Foods You Thought Were Healthy -- But Aren't!

Choosing healthy foods is top of mind every day. But what if the foods you've been eating are less healthy than you think? Diabetic Living uncovers why these foods might sabotage your diabetes eating plan and offers healthier alternatives.

Foods You Thought Were Healthy

Some foods are obvious healthy choices -- fresh blueberries, leafy spinach, grilled chicken. But some foods have a "healthy" halo even though they may be high in calories, fat, or carbohydrate.

The following 10 "healthy foods" aren't as nutritious as you might think, so Diabetic Living helps you find ways to make over these foods with delicious, taste-tested, and dietitian-approved recipes you can make at home.

The same smart-eating guidelines apply to eating healthy foods as to any other food: Control your portions, read the nutrition information if it has a nutrition facts label, and choose light or low-fat toppings. Being aware of what you eat is always a good choice.

Calorie-Packed Sandwiches

As a classic lunch favorite, a sandwich can be a healthy option. But just putting the fixings between two slices of whole grain bread does not make a good-for-you meal. What you put in the middle also matters. Bacon, mayonnaise, ranch dressing, and full-fat cheese can add hefty amounts of fat and calories. A 6-inch tuna salad sandwich from Subway, for example, has 530 calories, 30 grams of fat (6 grams of saturated fat), and 46 grams of carb. And that's before you add cheese or any other toppings!

Sodium content is also important to watch in deli meats, such as pastrami, and many cheeses, especially if you have high blood pressure.

Make It a Healthy Sandwich

Choosing a sandwich with lots of nonstarchy vegetables, which are very low in carbohydrate, can reduce the amount of calories you eat yet help fill you up. Also, by topping a sandwich with veggies instead of extra meat and cheese, you'll lower the sodium count.

Tips for a Healthy Sandwich:

  • Look for low-fat cheeses, but be aware of higher sodium content in some reduced-fat varieties.
  • Opt for low-sodium deli meats such as reduced-sodium turkey breast, or use leftover cooked chicken or turkey you've prepared from scratch with minimal salt.
  • Limit the number of slices of meat and/or cheese you use.
  • Add nonstarchy vegetables, such as cucumber slices, shredded carrot, lettuce, and tomato slices.
  • Make sandwiches on whole wheat, rye, or other whole grain breads or rolls. Limit white breads and rolls, which contain no fiber. Limit breads that have a higher fat content, such as croissants, scones, and biscuits.
  • Opt for low-fat condiments such as mustard, low-fat salad dressing, low-fat mayonnaise, and vinegar.


Diabetes-Friendly Sandwich Recipes

Find healthy ways to flavor your sandwich.

Salads High in Fat and Calories

Take another look at that so-called healthy salad. "A salad loaded with tons of dressing, bacon bits, croutons, cheese, and eggs can be higher in fat and calories than a double cheeseburger," says Amy Jamieson-Petonic, M.Ed., R.D., CSSD, an American Dietetic Association spokesperson and wellness coaching director at the Cleveland Clinic.

Make It a Healthy Salad

Tips for a Healthy Salad:

  • Choose a light or fat-free salad dressing, such as a vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil, or make your own at home to lighten up on sodium.
  • Ask for salad dressing on the side at restaurants, and use only 1 tablespoon to top a side salad and 2 tablespoons to top an entree salad.
  • Add a source of lean protein, such as grilled chicken, canned tuna (packed in water, not tuna salad), or drained beans, to help you feel full.
  • Use only a small number of croutons or skip them altogether.
  • Top with more nonstarchy veggies, such as tomatoes, broccoli, cucumbers, and onions.


Dietitian Donna Kernodle says a salad can be a good main-dish choice if it has a low-fat source of protein, which could be grilled chicken or salmon, or if you prefer something vegetarian, try sauteed tofu or beans. "Without some protein, you're less likely to feel full," Kernodle says. "This could lead you to consume more carbs and calories."

Find the Best Diabetes-Friendly Salad Dressings

Our Best Salad Recipes

Carb-Heavy Smoothies

Smoothies can be a tasty way to get your recommended daily fruit servings. But purchased smoothies are likely oversized portions. Sipping a whole one can be a major blow to your daily carb count.

"A 12-ounce smoothie [and this may be a small one] gives you about 50 grams of carbohydrate. For an average female, that's an entire meal," says dietitian Donna Kernodle. "When you go to a restaurant, say Sonic for example, their 14-ounce Your Ultimate Drink Stop Strawberry Smoothie contains 124 grams of carb."

Wonder where all the carbs are coming from? Some restaurants add high-fructose corn syrup, plus dairy and fruit ingredients can add carbs.

Make It a Healthy Smoothie

Tips for a Healthy Smoothie:

  • Use fresh, canned, or frozen fruit that is unsweetened or packed in its own juice.
  • Use a no-calorie sweetener if you like your smoothie on the sweeter side.
  • Use low-fat yogurt or fat-free milk instead of full-fat yogurt or whole milk.
  • Give it some crunch by adding crushed or blended ice.
  • Watch your portion size -- pour a 1-cup serving.


Smoothie, Shake, and Drink Recipes

Oversize Muffins

"Muffins are notorious for being an unhealthy 'health' food," says dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic. "When you choose one of the huge muffins from a bakery, it could often cost you at least 500-600 calories."

To make matters more confusing, muffins can have a lot of healthy ingredients, such as nuts, carrots, and blueberries, but looking at the total weight and size of the product is key in determining its health factor. If it's the size of a softball, it's too much. The same goes for bagels.

"Most muffins and bagels now are about 4 ounces in weight," says dietitian Donna Kernodle. "So if you choose one of those, you'll eat about 60 grams of carbohydrate in that one food item." Why use up a whole meal's worth of carbs in one muffin or bagel?

Make It a Healthy Muffin

How to Choose a Healthy Muffin or Bagel:

  • Choose smaller muffins and bagels -- 2 ounces at most, or about the size of a baseball -- often found in the freezer or bakery section of your grocery store.
  • When you make your own, include healthy ingredients such as bran, carrots, and blueberries.
  • Opt for whole grain if it's available.
  • Limit or omit butter or cream cheese as a topping.


Yummy Muffin Recipes

Sugar-Loaded Yogurts and Parfaits

Yogurt can be a healthy food if you choose wisely. "The fruit-on-the-bottom varieties of yogurt or parfait may seem like you're getting more bang for your buck, but in reality they're loaded with extra sugar and more carbohydrate," says dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic. "You can easily choose a plain low-fat or nonfat yogurt and add fresh or frozen fruit to it. This will provide calcium, protein, antioxidants, and healthy B and C vitamins."

Purchased parfaits may contain fruit with added sugar. Granola and other toppers can quickly increase the calorie and carb contents.

Make It a Healthy Yogurt or Parfait

How to Choose a Healthy Yogurt or Parfait:

  • Choose fat-free or low-fat plain yogurt.
  • Add your own fresh, canned, or frozen fruit rather than buying fruit-flavor or fruit-on-the-bottom varieties.
  • Check the labels to compare nutrition facts.
  • Avoid yogurts with added sugar.
  • If you like your yogurt a little sweeter, stir in a sugar substitute.
  • Add flavor with cinnamon.


Delicious Fruit and Yogurt Parfait Recipes

Sodium-Packed Frozen Meals

Frozen meals -- even light versions -- are often packed with sodium, which can take a hefty toll on your blood pressure.

Dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic recommends choosing a frozen meal with whole grains (brown rice or whole wheat pasta) and low-fat meats (grilled, baked, or broiled turkey, chicken, or fish). Check the label for at least 21 grams of protein to keep you satiated, as well as less than 500 milligrams of sodium.

Make It a Healthy Frozen Meal

A better bet? Prepare your own make-ahead meals or freeze leftovers for later, like this easy-to-freeze Zesty Sloppy Joes recipe shown in the picture to the left. You'll be able to control the amount of fat, protein, carbohydrate, and sodium you're consuming. But if you're in a bind and need a quick meal, the following will help you pick a frozen meal off the shelf that you can feel good about eating.

How to Choose a Healthy Frozen Meal:

High-Fat Granola Cereals and Bars

High-fructose corn syrup is often the ingredient that makes some granolas and granola bars unhealthy options. As the glue that keeps the oats, nuts, and fruits together, the high-fructose corn syrup can void any benefits the other healthy ingredients may provide.

Make It a Healthy Granola

Some granolas can have 300 calories, 15 grams of fat, 30 grams of carb, and 12 grams of sugars in a 1/2-cup serving. However, you can lower those numbers by making granola at home.

How to Make Healthy Granola:

  • Add small amounts of healthy nuts, such as walnuts and almonds; top with fresh fruit instead of dried.
  • Mix in about 1/4 cup or less of a low-fat, high-fiber cereal.
  • Sprinkle a sugar substitute or cinnamon over the granola to make it flavorful and sweet.


Granola with Fruit & Yogurt

Sodium-Filled Soups

Soup seems like a good choice -- it's often packed with veggies, right? Unfortunately, canned and prepared soups are also packed with sodium, sometimes up to 2,000 milligrams per cup. That amount of sodium can contribute to high blood pressure.

"Canned soups are hard on your blood pressure when you eat them on a regular basis," says dietitian Donna Kernodle. "Especially because most canned soups contain two servings per can. Most people eat the whole can in one sitting without taking the doubled nutritional values into account."

Make It a Healthy Soup

Dietitian Donna Kernodle suggests learning how to make easy soups at home. That way you can minimize the amounts of sodium, fat, and calories by using low-sodium ingredients and broth and loading your bowl with fresh produce.

Tips for a Healthy Soup:

  • Use lower-sodium products such as reduced-sodium chicken, beef, or vegetable broth or bouillon or make your own.
  • Load the pot with fresh, canned, or frozen veggies and beans or legumes.
  • If using a grain, opt for whole grains such as barley or whole wheat pasta.
  • Choose broth-base soups over cream-base to save on fat and calories.
  • Include a lean protein for a heartier soup -- try grilled chicken breast or a lean cut of beef such as round steak or top sirloin.


Soup and Stew Recipes

Sugar-Sweetened Processed Fruit

Including fruit in your daily healthy eating plan is a must for getting the vitamins and minerals you need. But avoid fruit packed in heavy syrup, or you could be adding a lot of extra carbs.

"[Some] fruit cups can be high in sugar and low in dietary fiber, and really low in overall nutrition," says dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic. "A better choice would be to have a piece of fresh fruit."

"When you choose frozen fruits over fresh, you can save money without missing out on all the nutritional values," says Rochelle Gilman, R.D.

Make It a Healthy Fruit Cup

If you prefer the convenience and cost of packaged or canned fruit, read and compare nutrition labels to find the best brand and choice for you.

How to Choose a Healthy Fruit Cup:

  • Read the label to ensure the amount of carbohydrate will fit your meal plan.
  • Choose a product packed in water or its own juices.
  • Make your own. Purchase fresh or frozen fruit, and store it in small containers.


Fruit Salad Recipes

High-Calorie Sugary Drinks

"Iced teas and flavored waters that are sweetened with sugar or high-fructose corn syrup can be loaded with sugars, carbohydrate, and calories," says dietitian Amy Jamieson-Petonic. "Some of the 20-ounce bottles of tea have more than 200 calories, and drinking the entire bottle can cause a serious spike in your blood sugar."

If you can't go without iced tea, choose a diet or sugar-free version. Better yet, make your own iced tea or flavored water by adding orange, cucumber, lemon, or lime to your glass.

Think you need a sports drink after a workout? Think again. If you're working out for 30 minutes or less, you don't need the extra oomph of these flavored, calorie-laden drinks. Just drink water!

Make It a Healthy Drink

If you're extremely active, choose a sports drink that's lower in calories (10 calories per 8 ounces). "Gatorade has come out with a reduced-carb product, G2," says dietitian Donna Kernodle. The best choice of all? Water -- it's fat-, calorie-, and sugar-free.

How to Choose a Healthy Drink:

  • Check the amount of carb on the label to make sure you can fit the drink into your healthy eating plan.
  • Look for sugar-free, diet, or light options.
  • Squeeze fresh fruits to add flavors to your own water or sparkling water.
  • Note the serving size of your drink; some containers have more than one serving.


Drinks, Shakes, and Smoothie Recipes

Eat What You Love!

Food -- sugar, carbohydrate, fiber, protein -- is not your enemy. With the help of a wide variety of tasty, diabetes-friendly recipes and quick tips to eat more healthfully, you can take control of your diabetes with every bite.

What to Eat with Diabetes

Top 20 Foods for Diabetes

Dinner Tonight! Menu Options to Please the Whole Family

Diabetic Living Video


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