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Watching your weight? Want to eat healthier? Beware of 'secretly unhealthy foods'

Eight foods you think are healthy but may not be
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Posted at 5:00 AM, Jan 24, 2019

CINCINNATI - So you're trying to eat healthy and you reach for dried fruit, or you order sushi for dinner. Not so fast!

What you're choosing in those categories, and how much of it you eat, could destroy your diet.

On its blog, Mercy Health has identified eight things many of us eat thinking that they’re “healthy foods.” Our moms might have told us that, or our friends.

But Mercy Health labels them "secretly unhealthy foods."

Karin Obszarski didn’t know the “healthy food” choices she was making weren’t good choices until she decided to take off weight. She has shed 95 pounds -- and she's still going.

Her approach: portion control of "good-for-you" food.

Nutritionist Karah Stanley, a Mercy Health dietician, said understanding the difference starts with recognizing food choices that aren’t as healthy as you think.

“A lot of versions of these foods can be very healthy, but some have added sugars and salts they sneak in there,” Stanley says.
“These foods we think are healthy can quickly go into a junk-food status.”

The Mercy Health blog identifies the following as “secretly unhealthy foods:”

• Energy bars
• Dried fruit
• Bran muffins
• Agave nectar
• Fruit juice
• Pita chips
• Vitamin-enriched water
• Frozen veggie burgers

Once you know that, Stanley says it’s important to know your benchmarks. For instance, that’s 25 grams a day of sugars.

“But most people are eating two to three times that amount every single day,” Stanley said.
 
For sodium, the benchmark limit is 2,300 milligrams.
 
It's easy to hit or exceed those benchmarks with just one serving of some of the things on that list.
 
Take dried fruit.

We asked two everyday people - Meranda and Robert - would they make it a healthy choice?
 
“I think they're good … nice light snack,” Meranda said.
 
“Oh, I love dried fruit ... dried cranberries...” said Robert. “I've had those, but I don't know much about them.”
 
According to the label, just a quarter cup has 29 grams of sugar. If you eat that much, it puts you over the daily recommended intake of sweet stuff.
 
“First of all, it's always better to eat fresh when you can because you're not going to eat as much as you would with dried fruit,” Stanley the nutritionist points out.
 
She has a point. It's probably tougher to finish 100 grapes versus 100 raisins.
 
But dried fruit is not bad. You just want to watch how much you're having.

“Don't eat out of the bag. Measure it out,” Stanley said.
 
What about a grab-and-go energy bar?

“I'm going with healthy,” said Meranda.
 
“I think of sugar … I don't eat those,” said Robert.

The added sugar in the particular bar we showed Meranda and Robert has 26 grams. That's more than you should have in a whole day.
 
But other energy bars are healthier. We showed Robert and Meranda a bar with just four grams.

Vitamin enriched water is also on the watch list. We showed Robert a bottle and asked him if he thought it was healthy.
 
“Yeah I think it is. Well, it's a vitamin nutrition drink,” he said.

Sorry, Robert. That bottle had 32 grams of sugar.
 
“Ooohhhhhh. I didn't read that … I’ll think twice now,” he said.
 
When you think twice, you might want to go with the nutritionist’s pick: add some real fruit to flavor water.

From snacks to meal, we're also taking a look at sushi. It wasn’t in Mercy’s top eight, but Stanley says it’s worth mentioning because rolls, a popular meal choice, raise some red flags.

The nutritionist says the compacted rice with sugar to make it stick can spike the calorie count.
 
And then there's the soy sauce.

“Every tablespoon of soy sauce, you'll get 700 to 800 milligrams of sodium,” Stanley said.
 
That's about a third of your daily salt limit in one tablespoon.

Back to Obszarski, who became more cognizant about what she was eating, changed her eating habits and shed the pounds.

Will that work for everybody else?

“It makes all the difference in the world,” she said.
 
Now Obszarski reads labels and measures everything. She also tracks what she eats on an app.
 
She's now able to control her diabetes, and she's totally off insulin.
 
“I know now I'm living a healthier life style than I was,” Obszarski said.

Want to learn more about Mercy Health’s “secretly unhealthy foods?” Go to their blog post. They also suggest healthy alternatives.