Part 2 of our Nutrition Myth-Busting series focuses on foods with “health halos.” How does a food earn health halo status? Usually it means that it has an attribute (like organic or natural) that seems nourishing, but the attribute doesn’t actually speak to nutrition. And often times, consumers are totally unaware of the fact that the food isn’t as nutritious as they think it is. Are you ready to bust these “health halo” foods? We take aim at some of the most notorious suspects.

Health Halo Foods

Salads: How many times have you been at a restaurant and ordered the salad because you felt like that was the most nutritious option? The Cobb Salad or Chopped Salad may seem nutritious because of that lettuce, but those other ingredients (cheese, meat, croutons, salad dressing) can cause a real caloric problem. In New York City, where menu labeling is mandated, I’m often surprised to see sandwiches clock in with fewer calories than a salad. To keep a salad from spiraling into a calorie bomb, make sure it’s heavy on the veggies and light on the extras that send it over the edge.

Coffee drinks: Everyone seems to be holding a coffee cup in their hand these days, but sometimes these drinks are more like milkshakes than an innocent cup of Joe. If you’re just drinking coffee with a little milk, you should be ok, but if you’re drinking a large, blended coffee beverage with sugary syrup and whipped cream, you have to make peace with the fact that you’re drinking dessert.

Granola: While some granolas are indeed low in sugar and made with whole grains, many more closely resemble crumbled up cookies (i.e., clusters of oats and nuts doused in sugar). If you want to enjoy granola, read the label before you buy and choose one that has less than 5 grams of sugar per serving. Also take note that the serving size varies, with many granolas suggesting a meager ¼ cup portion. I prefer making my own granola so I can control what goes in (and what doesn’t).

Yogurt: The yogurt aisle now reminds me of the cereal aisle—endless options that seem healthy but aren’t. While it’s true that yogurt can be a nutritious way to get calcium and protein, it can also be loaded with sugar. Be a label reader and check the ingredient list and Nutrition Facts panel before purchasing, comparing different brands and flavors. My favorite way to enjoy yogurt is to mix high-protein Greek yogurt with fresh or frozen berries or grapes. The fruit brings nutrition and natural sweetness. You can also use your own sweetener, such as a drizzle of maple syrup or honey. If you go easy on the pour, you’ll probably wind up with less sugar than the manufacturer adds.

Juices: Juice bars are popping up everywhere and the menus are enticing, filled with fancy-sounding fruit and vegetable blends. What’s so wrong with that? Fruit and vegetables are good for us but the juice is only a small part of that nutrition. When you juice plants, you leave behind the rest of the fruit or vegetable, notably the fiber, which is both filling and nutritious. What you’re left with is much more sugar than if you were to eat a piece of fruit, minus the fiber to slow down the digestion of sugar. If you’re going to juice, keep to a 1/2 cup portion and make sure to enjoy most of your fruits and vegetables in their whole form.

Vegetarian/Vegan: Avoiding meat and meat products doesn’t necessarily mean you’re eating more healthfully. True, feasting on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts, and seeds, is very nutritious but without careful planning, you might wind up with a carb-heavy menu, such a plate of toast, a bowl of pasta, and a pile of potatoes. The difference is in the details.

Did any of this myths surprise you? Share your comments below!

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