Sneaky stuff: vegetable pastas, sticks and chips
Real deal: These seemingly healthy carbs are often colored with beet or spinach juice, made primarily of wheat or rice flour and have virtually no vegetable content. Though some vegetable chips claim that one serving of them can count as a serving of vegetables, the fried varieties add, on average, 9 grams of fat and 125 more calories than a serving of most fresh vegetables, says Susan Hayman, R.D., a Louisville, Ky.-based dietitian.
Healthy hints: If you’re craving crunch, snack on freeze-dried vegetables like wasabi peas or on raw crudités. Or make your own veggie chips or sticks by drizzling thin slices of fresh vegetables with olive oil and baking them at 375° F for 15 to 20 minutes. For a pasta alternative, stick to whole-wheat options. “It triples the amount of dietary fiber you get in most vegetable pasta,” says Hayman.
Sneaky stuff: dried fruits
Real deal: When fruit is dried, we still benefit from its fiber. But because the drying process removes a lot of water, the parched produce becomes a concentrated source of sugar. Added sugar or juice (common with fruits that are naturally more tart, such as cranberries) can equal even more calories in a smaller portion size as well. Dried fruit can be hard to digest, too; many brands add sulfur as a preserving agent, which can cause bloating and gas.
Healthy hints: Opt for “no sugar added” varieties, or reach for pitted prunes and organic raisins, apples, apricots, tart cherries and mangos, which are often dried without sugar since they don’t usually need it to reinforce their natural sweetness. (Organic options are not coated in sulfur.) And keep in mind that one dried apricot (two pieces) still equals one apricot, even though it’s much smaller; portion out a reasonable serving so you don’t go overboard.
Sneaky stuff: agave nectar
Real deal: Though this sugar alternative may be lower on the glycemic index than, say, white sugar or honey, agave contains more fructose—a type of sugar found in fruit that the body doesn’t digest as easily as fruit. If consumed in high quantities, it may be stored more easily as fat in the body.
Healthy hints: Because agave is sweeter than table sugar, you can use less. When choosing any sugar, go organic, and as often as you can, try to “borrow” sweetness from natural sources like sweet potatoes and berries in a recipe. In lieu of agave, Reardon likes blending 1∕2 gram of stevia with 1∕4 teaspoon cane sugar—or using Sun Crystals, which mixes them for you.