The world of eating healthier can be a minefield full of distractions and false advertising, especially when it comes to clean eating snacks. With every label now screaming buzzwords like natural, organic, with no added sugar and fat-free, it can be confusing trying to decipher the difference between clean eating snack foods that are actually healthy, snack foods that are a healthier option, and unhealthy foods that are being marketed as healthy snacks.
Although different eating plans and styles work for different people, the six snack foods listed below are some of the more tricky items being marketed as “healthy” when arguments can (and will!) be made otherwise.
6 Clean Eating Snacks to Avoid
1. Peanut butter – I can remember a physician telling me at a younger age that if I was hungry before volleyball practice, the best and healthiest solutions was a spoonful of peanut butter. That way, I went to practice feeling full but skipped the sugar overload that I usually partook in when I chose pop tarts as my pre-practice snack.
However, this may not be completely accurate. Peanut butter is not necessarily the superfood it has been made out to be. In fact, those following a strict Paleo or Whole30 regime would outlaw peanut butter all together, as it’s derived from peanuts, which are a legume, not a nut. That means that peanut butter should be considered an inflammatory food and therefore might not be an ideal pre-workout snack.
Although peanut butter does contain protein and a relatively low amount of carbohydrates, many brands of peanut butter also contain added sugar and additives. Even for strict label readers and consumers of natural peanut butter, the caloric content and fat content can be alarming. The conclusion? Peanut butter isn’t a bad food, but it isn’t a great one either. If you do choose to have it in your diet, stick to small amounts. A healthier option is sunflower butter, but watch out–high amounts of fat and calories per serving still prevent this food from being an everyday snack option.
2. Greek Yogurt – First of all Greek yogurt is dairy, so like almost any item on this list, it would be outlawed on most clean eating plans because it’s an inflammatory food. Second of all, despite the fact that Greek yogurt by itself is relatively low in carbohydrates and high in protein, it is rarely eaten alone. Most Greek yogurt cups are loaded with “fruit”, which means what started out as a relatively okay amount of sugar (approximately six grams) explodes upwards of of 15 grams and what once was low carb is now almost a third of what you should be eating daily. The conclusion is that Greek yogurt is definitely a healthier alternative…maybe to regular yogurt. But this snack is going to pack a punch in your joints and in your waistline.
3. Popcorn – The same argument goes for popcorn that I used against peanut butter earlier. First of all, if you are following a strict Paleo-type plan or a Whole30-type plan, then you probably already know that corn is considered a legume and not a vegetable. Even those who argue that it is a vegetable admit that it’s high in starches, which are converted by your body almost immediately to sugar. That combined with the tendency to add sugar and other crazy ingredients to our popcorn (a cup of melted butter anyone?) and our tendency to eat an entire bag in one sitting means that popcorn may not be your healthiest snack choice ever.
4. Hummus – Hummus comes from chickpeas or garbanzo beans, which means that most clean eating plans once again consider them a legume so hummus is a no go. Even if you follow a diet that allows legumes, hummus is high in caloric and carbohydrate content, which means that what can serve as a fine snack in small portions can quickly turn into a bad one if you don’t control your dipping hand. Another strike against hummus is that it’s often eaten with pretzels or chips. If you’re like me and you like to indulge in hummus every once in a while, stick with a small serving and use vegetables like carrots or celeries instead of a grain cracker.
5. Muffins – I love, and I mean LOVE breakfast pastries and frequently bought them as a healthier breakfast option prior to beginning my clean eating journey, so imagine my dismay when I found out that most muffins actually have more carbohydrates than a donut. That’s right, something that’s marketed as a well-rounded morning meal is actually worse for you than a deep friend ring of dough. It’s tough to believe but true. Although muffins do arguable have more nutritional value than a donut (which isn’t hard since donuts don’t have any), I would still say to stay away from muffins altogether because there are much healthier on-the-go options for a filling breakfast.
6. Dried Fruit – Dried fruit, like regular fruit, does have some nutritional content. With that being said, the amount of sugar used to preserve most dried fruit makes it a terrible choice for a healthy snack. Dried fruit is an item that’s marketed as healthy — I mean who doesn’t think fruit is healthy? — but in reality, it should only really be used as a simple carbohydrate snack to recharge during intense training or competition. Even then, portion sizes are crucial as the amount of carbohydrates in one serving of dried fruit is staggering — one cup of dried apricots alone contains almost 100 carbs, which is almost double what most athletes should be consuming in one day.
You could argue that most of the foods listed above do have some dietary value (as do most foods) but ultimately, there are healthier ways to snack throughout the day. Some of my favorite ACTUAL clean eating snacks include boiled eggs, deli meat, one serving of fruit per day or small portions of nuts such as almonds or macadamia nuts. Of course, you should alternate your snacks depending on your activity level — I may incorporate more simple carbs on a day when I train harder or longer than usual — but ultimately, you will find what works for your body and your health.