We all want to eat healthily, not because we love vegetables more than fried chicken, but because we want to live longer with less heart attacks. Unfortunately, many of us find it a struggle to eat healthily, whether it's due to our busy lives or simply down to laziness.
That's why we're always on the lookout for the next health convenience, the food that will save our bodies and our time. But there's a catch: many foods that look healthy are actually quite the opposite.
Obviously there are always exceptions, but there's one rule you should always follow when trying to eat healthily: read the label. Don't fall for the pretty packaging, get down to the hard facts. To give you a kickstart, here's a few of the foods that want you to think they're good for you.
It's got bits of fruit, little clusters of grainy things, and... look, it's not Coco Pops, so it's gotta be good for you, right?
Not necessarily. Some varieties of granola are fine and dandy, but others are rammed with sugar, which kind of undoes the whole 'healthy' thing. It's not all bad: granola can contain plenty of fibre, but always check the packet to see how much sugar is packed in there.
2 Energy bars
As you might expect, energy bars are packed with - wait for it - energy. But what this really means is that they're often laden with sugar, saturated fats and high-fructose corn syrup.
Typically aimed at the sports market, energy bars are fine if you're doing a lot of exercise and you don't eat too many of them, but as a healthy snack to go with your sandwich at lunchtime? Not the one.
3 Dried cranberries
Come on, this is literally fruit - how can it be bad? Well, as part of the preserving process a whole boatload of sugar is added, which also helps cranberries taste better. Low-sugar options are available, so always go for those if you have the choice. Just be prepared for a mouthful of bitter.
4 Fruit juices
They may say '1 of your 5-a-day' on the packet, but the truth is that fruit juices are often more sugary than soft drinks. This doesn't mean that soft drinks are a better option, but don't automatically think orange juice is good for you just because the word 'orange' is involved.
Many fruit juices are 'smooth', meaning they don't have any of the dietary fibre present in fruits - this is the stuff that helps you digest your food, so it's pretty essential stuff. A glass of juice every now and then won't hurt, but you can't rely on it as an alternative to fruit.
5 Sandwich wraps
You're in the supermarket, looking at the to-go section, and you say to yourself, "No. No chicken and bacon club this time. This time, I'm going to be healthy", and you reach for the wraps. Not so fast: you might actually be better off with the sandwich.
Recently surveys have shown that wraps can be extremely calorific, even more so than some sandwiches. It seems counter-intuitive, but it's just down to clever marketing. The lesson? If you're bothered about calorie intake, check and compare the packets.
6 Yoghurt-covered snacks
You look at a packet of yoghurt-covered raisins and think, "What's not to like?" Raisins are good, yoghurt is good, covered is good - but there's a devil in the detail. The 'yoghurt' we're talking about isn't really yoghurt; it's actually a kind of frosting that has yoghurt in it.
That frosting is also sugary, fatty and salty, all of which kind of undo whatever goodness was once in the covered snack. Stick with normal raisins, you'll get more out of them. And yoghurt-covered pretzels were never going to be healthy - who were you trying to kid?
7 Diet soft drinks
'Maximum taste, no sugar' - damn, advertising really works. But just because there's no sugar or calories in diet drinks, this doesn't necessarily make them any better for you.
You know that old joke about a guy ordering two double cheeseburgers, a large fries, an ice cream sundae and a diet soda? There's some truth to that; some dieticians think that the psychological effect of diet drinks makes it easier to justify overeating.
But more than that, the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks can be just as bad for us when consumed in large quantities. It's all about moderation, and simply being a 'diet' drink doesn't give us licence to drink loads of it.
Eating fruit is a pain in the arse - too much peeling, chewing and swallowing for busy, metropolitan-types like us. First there were fruit juices, but the juice is just the juice - what about the non-juice?
Then someone had the brilliant idea of sticking whole bits of fruit (not just the juice, no no) into a blender and whizzing it up. That's all fine and dandy, but the smoothies you buy in the shops are often full of sugar and really aren't all that good for people who don't do much exercise.
#notallsmoothies though. If you make your own smoothie you can control the amount of sugar that goes into it, and tbh you'll save loads of cash, because those things are overpriced. It's just a bunch of fruit, for heaven's sake, how expensive can it be?
9 Salad dressings
Are you noticing a trend developing? It seems that things with fats, sugar and oils in them are way tastier than things that don't. Salad dressing is no different. Salad = good, but no fats, sugar or oils. Salad dressing = full of the buggers, so lather that stuff on.
Yes, unfortunately the goodness of your salad will rather be undone if you cover it in a bucket of Newman's Own. Check the labels and go for the low-fat option wherever possible. Or just don't have any dressing - vegetables are pretty good on their own if you give them a chance.
10 Vegetable crisps
Granted, veggie crisps are generally better than potato crisps, but they can still be an extremely calorific snack, particularly if they're made from root vegetables, and especially if they're fried. It all depends on the ingredients - baked kale chips are typically better than fried sweet potato crisps, for example - but don't be tricked into thinking that vegetable = healthy crisp.
11 Sports drinks
There's a key word in sports drinks, and that word is 'sports'. Unless you're a performance athlete, there's really very little benefit in drinking sports drinks. If you actively like the taste of Gatorade, then go ahead, enjoy yourself. You're an odd fellow, but we're not judging.
Just know that all that extra sugar and sodium is not doing your weight or blood pressure any good. When it comes to hydration, water will do you just fine. When it comes to taste, well, that's your own decision.
Honestly, there's no hack to healthy eating. Drink water, eat fresh fruit and vegetables (frozen is good too), and eat a sensible amount of meat, if that's your thing. We've been trying to cheat our bodies into being healthier for decades, but for the average person, nothing so far beats eating well and exercising often.
Sorry guys, maybe in 2020 we'll finally crack the all-in-one everything-you-need pill.