Experts and average Americans were polled about the healthfulness of 50 different foods. What they had to say may surprise you.

By Sally Kuzemchak
July 26, 2016

I may be a dietitian, but the word "healthy" kind of drives me crazy. That's because it's way overused (think of all those recipes like "Healthy Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Ice Cream Cake" on Pinterest), not to mention completely subjective. After all, one mom's "healthy" granola bar is another mom's GMO-laced sugar bomb.

But it's not just parents who don't agree on what it means. Legally, the definition of "healthy" on food labels is up for debate too. Until now, a food that was labeled "healthy" had to be low in fat and saturated fat, meet a sodium cut-off, and contain a certain amount of beneficial nutrients. But the FDA has recently decided to reevaluate their definition of healthy for food labeling, so that may change.

With that in mind, The New York Times recently conducted an interesting survey. They polled hundreds of nutritionists, as well as a sample of Americans, to ask whether they considered certain foods "healthy". The foods ranged from things like bacon and ice cream to almonds and kale.

As you may have guessed, there were some foods that both groups overwhelmingly viewed as healthy, like apples, oranges, oatmeal, and chicken—as well as foods both groups deemed unhealthy, like hamburgers, diet soda, white bread, and chocolate chip cookies.

But then there were foods the groups didn't see eye to eye on. The nutritionists viewed quinoa, tofu, sushi, hummus, wine, and shrimp as healthier than the public did. There were also foods considered healthier by the public than by the experts. The top ones: granola bars, coconut oil, frozen yogurt, granola, and orange juice.

Though I can't speak for the experts who were surveyed, I can see why there was a discrepancy. Here's my take on these foods:

Granola Bars: Though more than 70 percent of the public said they were healthy, only 28% of nutritionists did. Why? Probably because most granola bars have a lot of added sugar in them. Granola bars (and granola) tend to have "health haloes" on them, which means they're perceived as wholesome no matter what. I suggest reading food labels and looking for bars with around 5 grams of added sugar or less.

Coconut Oil: It's seen as the end-all-be-all for some (and miraculous claims abound on the internet about it). But in terms of research, the verdict is still out on whether it's actually good for the body in the same way that monounsaturated fats (think olive oil) are. I say, use coconut oil if you like the flavor but be sure to include healthy fats like olive oil and avocado in your family's diet too.

Frozen Yogurt: Two thirds of the public called this healthy. Problem is, it's loaded with added sugar and, let's face it, typically a base on which to pile a mountain of assorted candy toppings. So treat fro-yo as you would any dessert and watch the portion size.

Orange Juice: A little bit of 100 percent fruit juice is okay, but a whole bunch isn't—since it's easy to guzzle down a lot of calories and sugar (yes, even though it's natural). It's better for everyone to get most of their fruit servings through whole fruit, which has the fiber that juice is missing.

Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. She collaborated with Cooking Light onDinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. In her spare time, she loads and unloads the dishwasher. Then loads it again.


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