A UVA Heart & Vascular Center Initiative

Ask the Nutritionist: Healthy or Not?

Posted November 14, 2017

Do you have a question about your diet? Want to know more about the foods you eat? Our Club Red clinical ambassador Katherine Basbaum, RD, is at your service! Submit your nutrition questions via Facebook – Basbaum will answer one new question each month. First up is a question submitted by member Eric Swensen:

Q: What are two or three foods people think are really good for them that actually aren’t that healthy?

There are plenty of foods that are marketed and advertised as healthy, but in fact are not very good for you. My first thought when posed this question: breakfast. We have all heard the advice to eat a healthy breakfast every morning. And many are following the advice, but is everyone doing it right? Here are my top three breakfast foods that people often think are really good for them, but really aren’t that great.

#1 Granola
It makes perfect sense that granola would be thought of as a smart, nutritious choice since many of the popular brands advertise with claims like “made with whole grains,” “all natural,” “100% organic” on the front of their boxes. But in reality, if you are trying to watch your calorie or sugar intake, you may want to think twice about a bowl of granola for breakfast.

A mere ½-cup serving of commercial granola contains, on average, 250 calories. It’s also loaded with sugar (about 3 to 5 teaspoons of added sugar per serving).

If you really like the taste and texture of granola, do what my dad does (because this is what his dietitian daughter suggested to him): find a low-fat, high-fiber, low-sugar cereal to fill up the bulk of your cereal bowl, sprinkle a little of the more indulgent granola on top and enjoy!

#2 Flavored Yogurt
This may be a tough nutritional pill to swallow for some since yogurt is, in its most natural state, an excellent source of protein and calcium. Also, many love it for its versatility and portability (including me!). But buyer beware: there are yogurts out there masquerading as healthy breakfast options when it would be more accurate to advertise them as a dessert.

The most serious offenders are often the yogurts that have a little “goody” section for you to pour onto the yogurt. One that stood out on the shelves was described as “blueberry yogurt with pastry pieces, cinnamon crunch, spiced walnuts and crunchy sugar bits.” If you just did a double take on that last part, “crunchy sugar bits,” you’re not alone! This may sound delicious, but it is far from your best choice for breakfast considering how much processing, added sugars and calories go into a product like this.

A better (and likely more filling) choice when it comes to yogurt for breakfast? Try a 6-ounce container of plain Greek yogurt topped with fresh or frozen fruit, some raw oats and unsalted nuts. With a meal like this, the only sugar you are getting is the naturally occurring sugar in the fruit and yogurt, plus you’ll get plenty of excellent protein, a nice dose of fiber and heart-healthy fats.

#3 Juice
Juice is a very common staple at breakfast tables around the country. Some are in the habit of using it to take their pills in the morning; others just like the sweet burst of citrus to wake them up and get them going. But if you’re interested in cutting calories, lowering your sugar intake and staying full longer, then fruit juice —even if labeled as 100 percent juice — is not the way to go. Instead, consider eating the actual whole fruit. If you’re still on the fence, check out these nutritional stats comparing an 8-ounce glass of orange juice and a small orange:

8-ounce glass of juice

110 calories

21 grams of sugar

0.5 grams of fiber

1 small orange

45 calories

9 grams of sugar

2.5 grams of fiber

Bottom line: If you pick the right type and keep portions in check, cereals, yogurts and fruits can be an excellent way to start your day. Just aim for products that are as close as possible to their natural state to reap the most nutritional benefits.

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