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What Popular 'Healthy' Snacks Are Made Of

Let’s face it: product labels can be misleading. When the terms organic or all natural are stamped on our food label, we’re often led to believe a product is healthier than it actually is.

What exactly does “all natural” mean? Does “sugar-free” mean that product’s good for you? Health buzzwords are used frequently in marketing to influence our buying decisions. This leads to misinformation and confusion. So much so, that 59 percent of consumers have difficulty understanding nutrition labels, according to a Nielsen survey.

So, where do you stand on the skepticism bandwagon? Real natural foods are obvious like kale, almonds, and apples. However, when processed foods start to rep an “all natural” label — we should start to question what exactly goes into that product.

Consider factors like the ingredients, how that food was processed, and how that product got onto our grocery store shelves. To help clear up some confusion, we decided to put some popular snacks to the test. We break down what exactly goes into the snacks that are considered “healthy” and how they may impact our health.

Popular Healthy Snacks


Whether you’re sprinkling granola over your yogurt or snacking on a granola bar, most granola products deliver in the fiber and iron department. The granola starts out with wholesome and nutrient-rich ingredients like rolled oats, nuts or seeds, and dried fruits. It’s when manufacturers take these ingredients, coat them in a sweetener (like sugar, honey, molasses, or corn syrup), and bake them in an unhealthy oil that increases the overall fat and calorie content.

Nature Valley Oats ‘N Honey Protein Granola


Natural Flavor, Vitamin E (Mixed Tocopherols) Added to Preserve Freshness.

A half cup of this Nature Valley granola equates to 6 grams of fat from canola oil, 12 grams of sugar, and 135 milligrams of sodium. This protein granola actually contains more sugar than protein by weight. Also, while the serving size is listed as half of a cup, granola is something you can eat mindlessly or pour over yogurt without measuring it out. Chances are you may be doubling that serving size and doubling the calories, sugar, and sodium simultaneously.

Reduced Fat Peanut Butter

Two tablespoons of regular peanut butter contains somewhere around 200 calories. The reduced fat version? About 200 calories. When companies reduce fat in a product, they add sugar and fillers like corn syrup to improve the texture and taste. Many manufacturers are also taking a reduced fat nut butter and adding high-calorie flavorings, such as strawberry or chocolate.


Contains 2% Or Less Of: Mono And Diglycerides, Magnesium Oxide, Niacinamide, Ferric Orthophosphate, Zinc Oxide, Copper Sulfate, Folic Acid, Pyridoxine Hydrochloride.

Two tablespoons of Jif reduced fat peanut butter equates to 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, 7 grams of protein, and 3 grams of sugar. This product uses two kinds of sugar and a list of additives like corn syrup, the liquid sweetener and food thickener made by allowing enzymes to break corn starches into smaller sugars. Essentially, it provides no nutritional value other than calories.

Microwave Popcorn

Natural popcorn is a delicious whole grain snack that’s full of satisfying fiber and popping a bag of microwave popcorn makes it almost effortless. However, many popcorn brands are loaded with artificial ingredients, trans fats, and sodium. When cooked in a bad oil, drowned in butter, and heavily salted, it becomes a nutritional nightmare. Many varieties of popcorn bags, until recently, were also lined with a chemical called perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) which is found in nonstick or teflon pots and pans.

Orville Redenbacher's Butter Popcorn


*Whole Grain Popping Corn, Natural Flavors, Mixed Tocopherols (Vitamin E for freshness).

If you eat the serving size on the bag, or 4 ½ cups of popped popcorn, you’re consuming 12 grams of fat (6 grams of saturated fat), 320 milligrams of sodium, and 17 grams of carbs. When it comes to the sodium content, the lower the better, but it’s best to aim for a brand with less than 300 mg per serving. To cut down both the fat and sodium and avoid potential popcorn bag risks, you’re better off air popping it yourself in an heart-healthy olive or coconut oil.

Veggie Chips

Clever marketing has led us to believe that veggie chips are healthy. However, just because they’re made with vegetables doesn’t mean they aren’t fried like a normal batch of potato chips. Many veggie chip varieties in fact contain corn or potato flour and the baking or frying process destroys much of the vegetables’ vitamins and nutrients. This leaves us with a snack that's equal or only slightly less in calories and fat to regular potato chips with fewer nutrients.

Garden Veggie Chips, Sea Salt


*Canola Oil and/or Safflower Oil and/or Sunflower Oil

In terms of fat and sodium content, veggie chips are a better option to the typical potato chips. However, it’s best to stick to a small handful since fat and sodium are still present, just in a smaller dose. If you’re gluten-free, veggie chips can be a great alternative.

Soup on the Go

Soup always hits the spot on a cold day and canned soup is easy to store and prepare. Plus, it’s just a can of liquid, so it can’t be that bad for you, right? Unfortunately, most canned soups include a ton sodium (upwards of 400 milligrams per cup), sugar, and little protein. Check out the nutrition label before you purchase to see what exactly is included in that can.

Campbell’s Creamy Tomato Soup on the Go


Contains Less Than 2% Of Potassium Chloride, Soy Protein Concentrate, Citric Acid, Flavoring, Ascorbic Acid, Lower Sodium Natural Sea Salt, Sunflower Lecithin, Spice, Butter, Dehydrated Cream, Celery Extract, Dehydrated Butter, Buttermilk, Enzyme Modified Butter, Whey Protein Concentrate, Enzyme Modified Butter Fat And Oil, Acetic Acid, Garlic Oil, Soy Lecithin, Whey.

This creamy tomato soup at hand packs 19 grams of sugar from high fructose corn syrup, 10 grams of fat and 28 percent of a daily intake of sodium (650 milligrams) per cup. Nearly all of the calories from this soup come from carbohydrates, including the tomato puree and wheat flour. It’s also low in protein at 2 grams. Instead, make a homemade soup that’s full of vegetables, protein, and will fill you up to lower the sodium content.


Most store-bought yogurts are loaded with sugar and contain very little protein. Even yogurts that claim to strengthen your gut health will do the opposite because of the added sugars. Fruity “flavored” yogurt often contain no actual fruit.

Activia Probiotic Greek Nonfat Yogurt


*Cultured Grade A NonFat Milk, Contains Less Than 1% Of Modified Food Starch, Natural Flavors, Malic Acid, Sodium Citrate, Vitamin D3.

While this yogurt packs probiotics and twice the protein of a regular yogurt, it has 20 grams of sugar. This is more sugar than you’ll find in a glazed donut from Dunkin’ Donuts. Since sugar has been found to promote a gut environment that may negate any probiotic benefits, this yogurt is defeating its purpose.

Trail Mix

Trail mix is a great snack option if you’re hiking and burning a ton of energy. However, if weight loss or your health is a goal, some varieties of trail mixes are not ideal. Although nuts are packed with heart healthy fats, they're also high in calories. Companies often coat the trail mix with flavorings that raise sugar and sodium contents. Not to mention, the candy or chocolate that are mixed in with trail mix can cause a blood sugar spike then dip.

Archer Farms Simply Trail Mix


Contains Less Than 1% Of: Coloring [Includes Blue 1 Lake, Red 40 Lake, Yellow 6, Yellow 5, Red 40, Blue 1, Blue 2 Lake, Yellow 6 Lake, Yellow 5 Lake, Blue 2], Gum Acacia

A fourth cup of this trail mix has 14 grams of sugar and 6 grams of added sugar. Most of the ingredients, from the dried fruit to the raisins, has sugar added (or is coated) before it's dried making it higher in calories and much lower in overall nutrition. For a healthier option, aim for a trail mix that’s uncoated, contains mostly nuts or seeds, and leaves out the candy and sugar entirely.

Fruit Smoothie

While some smoothies can be packed with nutrients, others will fill you up with simple sugars only. When you pump just fruit and fiber into your system, your blood sugar will get put out of whack and off balance. Protein and fat is needed for balance, or your body quickly absorbs the sugar into your bloodstream to use or store as excess very quickly. While a fruit smoothie on the surface sounds healthy, it can be just as bad for you as a dessert.

Jamba Juice's Strawberry Surf Rider


While the Jamba Juice website specifies “real whole fruit” and “wholesome ingredients,” this medium sized smoothie packs 98 grams of sugar, 450 calories, and only 3 grams of protein. Meaning, the surf rider smoothie actually has more grams of sugar than a Big Mac or a Coca-Cola. You’re better off making your own smoothie by incorporating fiber, fat, greens, and superfoods to sustain you.

Beef Jerky

If you are looking for a metabolism boosting and satisfying protein after a workout or simply as a healthy snack on the road, beef jerky is a popular go-to. The drying process is beneficial because it requires getting rid of excess fat (as it could go bad without refrigeration) so you’re left with a low-fat product. However, cured meats contain sodium nitrates and nitrites to make the meat look appealing, preserve it, and keep it free of harmful bacteria. Pay mind to what brand you purchase and the nutrition label when choosing a jerky.

Matador Beef Jerky (Original)


Citric Acid, Sodium Erythorbate, Sodium Nitrite

This beef jerky has about 700 milligrams of sodium, which is over 4 times what you’d find in the same serving of chips. It also uses MSG and contains purified nitrites, which under conditions of high heat or stomach acid, reacts to form cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines. Luckily, this reaction can be hindered by the addition of citric acid, which Matador includes in its recipe.

Protein Bars

Believe it or not, a protein or power bar can be as waist widening and nutritious as a candy bar. Because people consider protein bars a health food, it’s often assumed that you can eat one every day, rather than as a treat every once in a while. This can potentially hinder your weight loss efforts or even cause weight gain in some cases.

thinkThin High Protein Bar (Chocolate Strawberry)


One bar contains 250 calories, 9 grams of fat (2.5 grams saturated fat), 230 milligrams of sodium, 24 grams of carbs (12 grams of sugar alcohol), and 20 grams of protein. While this bar is labeled as zero sugar, it’s loaded with 12 grams of sugar alcohol to compensate. One is maltitol, a low-calorie and plant-based sweetener that studies have found to be associated with stomach and abdominal pain.


Although one serving size of pretzels has just 1 gram of fat, they are essentially refined carbohydrates that offer few nutritional benefits and a high dose of salt. Most store-bought pretzels are made with refined flours, which have been stripped of much of the beneficial fiber.

Rold Gold Tiny Twist Pretzels


Just 17 pretzels amounts to 450 milligrams of sodium — that’s 19 percent of the recommended daily intake. One ounce of pretzels does contain 6 percent of a daily intake of iron, a nutrient that's essential for making red blood cells. While they are a portable and crunchy snack to grab on the go, if you do opt for pretzels, look for ones made with whole-wheat flour as the first ingredient. Keep in mind the sodium content as a major snack worthy drawback.

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Methodology: We used Nutritionix, an online nutrition database, to gather the popular products and ingredients by category.

Sources: FDA

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