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These days, people are paying more attention than ever to what they eat, and grocery stores are responding. Produce departments have their own separate organic sections. Soup shelves are full of fat free, low sodium choices. Even discount stores like Walmart are getting in on the game, with things like organic milk and MCT oil for sale alongside the potato chips and soda.

Unfortunately, not everyone who wants to get on the healthy food bandwagon is actually selling healthy food. You’ve probably seen a lot of ads from everyday, mainstream food companies talking about how healthy their products are. They’re not lying. Usually, they’re just promoting benefits that aren’t all that great. For example, did you know that Oreos are vegan? Now, I love Oreos, but the fact that they’re vegan does not mean it’s a good idea to eat a whole sleeve every morning.

That was just an example, and it’s a pretty obvious one. But if you’re new to fitness, this kind of marketing can get frustrating. How are you supposed to know what’s healthy when everything is “low sodium” and “zero carb”?

Melle is here to help. I’m going to tell you about three common foods that seem healthy but are actually bad for you.

1) Frozen Dinners

You’ve just started your new fitness plan, and you’re going to need some frozen meals for work. Because you’re smart, you skip the Hungry Man meals and the ginormous lasagna trays and buy a Healthy Choice meal instead. Confident that you’ve made the right decision, you head for the checkout.

Not so fast. Healthy Choice and other similar frozen meals have plenty of vitamins and minerals. Some even have up to 22 grams of protein, which is pretty good. But they’re high in sodium. Most Healthy Choice meals have 500 mg or more of sodium, with some containing over 1000 mg. This can make you retain a lot of fluid, and gain water weight. A lot of these meals advertise that they’re low calorie — as little as 400 calories — but that isn’t necessarily a good thing. Eating too few calories can cause your metabolism to stall, meaning you won’t lose weight. Healthy Choice meals also contain a lot of preservatives, which are unhealthy.

For a balanced, nutritious meal that has all the calories and protein you need, consider prepping your food at home ahead of time. You can control the portions, make sure it’s right for your diet, and save money at the same time.

2) Smoothies

Grocery stores are chock full of delicious smoothies. Many of these are organic and most of them have ingredients lists you can actually pronounce. Better yet, they’re full of fruit, and fruit is good for you. What’s not to love?

To start with, store-bought smoothies are usually sweetened. They may use high fructose corn syrup, or they may use natural fruit sugars. Either way, these smoothies tend to be high in carbs and low in protein. Unless you’re buying a vegetable smoothie, they also tend to be short on vegetables, which means you aren’t getting a full spectrum of nutrients. Yes, smoothies can be healthy — in moderation. I’d still avoid most store brands, though. They’re easy to abuse, and I’ve had more than one client set themselves back by drinking too many smoothies, relying too much on carbohydrates, and crashing their metabolism.

If you like the convenience of a smoothie, consider making your own at home. If you do, use low sugar fruits and large vegetable amount for a wider variety of vitamins and minerals, and avoid using any extra sweeteners. Add some protein powder, too. Not only will you be getting more protein this way, but the powder will also thicken your smoothie and add flavor.

3) Salad

Salad is kind of like pizza. Everyone likes it, because it can be whatever you want it to be. Take some greens, add some toppings, throw some dressing on it, and you have a salad. So don’t panic. I’m not saying salad isn’t healthy. I’m saying it can be unhealthy, if you’re using the wrong ingredients. The leafy greens you start with, lettuce, spinach, dandelion, etc. are all healthy. Go ahead and eat plenty of them!

When it comes to toppings, though, things can get dicey. For example, fruits are sweet, delicious, and rich in vitamins, but they’re also high in carbs. If you find yourself pouring half a bag of Craisins on your morning salad, you’re probably eating more carbs than protein, which is not good for weight loss or muscle gain. Another common mistake is using too many nuts. While nuts have a lot of protein, they are also high in fat and high in calories overall. Keep track of how many nuts you’re eating, using a measuring cup or food scale. Finally, make sure you’re using a light vinaigrette dressing or olive oil and vinegar. Creamier, fattier dressings are extremely high in calories.

I’ve written a lot about salads in the past. For an in-depth look at what I’ve learned about them, check out my post from last October, Good Salad Bad Salad.

A Few General Tips

When you’re buying any food, you want to make sure it’s right for your fitness plan. We’ve talked about some of the worst culprits already. Here are some tips for making sure everything you eat is just as healthy.

  • Read the ingredients. Know how big a serving size is, how many calories are in a serving, and whether those calories are from fat, protein or carbs. Be careful of preservatives and ingredients you can’t pronounce.
  • Eat plenty of protein. Almost every good diet will require you to take in more calories from protein than you do from carbohydrates. Remember, it’s not just about calories. It’s about the right kind of calories.
  • Watch out for salt. Your body needs salt, particularly when you’re sweating a lot. But most Americans get way too much of it. Too much salt in your diet can make you gain water weight and feel bloated. Drinking plenty of water will help your body to shed excess salt.

See you in the gym!

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