‘Health’ Foods That Aren’t

Eating right is no picnic. Just when you think you’ve got it all figured out, along comes a new report trumpeting the benefits of yet another good-for-you food. Sure, some of them are winners. But many aren’t.

To help you sort the health from the hype, Neva Cochran, a registered dietitian in Dallas, provides food for thought on several so-called super foods whose powers you may be overestimating.

Low-carb products

One of the biggest mistakes people make with low-carb products now on the market — including bagels, pasta, ice cream, tortilla chips, breakfast cereals, pasta sauces and salad dressings — is thinking they are calorie-free, says Ms. Cochran.

In fact, many low-carb products contain the same or more calories than their regular-carb counterparts, or they contain fewer calories in considerably smaller serving sizes. And even if a low-carb product contains comparatively fewer calories, it’s still not calorie-free.

“If you’re just watching your carb intake, you can end up eating more calories than you burn and you won’t lose weight,” says Ms. Cochran. “To lose weight, read product labels and keep tabs on calories and serving sizes, no matter what combination of foods you put together.” 

Canned soups

Although there are many nutrition-packed soups on supermarket shelves, many are virtually saltwater.

“A typical, regular-sodium canned soup may have 1,100 mg of sodium in one cup,” says Ms. Cochran, which is nearly half the daily recommended limit of 2,300 mg (about 1 teaspoon). “Lower-sodium soups are available, but even those can have 500 mg of sodium in one cup, which is significant.”

Cottage cheese

You’d think those creamy curds would be full of calcium, but to get the amount of calcium you score from a cup of skim milk (290 mg of calcium per cup) or low-fat yogurt (452 mg of calcium per cup), you need to eat two cups of cottage cheese (156 mg of calcium per cup). As a comparison, one ounce of part-skim mozzarella cheese has 207 mg of calcium.

If you love cottage cheese, buy a product that’s calcium-fortified and low in fat.


The fat and calorie content of a half-cup serving rivals that of a McDonald’s hamburger: 250 calories and 10 grams of fat. And at 4 grams of fiber per serving, the roughage factor is mediocre. You’d do better selecting a whole-grain cereal, such as raisin bran.

“For roughly the same number of calories and less than 2 grams of fat, you can eat one cup of cereal,” says Ms. Cochran. “Most whole-grain cereals also are good fiber sources, offering 7 grams of fiber or more per bowl.”


Nutrient-wise, honey is roughly equal to table sugar, containing a negligible amount of nutrients. But honey contains 16 more calories per tablespoon than sugar.

Rice cakes

These are virtually a nutrient wasteland. One rice cake has 35 calories but less than 5 percent of all nutrients.

“They’re not even particularly filling because they’re low in fiber, containing less than half a gram per rice cake,” says Ms. Cochran.

Vitamin water

At $2 per 16-ounce bottle, “vitamin-fortified water is an expensive way to take a vitamin pill,” says Ms. Cochran. “You’d do better swallowing a regular vitamin pill with a glass of tap water.”

Eggs enriched with omega-3s

Although omega-3 fatty acids may help reduce the risk for heart disease, these eggs don’t contain enough of the heart-healthy fats to make much of an impact.

One omega-3-enriched egg typically contains 50 to 150 mg of DHA and 2 mg of EPA, providing less than 1 percent of the American Heart Association’s suggested intake of 500 to 1,800 mg. For that added bonus, expect to pay as much as $1.50 more per dozen.

“The best health foods you can buy are fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains,” says Ms. Cochran. “Make these part of your daily diet, and you’ll definitely improve your health.”The StayWell Company, LLC ©2019