12 grocery items nutrition experts would never buy

These days, it feels like you need a master's degree in label reading whenever you are shopping at the grocery store. Every product seems to tout that it's "organic," "whole grain," "sustainable," "trans-fat free" or "all natural."

We interviewed nutritionists, dieticians, and physicians to help cut through the confusion. Here are 12 supermarket items they say they would never buy:


Juice, soda or any sweetened drinks: water is better and cheaper

Times are tight and you're trying to stretch that dollar. Make "better use of your food budget and save calories by sticking with filtered water from the tap. You are more satiated and get more fiber by eating whole fruits and vegetables versus drinking liquid calories anyway."
--Katherine Farrell, a registered dietitian and director of integrative nutrition at the Manhattan's Physician Group

Protein bars: not all are created equal

When shopping for protein bars, be sure to read and understand the label. "A protein source should always be the first ingredient, but one I am looking at right now lists 'evaporated cane juice' as the next, which is sugar. After that comes palm oil, a highly saturated fat. One way some of the manufacturers try to get the carbohydrate load down without giving up the sweetness consumers crave is with sugar alcohols (mannitol, sorbitol), which allow them to be 'sugar free' or at least lower the calorie count. These sweeteners do have fewer calories compared to sugar, but can cause bloating and gastrointestinal distress. So watch out for saturated fats and learn the lingo about sweeteners, or your protein bar might just be a candy bar masquerading as health food."
--Dr. Richard Baxter, board certified plastic surgeon and medical director of Healthy Aging Magazine

Fat-free yogurt: a little fat won't hurt


Don't be deceived by the fat-free label. They are "loaded with sugar to make up for the zero fat, equivalent to putting seven teaspoons of sugar into your yogurt. A better option: low-fat, plain Greek yogurt. This is lower in sugar and triple the protein!"
--Amy Shapiro, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Real Nutrition NYC

Bacon: choose wisely


"If it's 'regular' bacon, it is not good for you. Ditto for processed lunch meat and hot dogs. Not only does it contain huge amounts of saturated fat and sodium, processed meat is often preserved with nitrates, which are potentially carcinogenic. A healthier choice would be natural, nitrate-free turkey bacon. Whole Foods has a selection. Oscar Mayer now has nitrate-free beef hot dogs that are low in sodium and fat as well."
--Jackie Keller, wellness coach to the stars

Sugar substitutes: stick to natural

"Be wary of sugar substitutes that contain ingredients you don't recognize or can't pronounce. Touting themselves as lower calorie options, these sweeteners are full of chemicals best left out of your diet. Stick to natural options and limit intake to avoid conditions of insulin resistance and diabetes. Some great low-glycemic sweeteners to consume in moderation include agave nectar, xylitol and stevia."
--Kathryn Flynn, an Oriens Nutrition consultant

Rotisserie foods: a four-hour limit

Just out of the oven, hot rotisserie food is a great way to feed a family. But when "food is held over four hours, not only does the quality deteriorate, the bacteria level increases, especially when employees do not monitor customer interactions in these self-serve stations or the temperature. The required minimum temperature for 'holding' hot food is 135 degrees F., five degrees lower than most states required five years ago. If you are purchasing these foods, buy and eat or immediately take home and chill within the first four hours after it was placed in the rotisserie. Ask questions about the time the food was placed in the holding unit. Ask when someone last checked the temperature with an insertable thermometer instead of a shelf thermometer."
--Charlotte A. Ferrell, a registered dietitian and founder of Simply Fantastic

Canola oil: no miracle oil

"I am not a fan of canola oil. I call it the triumph of marketing over science. In order to make it palatable, it has to go through this complex chemical process; hence, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 is not that great. And refined canola oil is no better than the stuff it replaced. The best oils are macadamia nut oil, virgin olive oil and peanut oil for frying. Flax seed oil is great for salad dressing but not great for cooking So it depends on what you are using it for. Coconut oil is another you should be buying. It is great for cooking and for mixing. I use it for everything from cooking up scrambled eggs to salads. It has high contents of fatty acids that are good for your immune system. It's fat that's used for energy, not the kind that sits on your hips."
--Jonny Bowden, Ph.D., CNS, board-certified nutritionist and author of 150 Healthiest Foods on Earth

Dietary supplements: get it from your food instead

Registered dietitian Maye Musk can't understand why grocery stores waste shelf space on dietary supplements. "Why -- because of the long shelf-life and huge profit margins? Or to put fear into you that you're not getting nutrients from your foods? If you are buying fresh fruit and vegetables, low fat dairy, whole grains, fish, chicken, low fat meats, good oils, nuts, legumes and common sense healthy foods, you don't need any supplements. Before buying one, find a dietitian on eatright.org. The nutrition consult will cost you less than your supplements. You'll find confidence in eating well and start enjoying food again."
--Maye Musk, a registered dietitian based in Manhattan

Bottled marinades: let go of the bottle

You think you can spice things up, as well as save some time, with pre-made marinades. Well, hold the sauce -- "they all have copious amounts of sodium, most have high fructose corn syrup, and many have artificial colors and flavors -- all in the name of giving taste and improving texture. What they really contribute is salt, sugar and calories. This takes some label reading, but Newman's Own has a line of marinades and dressings that are great and all-natural."
--Jackie Keller

Pre-packed salads: not all that they're cut up to be


They're convenient and healthy, right? Not quite. "Light destroys vitamins, especially Vitamin C and riboflavin, a key B vitamin. Most grocery stores have the bags displayed under bright, fluorescent lights, which further zap nutrients. Chopping and shredding also brings salad veggies in contact with metal, which destroys Vitamin A. I have often noticed that even brand name, expensive, pre-packaged salads are flattened due to being tightly boxed for travel, causing the vegetables to bruise and leak juices, which lead to spoilage. Often bags with a recent delivery date, at full price, have a murky or mucous look, indicating bacteria at work. In addition, they sometimes have packages of dressing included. While the 12-16 oz. of salad may only have 200 calories, the dressing may add another 200, or more.

It is better to buy a container of three romaine hearts, which are easy to tear off, wash and break into a bowl just before serving, minimizing loss. Keeping containers of grape or cherry tomatoes and baby carrots on hand give you two other ingredients that can be quickly tossed into the salad with no chopping or long exposure to light. Other 'toss in' ingredients that are easy to transport are raisins, dried cranberries, shelled pumpkin seeds or slivered almonds -- also great for varying flavor and fiber content."
--Charlotte Ferrell

Salad dressing: better to make your own


You think you're being healthy by eating a salad. But pre-made salad dressing can be "high in sodium and contain more saturated fat then mono- and polyunsaturated fats. Instead, make your own salad dressing with fresh herbs, ginger, sesame oil, olive oil or avocado with lemon or lime juice or a variety of vinegars -- champagne, rice, red wine, balsamic, apple cider, etc. Each combination can transform flavor of the dressing and keep salads exciting."
--Katherine Farrell

Whole grain cereals: read the fine print

Once again, take the time to study labels. "Some of the most popular brands are now sporting taglines that would have consumers believe they are getting a healthy start to the day. Most packaged cereals, including instant oatmeal, are loaded with sugars. Instead, start your day with old-fashioned slow cook oatmeal. Add your own antioxidant rich berries, flaxseed and walnuts, and you will be set for the day."
--Kathryn Flynn





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