labelling on the front."
On the back of the food or drink product, check for these.
"With the ingredients list, lots of ingredients -- particularly those you haven't heard of -- is a sign it's very processed and probably not that good for you," McAleese said.
"The things to look at in the nutrition information panel (particularly in snack foods) are salt, sugar and saturated fat. That will give you an idea of whether it's high in those, and you can compare two products and pick the better option."
A guide to understanding salt, sugar and fat content in products
Per 100 grams, aim for the following:
- Total fat -- less than 3g for food, less than 1.5g for drinks
- Saturated fat -- Less than 1.5g for food, less than 0.75g for drinks
- Sugar -- Less than 5g for food, less than 2.5g for drinks
- Sodium (salt) -- Less than 120mg for food, less than 120mg for drinks
Here are eight foods and drinks that aren't as healthy as you think, and how they stack up compared to their junk food counterpart.
1. Frozen yoghurt vs ice cream
"With frozen yoghurt in shops or at yoghurt bars, it's often high fat yoghurt which they've added a lot of sugar to, so it's quite comparable to ice cream. It's not really a healthy option," McAleese told HuffPost Australia.
"The other thing is you often add a lot of syrups or even lollies to it, so you're getting a lot of extra energy in there."
The next time you feel like a frozen treat, just consider the portion size -- or make your own at home.
"With frozen yoghurt and ice cream, have it occasionally and in small portions," McAleese said.
"You can freeze your own yoghurt at home, you just need to mix it occasionally so you get a smooth consistency. Or you can have yoghurt at home that's not frozen and add fresh or frozen fruit to give it flavour that way."
Alternatively, make your own sorbet or banana 'nice cream' by blending frozen fruit with a splash of water in a high powered blender or food processor.
2. Gourmet burgers vs regular burgers
If you bypassed Maccas to go to a gourmet burger spot, while they do contain more healthy ingredients, the size of these gourmet burgers (as well as the chips that come with them) don't make these burgers a healthy option, either.
"This one is very popular at the moment in cities across Australia. The major things with gourmet burgers is they are so much bigger than fast food burgers. Even if they're adding extra healthy ingredients, often the meat and cheese are double the size, so you're getting more kilojoules from that," McAleese said.
"The chips also come in big portion sizes, so you can end up eating the equivalent of two meals in one go."
Instead of going out for burgers, try making your own burgers at home.
"Depending on what you put in it, burgers can be a really healthy meal and still taste delicious," McAleese said.
3. Muffins vs cupcakes
Those delicious cafe muffins packed with blueberries, banana and bran must be healthy, right? Unfortunately, nope.
"All the different flavoured muffins look like a healthy option, but sometimes they're four times the size of your mouth and can be quite high in sugar, as well," McAleese said.
"The only difference I can see between a muffin and a cupcake is that cupcakes have icing and they're generally smaller. Other than that, they're pretty much the same.
"If you're going to have a takeaway muffin, cut it in half and share it with a friend, but generally they're best avoided. They aren't a healthy snack. Remember to count them as something to have occasionally."
Or, make your own muffins at home using fresh, nutritious ingredients. Tip: try halving the amount of sugar the recipe asks for.
"Make homemade muffins or banana bread, so you know what's in it," McAleese said.
4. Low carb beer vs regular beer
Despite clever marketing, low carb beer contains almost as many kilojoules as regular beer, so it won't help you lose weight.
"With beer and all alcoholic drinks, the main source of kilojoules is actually the alcohol, not the carbohydrates. Low carb and normal beer don't have a huge difference in the total amount of energy," McAleese said.
"The best way to cut down on energy when it comes to drinking alcohol is to choose a light or mid-strength beer, or switch to wine. With either of those, you still need to watch how much you're having because if you're having four drinks, that does add up to a lot."
5. Veggie chips vs potato chips
Although veggie chips look more colourful, they're still fried and salted, making little difference nutrition wise.
"There's not really any difference between them, apart from which vegetable they're made out of, whether it's carrots or beetroot or potatoes," McAleese said.
"They're all cut thin and fried, so they're very high in fat and high in salt. Again, count them as something to have occasionally, not a snack you have at work or after work."
If you feel like chips, try making your own by thinly slicing veggies, sprinkling them with some olive oil, salt and garlic powder, and roasting them at 180°C until golden.
"If you're doing it yourself, you know what's in it and then you can control it. As long as they don't have too much oil, they're going to be a better option," McAleese said. "Nuts are also a lot healthier than chips."
6. Restaurant salad dressings vs store-bought salad dressings
Salads are boring without dressing, but the type of dressing you use can have a big impact on your overall energy intake.
"Salad dressings can add a whole lot of unwanted energy to an otherwise healthy salad. The best way to get around that is to ask for the dressing to be put on the side, so then you can decide how much you want to put on," McAleese said.
"In terms of other options, something that is made out of vinegar or a small amount of olive oil is a lot better for you than the creamy dressings."
7. Cold pressed juice vs regular juice
"This type of juice is processed without heat, and people who are advocates for it say it preserves the vitamins," McAleese explained.
"My take on that is juice, generally, is not as good an option as fruit. It doesn't really matter whether it's cold pressed or not. Either way, you're much better off to eat a piece of fruit and have a glass of water.
"When you're cold pressing it, it's still exposing the inside of the fruit to air, so you're still going to get some vitamin loss, it's perhaps just not as much as other types of processing juice."
8. Gluten-free biscuits and cakes vs regular treats
Unfortunately, just because a product is gluten free, does not automatically make it healthy.
"Just treat them like any other biscuits. Remember they are not part of a healthy diet and we shouldn't be having them every day," McAleese said.
"Often they are actually higher in sugar and fat because they've got to replace the taste and texture with something else, so they can be less healthy than some of the other options.
"There is one group of people which gluten-free products are a healthy option for, and that's anyone with coeliac disease or a diagnosed gluten intolerance. But apart from that, we don't need to be having gluten-free for the majority of us, and it's not a healthier option.
"Essentially, just be mindful of the portion sizes. Anything you can make yourself, rather than buying, is going to be better."
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