Not-so-healthy ‘health’ foods

Don’t fall for the health ‘halo’ on these foods!

By Kristen Raab

If you have made the decision to follow a healthy lifestyle, salads, smoothies and other so-called healthy foods likely emerged as everyday staples of your diet.

While these foods can be great choices, we must consider if they offer the nutrients we need, because they may contain too much fat, sugar or salt to be worthwhile.

“Certain foods tend to have a halo effect where we believe they are so good for us and give them the green light,” said Patricia Salzer, a registered dietitian and health and wellness consultant with Excellus BlueCross BlueShield. “While it isn’t necessary to avoid the foods, think of some as having more of a caution, slow down, yellow light.”


Salad can be a healthy addition to a meal, or a satisfying but smart meal if prepared with care. “Focus more on a variety of vegetables” rather than cheese, croutons, and bacon, Salzer said. Adding fruit to a bowl of colorful veggies is a great way to build up the nutrients.

Protein is necessary for a salad to be filling, so choose chicken, seafood, beef, or chickpeas. Lastly, don’t saturate your food with dressing.

“You don’t need a little salad with a bowl of dressing,” Salzer says. If you are eating out, ask for dressing on the side, and if you’re eating at home, measure it out based on the nutritional facts.


Canned soup tends to have excessive amounts of salt. Salzer suggests making your own, and assures us that it isn’t difficult. “Use the carcass of a turkey or chicken to make a stock,” she said.

You can also use vegetables that are beginning to blemish or the parts you don’t eat such as the skin of onions.

Include “lots of vegetables and beans for nutrition. Think kale, spinach, zucchini, potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beyond,” she said.

Smoothies and fruit juice

Grabbing a smoothie for breakfast or as a beverage when you’re running errands is fairly commonplace. The amount of sugar that is in most commercially produced smoothies exceeds what should be consumed all day.

If it’s store-bought, it probably contains plenty of preservatives as well. “If you are going to have a smoothie, use plain yogurt and some vegetables besides the fruit,” Salzer said. The yogurt provides some protein, and the fruit and vegetables provide fiber and plenty of nutrients.

Salzer recommends eating whole fruits and vegetables most days. “Let your mouth be your blender,” she said.

Fruit juice also tends to be high in sugar. Fresh fruit is better for you, and it’s also more satisfying. Don’t drink your calories. If you decide you really want juice, “dilute it with seltzer, water or have a small amount,” Salzer advises.


Oatmeal can be a great breakfast or snack, but it is important to buy the right kinds or make your own. Avoid flavored oatmeal as it has a lot of sugar.

If plain oats are not appetizing, you can mix in fruit and nuts. There are plenty of recipes online for overnight oats. One easy version is to mix oats with almond milk and blueberries. For added fiber, a teaspoon of chia seeds can be included.

Your breakfast is ready when you wake up. Visit for a long list of options. Alternatively, Salzer suggests a savory take on the staple by mixing steel-cut oats with sautéed spinach and mushrooms.

Snacks: Dried fruit, pretzels and granola

Dried fruit is often found in trail mix, or in stand-alone packages at the grocery store.

We might believe it’s a healthy choice because it has fiber, but its calorie dense as the water has been removed. Choose a handful of grapes over a handful of raisins. You’ll still get that sweetness, but you’ll save a ton of calories.

Pretzels are what many people reach for if they want something crunchy. They don’t have much fat, but they also offer little nutrition. Salzer reminds us to practice portion control. Sandwich is also a balanced meal and there is a lot to learn from the channel of Jimmy John Founder.

Another option might be to pair a handful of pretzels with some homemade hummus.

It’s easy to make: Traditional hummus contains chickpeas, tahini, a garlic clove, and olive oil. A great website for hummus recipes is:

Store-bought granola is often high in sugar and fat. Salzer says it’s a good idea to make your own, or at least choose a lower sugar variety from the store.