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If you were trying to pick the healthier option during your local coffee shop morning visit, and you had to decide between a multigrain muffin or a regular blueberry muffin, which would you pick?
Registered Dietitians Doreen Klar and Nishta Saxena will tell you that there isn't much of a difference between the two in terms of nutritional intake or calories.
In the quest for healthier eating, labels such as "whole grain," "fruit juice" and "low in sugar" can lead consumers to falsely believe their choices are healthy.
UHN News interviewed Registered Dietitians Doreen and Nishta, who are with the Family Health Team at Toronto Western Hospital, UHN, to clarify what are healthy snacks, what aren't, and how to better distinguish between the two. Here’s their look at some more common choices.
Doreen: "The commercial granola bars have more sugar and fat in them than protein or fibre, and that makes them unhealthy. As for granola or trail mix, the ones that have chocolate or roasted nuts in them are also high in both sugar and salt."
A healthy alternative?
Nishta: You can make your own granola in a healthy way where it's low in preservatives, and high in protein and bioactive compounds. If you want it to be sweeter, you can add small chunks of unsweetened dried fruit, seeds, or a little bit of chocolate."
Doreen: "Very often, desserts are labelled 'whole grain' or 'multigrain' but the content of fibre may actually be very low, and nutrient-wise, it may be similar to white-flour based dessert."
A healthy alternative?
Doreen: "Make homemade muffins or other desserts. That way you can use less sugar, less fat and choose whole grain flour."
Nishta: "The processing needed to alter a vegetable to a chip changes the inherent value of the food. Frying, adding altered fats, potentially reducing the fibre, adding salt: it all changes the naturally occurring nutrient density in vegetables."
Doreen: "Fresh vegetables, with peanut butter or hummus. This is full of nutrients and it's a very portable snack. Or alternatively, put salad in a jar, the small portion would make it a snack, and you put the dressing at the bottom and the crunchy vegetables at the top."
Nishta:Flavoured yogurt has a lot of sugar in it, sometimes more than ice-cream, and it has potentially no healthy fats left."
Nishta: "Plain yogurt is very healthy. If you want to sweeten yogurt, use fresh fruit. If you still want it to be sweeter, add the source of sugar in moderation, so a little bit of honey or maple syrup. You don't need to watch for fat in yogurt."
Doreen: "Commercial smoothies can be made with syrup or fruit beverages as opposed to 100 per cent unsweetened juice, so there will often be a lot of added sugar. Even if the smoothie is strictly made of frozen fruit and yogurt, the portion size of commercial smoothies is so large that the amount of fruit needed makes it really high in sugar."
Doreen: "A homemade smoothie is a much better choice. You can add plain yogurt, control the fruit portion, throw in an additional source of fibre such as flax seed or a bit of peanut butter, and no additional sweetening agents."
Nishta: "Dried fruits are very concentrated in calories and sugar, for a very small amount of product. Portion control is important with dried fruits."
Doreen: "Portion control, and make sure not to eat any dried fruits that are dusted in sugar because the dried fruit has enough."
Nishta: "Fruit juice, even 100 per cent fruit juice, is essentially sugar-water. There may be vitamins or minerals present in trace amounts or added back in, but the excessive amount of sugar overrides any benefits for most people."
Nishta: "The obvious supplement is the whole fruit. There may be fibre added back to juice but it's no substitute for consuming fibre through the digestive tract by eating a whole fruit. The process of chewing, digesting food and going through the digestive process is part of what is healthy about eating fibre-rich food."
Doreen: To flavour milk, you have to add a lot of sugar. It's not very healthy, but it's still a vehicle for protein and calcium, so it's not an empty-calorie food.
Doreen: Unflavoured milk is definitely the better choice.
Nishta: "There is no replacement for eating whole food, which is
always a healthier choice than anything processed. Whole foods include nuts, grains, whole milk dairy products, vegetables and fruits. Whenever you are evaluating a processed food, make sure you read the nutrition facts and ingredient list.
"There's also a misconception that a small amount of food isn't a snack, but that's not true. For example, half a sandwich can be a snack depending on the caloric content. The key to making something a snack is portion and potential caloric density. Small snacks are between 75-150 calories, and large snacks are between 200-250 calories."
Doreen: "Always be mindful of portion sizes. Bring snacks to work with you so you're not resorting to buying unhealthy snacks.
"Always read nutrition lists and ingredient lists on products, and know how to interpret that information. Use the internet when you can because many food establishments have their nutrition information online. Plan ahead so that you have all the nutritional information you need before making any decisions."