By SHAPE Editors
This article first appeared on the U.S.-version of SHAPE.com
To snack or not to snack? That depends on the snack. Done the right way (calorie-controlled, nutrient-rich), snacking can keep cravings in check and up the nutritional quality of your diet.
But all too often some of the most common snacks—even the ones that seem healthy—are filled with salt, sugar, excess calories, and even harmful chemicals, according to Tiffany Jackson, ND, and Kate Kennedy, RD, practitioners at Cenegenics Carolinas, an age-management medical practice in Charleston, South Carolina.
Here, they share the 8 worst snacks for your health:
Canned fruits and veggies may seem like a great snack in a pinch, but not only are canned fruits loaded with excess sugar, their nutrient content is typically much lower than fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, which are flash frozen at the peak of ripeness.
Canned fruit, on the other hand, has had its flavor bolstered by sweeteners so there’s no need to use the most flavourful fruit, which is also the most nutrient-dense. Even worse, notes Jackson, the cans are often lined with a toxic chemical that acts as a preservative.
Not only are potato chips high in fat, calories, and sodium (threat No. 1), they are a high glycemic vegetable (threat No. 2), which can spike blood sugar. And finally (threat No. 3), when potatoes are heated to a high temperature, they release acrylamide, a harmful chemical associated with nerve damage. And no, you can’t eat just one.
Or, as Kennedy calls them, ‘sugar-laden calorie bombs’. This popular muffin still fools even health savvy people, thanks to its promise of fruit and the fact that, despite the artificial flavourings, added sugars, and ridiculous portion sizes, they just sound wholesome and harmless. Unless you made the muffin yourself, steer clear (and even then it’s better as a treat than an everyday snack).
Part of the problem with granola bars is their sheer ubiquity as an afternoon snack—and the organic promise that is on so many of these bars’ labels. Nearly all of them are loaded with processed carbs, dried fruit (which is high in sugar), and held together with even more sugar in the form of honey or even the health-nut favourite agave. Plus, they don’t contain much in the way of filling fibre and are often loaded with calories. Save them for the 16km hike.
Unlike nonfat Greek yogurt, which has been strained to give it a thick, creamy texture, regular yogurt just becomes watery and bland without the fat. And when they take the fat out, something’s gotta go back in. That’s usually high-sugar fruit mixture—and a whole lot of it.
Aside from all the processed carbs and salt, some microwavable popcorn contains highly unhealthy trans fats (for shelf stability). Plus, the insides of the bags are often coated with chemicals to prevent the popcorn from sticking.
Would you eat seven mangoes in one sitting? Or 12 apricots? Because dried fruit is pretty much just that: fruit that has been shrunken down and extracted of its moisture—but the natural sugars remain. As Kennedy notes, our bodies are not equipped to consume that much sugar—even from a natural source—in one sitting.
Both Kennedy and Jackson agree: diet soda is the No. 1 worst snack in a can. Why? It contains a potentially carcinogenic chemical, aspartame, which is also linked to neurological issues. Plus, it affects craving centres in the brain, increasing appetite.
To top it all off, diet soda is high in phosphorous; calcium and phosphorous need to be in balance to maintain bone health, and if too much phosphorous is present it can leach calcium from your bones.