Are These Foods Healthy or Not?

Health Writer
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If you’re a shopper looking for “healthy foods,” you likely search for labels with words like natural, organic, low sugar, fat free, non-GMO or whole grain. Those labels suggest a health halo. Truth is, some of these terms fake you out a bit, while others require you to be willing to delve deeper into the ingredients. Other than fruits and vegetables, are the foods you choose really healthy or not?

Food that confounds consumers

A recent New York Times poll revealed that some very specific foods seemed to challenge consumers and their ability to evaluate them as healthy or not.  Those foods included: quinoa, protein bars, wine, crackers, hummus, tofu, yogurt, beef jerky, shrimp, popcorn, nuts, cereal, coconut oil, sushi, white bread. Classifying some of these depends largely on the manufacturing process used to create or prepare them.


Quinoa and other whole grains and ancient grains are indeed healthy as long as you don’t choose highly processed versions.  The grains are caloric so measure portion sizes.

Protein bars

Nutrition bars can be good sources of protein, but review the nutrition label specifically looking for added sugars, levels of protein, and calories per bar. Not all choices are “healthy.”

Wine and crackers

People often pair these foods with a bit of cheese.  Current science is still not clear on whether you should start drinking for health benefits. If you do drink, research recommends a serving (six ounces) a few times a week or “moderate” consumption.  Crackers made with 100 percent whole grains, baked not fried, with a simple ingredient list, good alternatives to a serving of bread or another grain serving, such as naan, pita, or brown rice.


Looking for a healthy dip that is protein-rich? Hummus is a winner. It’s easy to make in a blender and readily available at the supermarket. But if you choose a processed version, keep it to simple ingredients: chickpeas, tahini, garlic, salt, lemon juice, and olive oil.  Note calories per serving.


Tofu is high in protein but steer clear of fried or heavily sauced choices. It’s like a sponge and will absorb healthy marinades easily.

Yogurt: choose wisely

Nonfat Greek yogurt’s a winner, as long as there are no added sugars or fruit. Add fruit yourself.  Sweetened yogurts or yogurts with fruit tend to be too sugary to make the healthy grade.  Frozen yogurts are likely made with artificial ingredients and sweeteners, and they’re somewhat devoid of the healthy probiotics that fresh yogurt offers.  Ask about ingredients and choose treats wisely.

Beef jerky and shrimp

These two products are great sources of protein, but jerky can have loads of salt.  It’s a popular grab-n-go snack, but nutrition experts would prefer to see consumers eating fewer choices from the processed red meat sector, so consider it a treat.  Shrimp no longer has a bad rap due to cholesterol levels. Three ounces has 84 calories, 166 mg of cholesterol, virtually no saturated fat. Grill or steam it.

Popcorn and nuts for snacks

Unprocessed is crucial to classifying these snacks as healthy.  Bump up the flavor of air-popped popcorn with herbs.   Buy unprocessed nuts, which taste great as is, or bump up the flavor by roasting them in the oven.  You can season before roasting with dried herbs.  You can also toast them in a standard frying pan.  Shelling nuts like pistachios helps to pace eating.  Heed portions for both snacks.


This category is notorious for health labels that lure you to buy less-than-healthy offerings.  Check for whole grains, fiber, and assess sugar levels.  Check the label and use a measuring cup for portion control.  Beware added “fake” fruit, chocolate, and artificial flavors.  In many cases, cereal should be considered a treat, and used as a topping, and not as a breakfast meal.

Coconut products

Coconut is touted as a superfood but many products containing coconut are not.  Adding coconut to foods means you bump up saturated fat significantly, and the science suggesting that this saturated fat is healthier doesn’t seem to hold upThe FDA has cautioned food manufacturers to tread carefully with the healthy labeling on these products.  Coconut oil is 90 percent saturated fat but does boost HDL.

Sushi: American-style vs. Japanese style

In Japan, sushi servings are smaller with less white rice per piece.  Japanese sushi typically offers excellent quality, raw, simple cuts of fish — not creamy, multi-ingredient options like those served here in the states. American sushi can be high in sugar because the rice is often mixed with a sugar/vinegar solution.  Order sushi with brown rice or consider a sushi/sashimi combo to limit rice.

Juice and smoothies

Choose fruit over juice so you get the benefits of the whole fruit and you can take time to eat it instead of quickly guzzling it.  A single serving of juice daily can substitute for fruit but juice meals do not substitute for real foodSmoothies can offer lots of nutrients but the calorie/sugar cost is often too high.  Add protein, limit portion size, and be very aware of caloric ingredients.