Health Encyclopedia

What's Good (and Bad) About Our Favorite Foods

Here are some foods whose virtues you may be overestimating and foods you can substitute for increased nutrition.

Apple juice

One cup of apple juice has 120 calories and 0.3 gram of fiber. For better cholesterol and weight control, and improved digestion, choose an actual apple instead. A medium one has 80 calories and 3 grams of fiber.

Baked potato chips

They're significantly lower in fat than regular potato chips, but they have little to offer nutritionally. And at 130 calories per 12-chip serving, they're a diet danger if you can't eat just a handful. Instead, try low-fat, microwave popcorn at 23 calories per cup.

Canned soups

Some have as much as 1,000 mg of sodium per serving—half the daily recommended maximum sodium intake for an adult. The healthiest soups have less than 500 mg of sodium and no more than 5 grams of fat per serving.

Cereal bars

With their flaky oat coating, they certainly look healthy, but don't be fooled. Table sugar and its cousins—fructose and high-fructose corn syrup—often top the ingredients list. Many granola and cereal bars have as many calories and fat grams as chocolate candy bars. Read labels carefully before buying cereal bars. Some brands have substantially less fat and fewer calories than others.

Regular cottage cheese

These creamy curds have 106 mg of calcium, 240 calories, and 10 grams of fat per cup. If you're trying to increase your calcium intake, buy calcium-enriched, nonfat cottage cheese, which provides 400 mg of calcium at 160 calories per cup.

Diet soda

It has zero calories, but diet soda also has zero nutrients. For only 90 calories, you can drink a glass of nonfat milk and get 350 mg of calcium. Plus, regularly drinking soda instead of milk can lead to bone-weakening osteoporosis.

Fruit-flavored yogurt

At only 240 calories and 3 grams of fat per 8-ounce serving, this creamy treat sounds like a winner. But you're better off buying plain or vanilla-flavored yogurt and adding your own fruit. You'll get much more yogurt, 5 percent more calcium, less added sugar, and the fiber and phytochemicals contained in the fresh fruit. Plus, plain yogurt has about half the calories.

Fruit leathers

Many are touted as being made from fruit, low in fat, and an excellent source of vitamin C, but their sugar content makes them one step above candy and the real-fruit content is minimal, at best. Instead, stick with fresh fruit.

Margarine

For years margarine was thought to be superior to butter. But margarine is high in trans-fatty acids, which form when oil is "hydrogenated," or hardened into a solid. The trans fats have been found to raise blood cholesterol almost as much as saturated fat, the chief ingredient in butter. Your best bet is to look for margarines that are labeled "trans-fat free." In addition, use canola oil, olive oil, or other monounsaturated cooking oils in moderation, whenever possible.



Medical Reviewers:

  • Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
  • Jones, Niya, MD