Are these “healthier” choices really better for you?

If you’ve spent any amount of time at the supermarket lately, you’ve seen a host of products promoted as healthier alternatives to some more traditional favorites. These products often substitute plants or poultry for red meat, or fruit for sugar. But are they really better for you?

It can be difficult to tell, so we asked Kathy McManus, director of the Department of Nutrition at Harvard-affiliated Brigham and Women’s Hospital, to give us her thoughts on which swaps to go for and which ones to avoid.

Pork sausage vs. chicken sausage

Is chicken sausage better? Yes.

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“I would definitely give the edge to the chicken sausage,” says McManus. It’s significantly lower in saturated fat. It’s also 50% lower in sodium and is lower in calories—yet it has the same amount of protein.

McManus added that she also looks at whether products are consistent across a category, or if there is a lot of variation between brands. The chicken sausage consistently performed better in most cases, she says. In addition, some brands of chicken sausage, unlike the pork products, were also free of artificial flavors and nitrates and nitrites (preservatives that have been linked to a higher risk of cancer).

However, while chicken sausage might be a better type of sausage, it’s still sausage, says McManus. “We’re still concerned about eating too many processed meats.” And sausage, even the chicken variety, is definitely a processed meat.

A better option: Reduce your intake of sausage or eliminate it entirely. “My recommendation is to cut down on these products in general,” says McManus.

Veggie chips/sticks vs. potato chips

Are veggie chips better? No.

It sounds too good to be true: bags of crispy chips that are really vegetables in disguise. Some brands are made from sliced-up sweet potatoes, yucca, and parsnips. But the truth is, aside from a few brands containing a little more potassium, veggie chips are pretty much a nutritional equivalent to their fried potato cousins. “There’s just not a tremendous amount of difference here,” says McManus. “An ounce of potato chips has 150 calories. While they’re not particularly high in saturated fat, they do have a moderate amount of sodium.”

Some brands of veggie chips might have slightly fewer calories and less saturated fat than traditional potato chips, but not by enough to make a substantial difference. “You’re not getting a huge bang for your buck,” she says. “Ultimately there’s no real advantage to eating veggie chips. Don’t fool yourself that veggie sticks or veggie chips are healthier.”

A better option: If you’re looking for a snack, reach for real vegetables to dip in hummus or yogurt dip. Or slice up an apple and eat it with a tablespoon of peanut butter. These snacks can also weigh in around 150 calories, but they have a far better nutrition profile and a lot more fiber.

Sugar vs. monk fruit sweetener

Is monk fruit sweetener better? Yes.

Monk fruit (sometimes referred to as Buddha fruit) originated in Southeast Asia. “It’s been around forever, but the FDA didn’t approve its use as a sweetener until 2010,” says McManus. The sweetener is made by removing the seeds and skin of the monk fruit and crushing it into juice, which is dried and powdered.

Monk fruit powder is incredibly sweet—100 to 250 times sweeter than sugar—so you only need small amounts of it. This means you can sweeten your food with amounts that are extremely low in calories or calorie-free, says McManus. This gives it the edge over sugar, which has 45 calories per tablespoon.

Monk fruit sweetener consists mainly of a type of sugar known as fructose, but it also contains glucose. Table sugar, or sucrose, is about half fructose and half glucose.

The FDA has approved monk fruit sweetener as generally safe, but if you do choose to use it, know that there are no studies that have looked at long-term effects of using this sweetener over time. “If you want to use a small amount it’s probably okay. But we haven’t studied it for very long,” says McManus.

Ultimately, everyone should make it a goal to reduce the amount of sugar and sweeteners in their diet. Using sweeteners of any kind may stimulate cravings for more sweetness, she says.

A better option: Try to get sweetness from whole foods, such as berries and melons.

Is it healthy? 7 things to look for on a nutrition label
Serving size. When comparing products, be certain that you are comparing apples to apples, and not a 4-ounce serving of one product to an 8-ounce serving of another.Calories. How many calories does one product have compared with another?Saturated fat. Always check to see how much saturated fat is in each product and select the one with with the lesser amount. Don’t just look at total fat, because there are a number of healthy fats, such as those found in olive oil, fresh avocado, or peanut butter. For this reason, it’s not helpful to focus on the total amount of fat.Sodium. Most people should eat less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium each day. Comparing the amount of sodium in different products can help you keep your daily number down.Fiber. Pay attention to fiber, and in this case, the more the better. Products like breads, crackers, and cereals that are higher in fiber are typically going to be better for you.Sugar. Look at the labels to check for added sugar. Zero added sugar is best, but the lower, the better.The ingredients list. Fewer ingredients are preferable. In general, something that doesn’t have a ton of ingredients is going to be less processed and contain less extra stuff that you really don’t need. Image: © CHRISsadowski/Getty Images

Soda vs. seltzer

Is seltzer better? Yes.

There’s little question that sugary soda is a dietary disaster. The average 12-ounce bottle contains as much as 12 teaspoons of sugar, so with zero sugar, seltzer is the clear winner in this category. Unlike a can of soda, which adds on average 150 calories to your daily diet, most brands of seltzer don’t have any calories and are also free of artificial sweeteners and sodium. (Be sure to read the label to make sure that this is the case.)

“The best thing people can do is to get away from drinking soda,” she says. In this case, it’s definitely better to make the switch.

A better option: When in doubt, always reach for water, which is always the best choice.

Cauliflower pizza crust vs. regular wheat crust

Is cauliflower crust better? Not unless you need a gluten-free option.

“There is some difference between cauliflower crust and a traditional wheat pizza crust,” says McManus. Most cauliflower crusts contain cauliflower, eggs, cheese, and a few spices. Some contain brown rice flour, cornstarch, and tapioca. Many are gluten-free. The calorie counts vary but are close to traditional wheat pizza crust, at about 170 calories per portion. Both cauliflower and traditional crust have about a gram of fiber, but a premade wheat crust at the grocery store can be little higher in sodium, says McManus.

Although they are nutritionally similar, if you need a gluten-free option, the cauliflower crust is a better choice.

A better option: The best thing you can do if you are having pizza is to try to make your own crust, using whole-wheat flour. “If 100% whole wheat doesn’t taste as good to you, even a 50/50 blend of whole-wheat and white flour is a good option,” says McManus. But keep in mind that most often the problem with pizza is what you put on it. Try to avoid high-fat cheeses, pepperoni, and sausage. “My suggestion is to use a simple tomato sauce with canned tomato and fresh basil and garlic. Alternatively, you can top your pizza with some tomato slices. Finish it off with part-skim mozzarella cheese and your favorite veggies,” she says.

Pork bacon vs. turkey bacon

Is turkey bacon better? Maybe.

The reason for the uncertain verdict on turkey versus pork bacon is the large disparities between individual products. “I did find a fair amount of variation between the different types of bacon that are available,” explains McManus. One more expensive brand of turkey bacon had 1.5 grams of saturated fat and 190 milligrams (mg) of sodium—far less than an inexpensive brand, which had 5 grams of saturated fat and 500 mg of sodium.

In addition, some brands of turkey bacon contained problematic ingredients such as nitrates and nitrites, while others did not.

“Don’t just pick up a product and assume that all things are equal,” she says. In some instances, pork bacon may be lower in saturated fat and sodium than a particular brand of turkey bacon.

A better option: Don’t eat bacon at all. “Turkey or pork, bacon is still a processed meat,” says McManus. Processed meats have been linked to a higher risk of cardiovascular disease and cancer. “If you have to have bacon, save it for a special occasion, but don’t put it on the weekly menu,” she says.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

2 Corinthians 13:9 For we rejoice when we ourselves are weak but you are strong; this we also pray for, that you be made complete.

Colossians 1:28 We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may present every man complete in Christ.

Colossians 4:12 Epaphras, who is one of your number, a bondslave of Jesus Christ, sends you his greetings, always laboring earnestly for you in his prayers, that you may stand perfect and fully assured in all the will of God.

2 Corinthians 10:15-16 not boasting beyond our measure, that is, in other men’s labors, but with the hope that as your faith grows, we will be, within our sphere, enlarged even more by you, so as to preach the gospel even to the regions beyond you, and not to boast in what has been accomplished in the sphere of another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3 We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brethren, as is only fitting, because your faith is greatly enlarged, and the love of each one of you toward one another grows ever greater;

2 Peter 3:18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Ephesians 1:17-18 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints,

Ephesians 3:16-19 that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, read more

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