Last week, we started a list of foods that many of you may have been turning to as alternatives to unhealthy snacks (and meals); but these foods aren’t quite everything they pretend to be.  This week, we’re going to continue the list; how many of your favorite “healthy” foods do you recognize?

1.  Protein Bars: Uh oh.  This one hurts.  If you exercise regularly and find it convenient to throw a protein bar in your gym bag, we understand.  Many of you may be trying to raise your protein intake and cut your consumption of carbohydrates, as well, and protein bars have been held up as an ideal snack food for high- protein diets.  The problem?  While they are packing protein and fiber–and those are great things–many of them (not all–check the label on your favorite brand) are also packing the sugar (and fat and oils).  In fact, some of these bars have so many calories, sugars, fats, etc. that you may as well just eat a candy bar.  Example: A PowerbarProtein Bar Chocolate Brownie energy bar has 360 calories, whereas a Snickers Bar has only 250.  And a CliffBar, on average, has over 20 grams of sugar.  That’s more than some cookies.  Is this really what you want replacing your meal or fueling your workout?  As we said, the protein and fiber these bars contain is a plus, but read the fine print before you commit.

2.  Smoothies:  To be fair, a smoothie by any other name is not the same.  If you’re blending up your own smoothies at home with low-fat yogurt, fresh fruits, almond milk, fresh veggies, etc., then feel free to ignore this one; but if you’re dropping by the smoothie bar on a regular basis for a “healthy” snack or meal replacement, listen up.  Very often smoothie bars are using juices that are loaded with sugars, and sometimes, a little sherbet is added in to sweeten the pot.  And sweeten it does–those smoothies are delish!  The problem?  The added sugars are negating the nutritional efforts you’re trying to make.

3. Microwave Popcorn:  Crikey.  When we looked into this one, we found a list as long as an arm of harmful ingredients; from a chemical (diacetyl) which can cause something called “popcorn lung” (after long periods of prolonged exposure), to hydrogenated oils, preservatives, TBHQ (a preservative known as a carcinogen), to trans fats, and on and on.  Lots of people still think of plain popcorn as being low-fat and healthy, but when was the last time you saw a “plain” variety of microwave popcorn?  They are few and far between, and if you look at the label, they still contain all sorts of things that aren’t healthy.  Many popcorns these days assert that they are whole grain, natural, etc. but remember: There are no rules or protocols in place to use the word “natural” at this time.  The word has actually become quite meaningless as more and more companies cash in on the trend to healthier foods.

4.  Packaged and Sliced Turkey: Do the words “SodiumCity” mean anything to you?  They will if you check out the nutritional information on a package of sliced turkey.  The other thing you might notice–the cholesterol count.  If that’s not enough to make you put that package down, we don’t know what will.  You’re still getting protein, riboflavin, niacin, zinc, phosphorus and selenium, but there are better ways to get those things.  If you still need your sliced turkey packaged for convenience, look for varieties with less than 350 milligrams of sodium per 2-ounce serving.

At Brown Bag, we take our food seriously.  We aim to give you the best natural ingredients available, and to give them to you fast.  If you’re looking to make the switch to a healthier lifestyle, grab some fruits or veggies in their fresh, natural forms, air pop your own popcorn, make a smoothie at home, or come see us and build your own salad or sandwich.  You can even pick from one of our signature sandwiches or salads and trust that the ingredients are fresh and healthy.  In a world where everything clearly isn’t what it appears to be, aren’t you glad there’s a Brown Bag in your neck of the woods?  Check back next week as we wrap up our list of junk foods disguised as health foods!