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Common ‘Health Foods’ That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise

Unhealthy foods play a primary role in many people gaining weight and developing chronic health conditions, more now than ever before. Surprisingly, people consider some of… Trista - November 10, 2020

Unhealthy foods play a primary role in many people gaining weight and developing chronic health conditions, more now than ever before. Surprisingly, people consider some of these foods healthy. Here are common “health foods” that are junk foods in disguise. Why is junk food bad? Eating junk food regularly can lead to an increased risk of obesity and chronic diseases like cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and some cancers. It’s easy to get confused about which foods are healthy and which aren’t. You generally want to avoid certain foods if you’re going to lose weight and prevent chronic illnesses.

Do you know what foods are unhealthy? When examining your diet, it can be challenging to determine what foods are healthy or not. The most common unhealthy foods include highly processed items, such as fast foods and snack foods. “Highly processed foods” tend to be low in nutrients (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants) and high on empty calories due to the content of refined flours, sodium, and sugar. What makes food unhealthy? The preparation method and the types of ingredients the food contains make it unhealthy. Sodium, sugar, and fat (saturated fat and trans-fat) are key ingredients one should always monitor when eating out and shopping at the grocery store. The American Heart Association recommends keeping the consumption of saturated fat to less than seven percent and trans-fat consumption to less than 1 percent of an individual’s daily calories.

Common 'Health Foods’ That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise
Fat free might not mean healthy. Shutterstock.

40. Low Fat and Fat-free

Full-fat foods are foods where the amount of fat has not been reduced or removed (e.g., regular sour cream.) Low-fat foods are foods where some fat has been removed (e.g., low-fat or light sour cream.) Nonfat foods have either all the naturally occurring fat removed or never had any fat in them to begin with(e.g., nonfat sour cream or celery.). The “war” on saturated fat could be considered one of the most misguided decisions in the history of nutrition. It was based on weak evidence, which has now been thoroughly debunked.

When this discussion started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and removed the fat from foods. However, there’s a huge problem doing this. Food doesn’t taste well when the fat has been removed. That’s why they added a lot of sugar to compensate. Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess. The words “low fat” or “fat-free” on packaging usually mean that it’s a highly processed product that’s loaded with sugar. Make sure to check the labels to compare products and try to keep your sugar consumption to a minimum when possible.

Common 'Health Foods’ That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise
Are all oatmeal’s created equal? Shutterstock.

39. Flavored Instant Oatmeal

Oats are healthy eats, but instant oatmeal often gets a bad reputation. A bowl of classic oatmeal packs a hearty dose of vitamins, protein, and cholesterol-lowering soluble fiber. Oats are a healthy breakfast, but instant oatmeal often gets a bad wrap. Flavored instant oatmeal (think: brown maple sugar or apple cinnamon) are often high in added sugar and sodium. Some flavors are worse than others, so it’s always best to check the label, or buy plain oatmeal and add your own sweeteners to it (think honey, maple syrup, and fruit). By adding your sweeteners, you can control the flavor and the sugar you’re consuming.

Look for oatmeal varieties that list the first ingredient as ‘oats,’ contain less than six grams of sugar and less than 140 milligrams of sodium per serving. Alternatively, choose steel-cut or rolled oats and flavor it using your own cinnamon, nutmeg, and fresh fruit. According to The American Heart Association, like traditional oatmeal, instant is a whole-grain, high-fiber, nutritious food. Though, with flavored products, watch the sodium and sugar levels—aim for less than 250 mg sodium and 12 g sugar per serving. Making your own oatmeal also only takes about 10 minutes total, so the convenience of instant oatmeal isn’t huge.

Make sure to check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing. Shutterstock.

38. Salad Dressings

Because fat helps absorb vitamins and nutrients, you won’t reap all the benefits of those leafy greens without a little bit of it, says Gans. The key is choosing a healthy source. Monounsaturated fat (olive oil, nuts) is good for you, while saturated fat (butter) is generally not. The experts recommend oil and balsamic vinegar as the healthiest options for salad dressing. Purdue University studies found that dressings made with monounsaturated fats (like olive oil) are faster at absorbing nutrients than those with saturated or polyunsaturated fat (like canola oil). Vegetables are a great way to stay healthy and fit. The problem is that they often aren’t tasty on their own.

That’s why many people use dressings to add flavor to their salads, turning them into delicious treats. However, many salad dressings are full of harmful ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils, and trans fats. Throw in artificial colors and flavors, and you’ve got yourself a questionable product. Vegetables are healthy for you, but eating them with an unhealthy dressing negates any health benefit you might get from them. Make sure to check the ingredients list before using a salad dressing or making your own healthy dressing at home. Bottled dressings are often rich sources of saturated fat, calories, sodium, and added sugar. You’re eating more salad for good health. Nevertheless, you may be undoing the benefits when you use a store-bought salad dressing.

Is pasta healthy? Shutterstock.

37. Boxed Vegetable Pasta

“It has great eye appeal.” Though some companies claim their veggie pasta contains a full serving of vegetables, no substitute for a real vegetable dish since spinach pasta might not have all the nutrients you would otherwise expect from spinach. It is best to find a pasta that is high in fiber instead and stick with the serving sizes. Having pasta once in a while isn’t going to derail your health journey, as long as you are still making healthy decisions along with it. There is also some pasta that you can purchase that are made of beans and other lentils – making them higher in fiber. Try to find those, or stick with whole wheat instead of white pasta.

The differences between vegetable-enriched and regular pasta are so nutritionally insignificant that swapping one for the other doesn’t impact your health very much at all. The legit, healthier alternative is swapping your go-to pasta for spiraled vegetables or spaghetti squash. It will still feel like your having a spaghetti plate, but it’s doubling your vegetables with that dish. Check out videos on YouTube for the best ways to cook these veggie kinds of pasta so that you will want to eat them over and over again. Making little changes every day will add up over time, and you’ll start to notice.

Sometimes, there isn’t even any actual fruit in it. Shutterstock.

36. Fruit Juices

Many people believe fruit juices are healthy. They must be — they come from fruit, right? However, a lot of the fruit juice you find in the supermarket isn’t fruit juice. Sometimes there isn’t even any actual fruit in it, just flavors that taste like fruit. Often, what you’re drinking is just fruit-flavored sugar water. That said, even if you’re drinking 100% fruit juice, it is still a bad idea. Fruit juice is like fruit that’s had all the good stuff (like the fiber) taken out. The only thing left of the actual fruit is the sugar.

It might seem healthier, but fruit juice contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage. Water, milk, or unsweetened iced tea are much better options. The more concentrated sugar and calories in fruit juice can lead to obesity and inappropriate weight gain. Excessive weight gain is associated with high blood pressure, hypertension, stroke, diabetes, and other adverse health issues later in life. On the other hand, drinking small amounts of juice — specifically less than 5 ounces (150 ml) per day — may lower your risk of conditions like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. Only higher intakes appear to be detrimental to your health.

Lower in calories and fat compared to chips. Shutterstock.

35. Pretzels

This one hurts. Pretzels are made out of sugar. The refined-carb product contains no nutrients that are beneficial for health and aren’t satisfying, hence why so many people tend to overeat them. Pretzels are lower in fat than chips but are mostly nutritionally empty. Sure, they’re lower in calories and fat than chips, but they are not a healthy snack. One serving provides nearly a quarter of the sodium a person needs each day. They are high in salt and made of simple carbs, which cause your blood sugar to rise quickly. Whole-wheat or unsalted pretzels are the healthiest choices.

If you can’t live without them, try adding a couple of pretzels to a healthy trail mix concoction. Having only a couple of pretzels but added into a bag of mixed nuts and dried fruit will satisfy that craving for salty food. You would be eating a whole bag of pretzels either, so that is the bonus. Be careful with this one, though; nuts are very high in calories, so you don’t want to eat a considerable amount of these either. Pay attention to serving sizes here, and you should be able to eat a healthier snack while still enjoying the not so great bits in moderation.

Wheat may cause increased inflammation and cholesterol. Shutterstock.

34. “Heart Healthy” Whole Wheat

Most “whole wheat” products aren’t even made from whole wheat. The grains get milled into a fine flour, which means they raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts. In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread. Nevertheless, even real whole wheat may be a bad idea because modern wheat is worse for us than the wheat our grandparents ate. Since the ’60s, scientists have been altering wheat genes to increase yields at the expense of nutrition. As a result, modern wheat is unhealthier and has properties that make it worse for gluten-intolerant people.

Studies also show that modern wheat may cause increased inflammation and cholesterol compared to older varieties. Whereas wheat used to be a healthy grain, the stuff most people are eating today is best avoided. If you want bread, try picking a kind that has full-grain and seeds in it or trying to make your own bread. There are many recipes online that are simple to make, and you’ll have peace of mind knowing exactly wats in your bread. Try to limit your bread intake, as it is very heavy in carbohydrates, leading to weight gain easily.

Sweet potato chips. Shutterstock.

33. Veggie Chips

A fried chip is a fried chip, no matter if it’s made from beets or potatoes. The harmful ingredient isn’t (necessarily) the thing being fried, but the saturated and trans fats being used in the frying process. Plus, most veggie chips have potatoes listed as their first ingredient and contain the same amount of calories as regular potato chips. Try baking your own veggie chips from kale, carrots, or zucchini instead to cut back on the fat and sodium and pack in more nutrients. You can make it more spicy, salty, or sweet with different spices, so there are many possibilities – they won’t be lacking in flavor!

The bottom line: Veggie chips are no “healthier” than potato chips, so it’s not worth picking one over the other. If you want to swap out processed snacks without giving up the salt and crunch, opt for fresh veggies with hummus, homemade vegetable chips, or a handful of lightly salted nuts. It is good to use an app like my fitness pal to know that you’re not going overboard with these snack foods – it is easy to overindulge. It’s better than the alternative of a bag of chips – but it’s easy to eat the same amount of calories with these finger foods.

phytosterols can increase the risk of heart disease. Shutterstock.

32. Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols

Phytosterols (plant sterol and stanol esters) are compounds found in small amounts in foods such as whole grains as well as in many vegetables, fruits, and vegetable oils. They decrease LDL cholesterol, mostly by interfering with the intestinal absorption of cholesterol. Some foods contain these nutrients called phytosterols, which are like plant versions of cholesterol. Studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol, which is why they’re often added to processed foods. That is why it is essential always to read the labels on your food. Try to avoid processed foods all together when and where you can.

They’re marketed as “cholesterol-lowering”, with a claim that they help prevent heart disease. That simply isn’t true. They might lower cholesterol, but research shows that phytosterols can increase the risk of heart disease and death. Foods containing the highest concentration of naturally occurring phytosterols include oils (wheat germ oil, rice bran oil, corn oil, canola oil), seeds (sesame seed, sunflower seed), nuts (pistachio, pine nut, almond), whole grains such as wheat germ, bran (rice bran, corn bran, wheat bran), flour (soy flour). It’s better to practice eating a balanced diet than consuming more foods that are marketed as “cholesterol-lowering”.

Yes, the full-fat peanut butter is actually healthier. Shutterstock.

31. Reduced-fat Peanut Butter

Reduced-fat peanut butter is not necessarily a healthier version of regular peanut butter. Read the labels to see why. Both regular and reduced-fat peanut butter contain about the same amount of calories, but the reduced-fat variety has more sugar. If you’re buying fat-free or reduced-fat peanut butter to shed pounds, save your money—they have roughly the same amount of calories as regular peanut butter with tons of added sugars to make up for the missing fat. Look for natural peanut butter with an ingredient list that contains no added oils, cane sugar, or trans fats. Even better if you like peanut butter that only has one ingredient – roasted peanuts.

Natural peanut butter. Yes, the full-fat peanut butter is healthier, so next time you’re wondering, just go all-natural. Here’s why: Fat and Calories: Reduced-fat peanut butter spreads do have less fat: 12 grams for each 2-tablespoon serving. Compare that to 16 grams of fat with standard natural peanut butter. However, it’s a tradeoff not worth making. Why? The fat in peanuts is primarily the heart-healthy, monounsaturated type, and reducing this healthy fat doesn’t even save you many calories. A 2-tablespoon serving is about 200 calories for the reduced-fat spread as well as the natural peanut butter.

Margarine is not food. It’s an assembly of chemicals and refined oils. Shutterstock.

30. Margarine 

Decades ago, health authorities began to demonize butter due to its high saturated fat content. Those authorities then started promoting margarine as a replacement, which turned out to be a huge mistake. You see, margarine used to be high in trans fats, which was terrible. These days, there are fewer trans fats, but it’s still loaded with refined vegetable oils. Not much better. Margarine is not food. It’s an assembly of chemicals and refined oils made to look and taste like food. In fact, the Framingham Heart Study showed that people who replace butter with margarine are more likely to die from heart disease.

Risks of eating margarine: although margarine may contain some heart-friendly nutrients, it often contains trans fat, which has been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and other chronic health issues. Butter contains a lot of artery-clogging saturated fat. Margarine contains an unhealthy combination of saturated and trans fats, so the healthiest choice is to skip both of them and use liquid oils, such as olive, canola, and safflower oil, instead. When using these other oils, be aware that they are high in calories, so it is best to measure precisely how much you are using.

Leaving you hungry again in no time. Shutterstock.

29. “Diet” Frozen Meals

Frozen meals that are marketed as low-calorie and emphasize easy portion control often clock in at less than 300 calories per entrée and lack vegetables and whole grains, leaving you hungry again in no time. These products also tend to be loaded with sodium to preserve freshness (hello, bloat!). It is hard to pass by this solution in the frozen section of your grocery store because it is so easy, but with a little bit of prep work, you can have a meal that is better tasting, just as affordable(if not more!), and easy as these prepackaged options.

They are also marketed as a quick and convenient solution; that’s why it’s suggested to meal prep for a couple of days at a time to avoid purchasing these “calorie-wise” options. For a healthier and more nutritious alternative, cook your favorite heart-healthy recipes in bulk and freeze individual portions for convenience. Frozen foods can be high in sodium, too, so aim for 600 milligrams or less per serving for heart health. For frozen vegetables or fruits, avoid those with added sugar or high-fat sauces. Use other spices instead, like garlic and onion powder, to bring out your meal prep flavor.

Beverage companies designed sports drinks with athletes in mind. Shutterstock.

28. Sports Drinks

People use sports drinks to replace water (rehydrate) and electrolytes lost through sweating after activity. Electrolytes are minerals, such as potassium, calcium, sodium, and magnesium, that keep the body’s balance of fluids properly. You may lose electrolytes when you sweat. Beverage companies designed sports drinks with athletes in mind. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, which is a quick source of energy when your body is depleted of stored and usable energy. Athletes and celebrities endorse many energy drink companies to make you think it is the best choice for a drink with more flavor than water.

Although they contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which are lost through sweat, they’re often high in sugar and calories, leading to weight gain. They can be useful for someone who needs to recover from a workout. Nevertheless, most regular people don’t need any more salt, and they certainly don’t need liquid sugar. Although considered “less bad” than sugary soft drinks, they’re usually just as bad. Their sugar content is sometimes a little lower, but that’s not enough to make them worth drinking. It is essential to stay hydrated, especially during and after a workout, but most people are better off sticking to plain water.

You cannot escape the fact that beef jerky has high salt content. Shutterstock.

27. Beef Jerky

Sure, this delicious snack conveniently gives you access to a protein on the run, but most jerkies are chock-full of sodium to preserve the meat. The increased sodium intake can cause water retention and bloat. A recommendation is to opt for low-sodium turkey jerky instead. It’s just as delicious without all the salt. Beef jerky isn’t all bad, though. It contains a lot of iron and zinc, which are two essential minerals for your diet. Make sure to read the label for the serving size so your not overeating this snack. That is an excellent option for people following a keto or low carbohydrate diet – as long as it’s in moderation.

Beef jerky is high in protein. Consuming protein is vital for weight loss because it digests slower than carbohydrates so that you will feel full for a more extended amount of time. Another bonus for beef jerky is that it doesn’t produce insulin, which is a hormone that signals the body to store fat. However, you cannot escape the fact that beef jerky has high salt content and is typically high in sodium. It is a more expensive snack than a piece of fruit, for example, but you can’t beat the protein and simplicity of a meat stick.

Plant-based meat is absolutely safe — but it’s not a health food. Shutterstock.

26. Fake Meat Products

Vegetarian “meat” products are often filled with a host of questionable ingredients, such as processed soy protein, canola oil, caramel coloring, and xanthan gum. If you’re a vegetarian or plant-based eater and rely on meatless meals, choose whole protein sources, such as beans, lentils, eggs, dairy, fermented soy, nuts, and seeds most of the time. What is the saturated fat and sodium content? Many restaurants are carrying these options now, so in a pinch, it could be a better choice. Make sure to ask for the nutritional information so that you can make the best choices.

While meat substitutes are usually free of cholesterol, some are higher in sodium and saturated fats than meat. The Dietary Guidelines recommend that adults consume no more than 2,300 mg/day of sodium and fewer than 10% of their daily calories from saturated fat. Plant-based meat is safe — but it’s not always a healthy food option. While there’s a lot of uncertainty in nutrition science surrounding meatless substitutes, and meatless meat may avoid the cancer risks of red meat, for the most part, it is probably about as good for you as the meat it’s imitating.

Many low-carb foods tend to be high in cholesterol and fat, including saturated fat. Shutterstock.

25. Low-Carb Junk Foods

Low-carb diets have been popular for many decades now. In the past 12 years, study after study has confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health. Food manufacturers have caught on to the trend and started selling more low-carb processed foods. That includes junk foods like the Atkins bars. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see no real food in there, just chemicals and refined ingredients. It is no different from your other prepackaged junk foods, so it is good to keep in mind that these are “treats” and shouldn’t be consumed as a regular snack.

The occasional low-carb treat won’t cancel out the benefits of such a diet, but it won’t nourish your body, either. They’re technically low-carb, but they’re still unhealthy. Many low-carb foods tend to be high in cholesterol and fat, including saturated fat. For this reason, many people claim that they raise blood cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease. A better option would be to stick with whole foods that are low in carbohydrates, like berries. If they are low in carbohydrates, they need to be higher in another category, often fat. Make sure you read the labels on these snacks to know what your eating.

They are often laced with additives. Shutterstock.

24. Bottled Coffee and Tea

Bottled tea is billed as being healthful because it contains polyphenols, antioxidants that may help ward off a range of diseases, including cancer. However, scientists say they’ve found that many popular bottled tea drinks contain fewer polyphenols than a single cup of home-brewed green or black tea. Although they might be convenient, pre-bottled coffees and teas are often packed with added sugars or sugar substitutes. I never buy them since you can quickly fill in the calories and the sugar without even realizing it. Creamers and flavoring raise the calorie count a lot, which almost all of these prepackaged coffee drinks have in them.

Instead, brew your own cup at home, add ice, and take it with you in a to-go cup. What comes in these drinks might surprise you, though. They are often laced with additives like chocolate flavoring that increase the calorie count and sodium content. Starbucks’s Doubleshot Energy Coffee Drink, for example, is 210 calories with 2.5 grams of fat and a high sodium level. If you have them regularly, they will increase the chances of you becoming overweight, which in turn increases your risk of developing cancer and other diseases such as heart disease and diabetes.

Cutting the fat often meads adding in sugar and other additives to make up for flavor. Shutterstock.

23. Lite Mayo

True, light mayo has about half the calories and fat of the full-fledged versions. Nevertheless, as with other light products, cutting the fat often means adding in sugar and other additives to make up for flavor. A little healthy fat with your meal helps you absorb key nutrients like vitamins A, D, E, and K, so there’s no reason to go low-fat. A full-fat mayonnaise can make any sandwich or recipe taste great – however, because of the higher calories, you should measure this condiment when using it. It is easy to go overboard and eat a lot of unnecessary calories with this condiment.

You can easily make your own mayonnaise at home if you’re trying to cut out store-bought prepared items. All it takes is eggs, mustard, vinegar or lemon juice, and neutral-flavored oil. With the eggs, you can use raw eggs. However, if you don’t like the idea of raw eggs, you can use pasteurized eggs. As far as the oil goes, you will want to use something like an avocado or canola oil for this – olive oil is too strong in flavor for this recipe. With only four simple ingredients that you most likely already have, look at a tutorial online and try making your own!

In most cases, fat-free cheese tastes like rubber. Shutterstock.

22. Fat-free Cheese

“Fat-free” may sound healthy, but sometimes it’s not the smartest pick. Here are a few culprits to watch out for — and what to eat instead. Full-fat cheese packs on saturated fat, which most nutritionists recommend limiting. However, since cheese is also high in protein and calcium, is fat-free the perfect compromise? Not so much. In most cases, fat-free cheese tastes like rubber. It doesn’t melt well, and it lacks the creamy mouthfeel of the real deal. Don’t fall for the clever marketing of fat-free cheeses unless that is something that your doctor recommends is a part of your diet you should follow.

Instead, satisfy your cheese craving with a serving as a snack paired with fruit or whole-grain crackers. When it comes to cheese, a little bit of something fabulous will get the job done, where eating a lot of something mediocre ends up not being as satisfying, and you may end up taking in more calories. Many diets recommend cutting out most dairy anyway, so that could also be an option(sorry, cheese lovers!). Be sure to measure your cheese to limit the dairy you are eating instead of eating more of something unsatisfactory like low-fat cheese.

In many cases, an organic ingredient is indistinguishable from its conventional counterpart. Shutterstock.

21. Processed Organic Foods

Unfortunately, the word “organic” has become just another marketing buzzword. Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same junk, except with ingredients that happen to be organic. In many cases, an organic element is indistinguishable from its conventional counterpart. It can have organic ingredients in it along with added preservatives and other chemicals too, so altogether it’s not a healthy option even though it’s labeled as organic. It is best to try and stick with whole organic foods and avoid processed, prepackaged foods, even if they are also organic. Use your best judgment here.

A good example of organic food is raw cane sugar, which is nearly identical to regular sugar. It’s still just glucose and fructose, with little to no nutrients. Processed foods that happen to be organic are not always healthier. Always be sure to check the food’s label to see what’s inside. Sometimes it can also be less expensive to purchase the whole food option instead of the convenient prepackaged option. You may need to prep the food, which can be a bit time consuming, but it will be better in the long run for your health and weight.

Gluten-free junk food is still junk food. Shutterstock.

20. Gluten-Free Junk Foods

According to a 2013 survey, about a third of people in the US try to avoid gluten. Although some experts think it’s unnecessary, the fact is that gluten can be problematic for many people. That is especially true with modern wheat, as mentioned earlier. As you might expect, food manufacturers have invented all sorts of gluten-free foods to profit from the trend. The trouble is, these foods are usually just as bad as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse. Not only are they low in nutrients, but they’re also often made with refined starches that cause rapid spikes in blood sugar.

Choose foods that are naturally gluten-free, like plants and animals, not gluten-free processed foods. Gluten-free junk food is still junk food. Naturally, gluten-free foods like fruit, vegetables, quinoa, rice, corn, and potatoes are good for you. Many gluten-free packaged foods are just as high in calories, sodium, added sugar, and saturated fat as any other processed food. Most of the gluten-free flours used to make these products have fewer nutrients and fiber than the whole-wheat version. Plus, nutrients may be stripped away during processing. Usually, gluten-free options are much sweeter because of the added sugar, so it’s not appealing in taste.

Protein bars are often packed with various forms of sugar. Shutterstock.

19. Protein Bars

Many protein bars contain high amounts of added sugar and use unhealthy sweeteners like high fructose corn syrup. It adds excess fructose to your diet and can increase your risk of fatty liver, obesity, and diabetes when consumed in high amounts. Since bars are considered processed food, I would not recommend them as a simple solution. If you need to use a protein bar, make sure you look at the label. Some bars have only a couple of ingredients, and those are the ones you want to stick with. Be warned – sometimes these can be expensive for what you get.

If you’re talking about a bar made out of whole foods with minimal added sugar, then yes, you can have one every day. Like many processed foods, packaged protein bars are often packed with various sugar forms (beet syrup, brown rice syrup, cane syrup), excess fats (palm kernel oil, sunflower oil), artificial colors, and flavors. Plus, protein bars sometimes contain gas-causing compounds like sucralose (a sugar substitute) and chicory root (a fiber additive). There are lots of different recipes online, and the beauty of making them at home is you can make several flavors at once and try different combinations of ingredients.

Look at the ingredients list, all you see are refined grains, sugar and artificial chemicals. Shutterstock.

18. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals

Notably, most of this sugar comes from processed foods — and breakfast cereals are among the most popular processed foods that are high in added sugars. In fact, most cereals list sugar as the second or third ingredient. Starting the day with a high-sugar breakfast cereal will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. The way food companies market some breakfast cereals is a disgrace. Many of them, including those marketed towards children, have all sorts of health claims plastered on the box. It is also important to look at the serving size – an actual serving size is usually too small to have you feeling full.

That includes misleading things like “whole grain” or “low fat”. However, all you see are refined grains, sugar, and artificial chemicals when you look at the ingredients list. The truth is, if a food’s packaging says it’s healthy, it probably isn’t. The real health foods don’t need to make any claims — whole, single-ingredient foods. Real food doesn’t even need an ingredient list because real food IS the ingredient. Some are better than others with cereal. However, you shouldn’t be consume it as a daily breakfast – think of it as more of a treat once in a while or avoided altogether.

Comes with enough sugar to rival a chocolate cake. Shutterstock.

17. Granola

Granola is commonly thought of as something you should have for breakfast with yogurt, but that approach could be awful for your health. It should be considered a dessert, according to the US government’s dietary guidelines. That’s because it regularly comes with enough sugar to rival a chocolate cake. The granola you usually find at the store packs a ton of calories, fat, and sugar. While granola can be part of an overall healthy diet, check the label. Unfortunately, you’ll usually find the granola that is better for you is far more expensive in the grocery stores.

Some brands can have 600 calories per cup. We recommend choosing one with less than 150 calories, six grams of sugar, and two grams of saturated fat per 1/4-cup serving. Granola is very easy to make at home, so you could make a much better option if you love granola. You simply bake it in the oven, and you can add whatever ingredients you like – think nuts, coconut flakes, etc. A high-sugar diet has been linked to an increased risk of a range of serious illnesses, from diabetes and heart disease to cancer. It’s advertised as a healthy choice. Nevertheless, the reality is that it’s usually not.

Stick to healthier monounsaturated fats, like avocado, canola, and olive oils. Shutterstock.

16. Coconut oil

Coconut oil is about 90% saturated fat, which is a higher percentage than butter (about 64% saturated fat), beef fat (40%), or even lard (also 40%). Too much-saturated fat in the diet is unhealthy because it raises “bad” LDL cholesterol levels, which increases the risk of heart disease. It is better to cook with olive oil (extra virgin if possible) in terms of health impacts. Compared to a tablespoon of olive oil, a tablespoon of coconut oil contains about six times the amount of saturated fat, nearly meeting the daily limit of about 13 grams that the American Heart Association recommends.

Many nutritionists say coconut oil isn’t the “health food” it’s cracked up to be since it’s chock full of saturated fat. Despite headlines claiming saturated fat isn’t bad for you, most of the research still weighs in favor of choosing unsaturated fats and limiting saturated fats. When it comes to the health benefits of coconut oil, the jury is still out. If you like a few cookies or muffins for the taste instead of butter, that’s fine, but don’t choose it because it’s supposedly better for you. Otherwise, stick to healthier monounsaturated fats, like avocado, canola, and olive oils.

Packed with so much sugar they may as well be dessert. Shutterstock.

15. Flavored Yogurt

Yogurt is not supposed to be sweet. When it’s natural, it has a tasty sour tang because yogurt results from milk’s bacterial fermentation. That’s how people ate yogurt for thousands of years. For many Americans, yogurt still wasn’t very appealing. Thus, in the 1970s, major yogurt companies started massive, long-term advertising campaigns to convince parents of yogurt’s health benefits for kids. To convince kids that yogurts were worth eating, they also had to keep adding more and more sweeteners to cover up the tangy, sour taste of fermented milk. Now we see yogurt with not only fruit but with chocolate and candy added.

Yogurt is an easy way to get more good-for-your-gut probiotic bacteria along with calcium, protein, and vitamin D. But steer clear of flavored varieties since many are packed with so much sugar they may as well be dessert. Also, better left untouched: artificially sweetened “light” yogurts, which can cause bloating and gas. Instead, add your own flavor to plain yogurt by mixing in cinnamon, vanilla extract, or fresh berries. Greek plain yogurt is another great alternative and can replace sour cream as well because it has a similar taste and it’s very thick. Plain yogurt is also incredibly healthy for women.

they’re often very high in sodium. Shutterstock.

14. Canned Soup

Sure, canned soups are a simple way to load up on veggies that most of us don’t get enough of. However, they’re often very high in sodium. Most things that come in a can are not nearly as nutritious as when you eat them fresh. Either choose a low-sodium can, or ideally make your own soup at home using the rainbow of veggies: carrots, sweet potatoes, ginger, tomatoes, spinach, celery, artichoke hearts, and onions. You can make soup with almost any vegetable, and there are thousands of simple to intermediate recipes online. You can create one large batch easily and freeze leftovers as well.

With protein-boosters like chicken, lentils, or Greek yogurt in low-sodium stock, you can boost the flavor and nutrients of any soup. You can also find different soup recipes for almost every type of food – i.e., Mexican, Italian, American, etc. Soups are great too because they are usually done quickly or very easily and left to simmer. Canned soups can be sky-high in sodium, which, when overdone, can lead to high blood pressure, heart disease, and stroke. (When soups boast added health benefits, including hefty vegetable portions, you can go up to 480mg, but add water before boiling to dilute.)

Per each half-cup serving, frozen yogurt contains roughly 17 grams of sugar. Shutterstock.

13. Fat-free Fro Yo

Using yogurt instead of cream typically means a significant reduction in fat and calories. A half-cup serving of frozen yogurt will typically average 100 to 140 calories and zero to 3 grams of fat (a very reasonable sweet treat for any healthy diet). However, fat-free varieties contain more added sugar than low-fat or regular varieties. Eating excess added sugars has been linked with poor health outcomes, so it’s probably better to stick to a low-fat or full-fat frozen yogurt. Fro-yo might remind you of your favorite probiotic-rich morning Chobani, but not all “yogurts” are created equal. Go for plain yogurt and sweeten it with your favorite berries.

The freezing process used to make your dessert may kill some healthy gut bacteria found in regular yogurt. Per each half-cup serving, frozen yogurt contains roughly 17 grams of sugar. Are you sensing a theme here? Be careful with frozen treats that say fat-free, as you’re typically not avoiding the biggest issue of all: sugar. In half a cup of frozen yogurt, you will save about half of the calories (80 versus 140 or so), but the fat-free stuff can pack upwards of 20 grams of sugar, versus around 14 grams in regular ice cream… plus, it just doesn’t taste as good. Womp. Just have a small serving of that ice cream—you deserve it.

Although the sugar is natural, oat milk is very high in carbohydrates. Shutterstock.

12. Oat Milk

Oat milk, a type of plant milk derived from whole oat grains, has had a health halo around it since it came out on the scene a few years ago. However, drinking oat milk isn’t the same as eating a bunch of oats. It also tends to be higher in calories and fat than your average milk and has less protein than cow’s milk. Unflavored oat milk has the highest amount of calories and carbohydrates of plant-based milk varieties. Although the sugar is natural, oat milk is very high in carbohydrates. It is hugely processed, inflammatory, and unhealthy oils and can even contain up to 2.03% of trans-fats.

Trans fats have no safe level of consumption and have (finally) been officially banned in the US. Seed oils like rapeseed and canola oil are among the few foods left that still contain toxic trans-fats. Based on its nutrition information, we can calculate that each 8 -ounce cup of oat milk (the amount in a small latte) has about the same oil as a medium serving of French fries. A large latte with oat milk would include over 10 grams of rapeseed oil, much more oil than large fries. Every time you drink a latte with oat milk, you’re getting the toxic and inflammatory equivalent of a medium to a large serving of French fries.

Coconut flour is densely packed with calories and fat. Shutterstock.

11. Coconut Flour

Coconut flour is high in minerals, vitamins, and protein as well. It is rich in manganese, calcium, selenium, phosphorous, and potassium. These minerals can help lower blood pressure and aid in activating detoxification pathways. Phosphorus and potassium are necessary minerals that support bone and nerve health as well as a healthy digestive system. Coconut flour is very heart-healthy and is a natural anti-inflammatory. Its meat is rich in lauric acid, converted to monolaurin in the body- this has a profound antibacterial, antiviral and antifungal effect in the body. When compared to regular wheat flour – it’s a better option.

Coconut flour, which is made from finely ground coconut, is huge among people following a ketogenic diet, as well as those who want to go gluten-free. However, coconut flour is densely packed with calories and fat. Just two tablespoons of the stuff contain 70 calories and 3.5 grams of fat. Sure, coconut flour has a time and a place and a purpose. Nevertheless, its time is not every day, its place is not in every baked good, and its purpose is most definitely not a 1-to-1 substitute for any other flour. This flour should be used in moderation when it’s in any diet.

Skip store-made smoothies and blend your own with wholesome ingredients. Greens Smoothies

10. Pre-made Smoothies

Being healthy is one thing; eating healthy is another. You can put in all the exercise in the world, but if you’re not eating healthy, then there’s no point in all of that hard work. That’s why more people are turning to smoothies to help them get the nutrition they need while not having to spend time making a meal. It’s a quick drink that can be taken on the go and ingested while you’re working out so that you can go for much longer. But there’s a difference between the smoothies you make at home and the smoothies you buy in the store.

Pre-made smoothies are mostly made with fruit juice as the base instead of raw fruit, meaning that there are already many unnecessary sugars in them. It will give you a big sugar crash when you least expect it, requiring you to ingest even more calories to keep going. Forego the store’s smoothies and choose to make your own at home with fresh fruits, yogurt, and protein powder.

Did you know that diet pop is just as bad as regular pop, but for a different reason. Pinterest

9. Diet Sodas

The biggest culprit of daily calories is sugar. Of course, it can be challenging to cut out all sugar from your diet, but there is a difference between healthy sugars and refined sugars. It’s the refined sugars that are the big problem, as they add much sweetness but otherwise don’t have any nutritional value. So when diet sodas came on the scene, stating that they had no sugar and no calories whatsoever, people flocked to them like they were the next miracle cure for weight loss. Unfortunately, these diet sodas aren’t much better for you.

Drinking diet sodas cause the body to bloat and promote overeating, leading to more calories and gaining more weight. That defeats the point of avoiding non-diet sodas altogether. Studies have also shown that drinking diet soda increases your chances of type-2 diabetes and osteoporosis. If you have a craving for the fizzy stuff, consider flavored carbonated water instead. There’s much less sugar, and although the flavor takes some getting used to, it’s a lot healthier for you.

These bowls have been popular for a while now, so make sure you double check the labels before you eat. Chowhound

8. Acai Bowls

What could go wrong with bowls made of fruit? Doctors have been saying that eating more fruit daily is much better for you. The concept of an acai bowl sounds pretty healthy, but pre-made acai bowls are more like desserts than anything else. They’re full of fruit, sure, but there’s so much fruit, extra sugar, and flavored yogurt that eating one can be counterproductive to your weight loss goals. What’s worse is that pre-made bowls try to add granola and nut kinds of butter to tout them as being even more healthy, but that only makes them worse.

Instead of buying acai bowls at the store, you can make healthier options at home with raw fruit, fresh Greek yogurt, and some chopped walnuts. You’re more than likely going to make your bowl a lot smaller as well so that you’re not eating as many calories that’s in those pre-made bowls. Raw fruits will have higher fiber content, which will help you digest the fruit sugars much more quickly so that your body isn’t storing them unnecessarily.

Instead of buying this stuff at the store, make your own without all of the candy. Pinterest

7. Pre-made Trail Mix

Trail mix is advertised as a healthy snack that provides you with the energy and protein you need while you’re hiking or engaging in some vigorous exercise. The majority of trail mix is chock-full of peanuts, which can be great for giving you energy. But these trail mixes also contain dried cranberries and chocolate pieces to make them more enticing and sweet. These ingredients add unnecessary calories to your trail mix, making them a lot more unhealthy.

To keep better control over calorie count, it’s pretty easy to make your own trail mix at home with a collection of mixed nuts without any salt. That way, you get all of the protein and good fats without the unnecessary calories of sugar. Stick to a serving size of a few tablespoons at a time; however, eating too many nuts will also contribute to weight gain.

This naturally-fermented tea is very trendy, but not as healthy as you think. The Spruce Eats

6. Kombucha

Have you ever heard of this? It is the new trend of staying healthy by promoting good gut flora. Kombucha is naturally-fermented tea, so it has a slight vinegar taste that takes some people to get used to. Overall, it’s pretty healthy, but you should be incredibly wary about the brands you buy. That is because a majority of kombucha consists of fermented yeast. That doesn’t sound like a bad thing, but drinking kombucha could make them worse for some people.

Some individuals already have an overgrowth of yeast in their digestive tracts, so drinking kombucha is only adding to that problem instead of fixing their digestive issues. Other sources of naturally-fermented foods use bacteria instead of yeast to help gut flora flourishes, such as pickles, kimchi, and sauerkraut. They can be mixed into a salad, added to a sandwich, or dropped into any recipe you may be making for dinner. Your stomach will thank you for it, and you won’t have the problem of added yeast to your digestive tract.

Don’t eat the store versions of this healthy snack if you really want to get the best nutritional value. Wikipedia

5. Muesli

Muesli is a great way to start your day, as it’s packed with fruits and fiber that give you the energy you need to start the day. It can be one of the healthiest things you eat on a given day, but it’s vital that you read the labels to see what your muesli is made of. Any muesli with a lot of dried fruit will have a lot of added sugar for the fruit to taste nice. A high percentage of nuts is also not a good idea, as those also add many calories to your breakfast.

Muesli sold in stores also has added sugar in it to make it more enticing to consumers. You can cut back on the caloric intake by having smaller servings instead of eating it like regular cereal. Look for brands labeled as “unsweetened” and have more grains than fruit and nuts. You could also try your hand at making your own muesli by buying the ingredients separately in the bulk section of your grocery store and mixing it in a plastic storage container.

These snacks are unhealthy, despite having the word ‘veggie’ in the title. Facebook

4. Veggie Straws

Eating more vegetables in your daily diet is a great way to stay healthy. They’re full of vitamins and minerals that you need, they provide you with the necessary fiber, and they’re generally more beneficial than other foods you could be eating every day. That’s why many people consider veggie straws to be a great way to introduce children to vegetables. True, they may look like spinach and carrots, but the veggie straws only get that color from the vegetables’ powder form.

That means that all essential nutrients are taken out, leaving you with no better snacks than potato chips. If you’re invested in trying to get your children to eat more vegetables, you could consider getting a dehydrator and making your own veggie chips for them to snack on. And by eliminating sunflower oil and extra salt put into veggie straws, you’re giving them an even healthier snack while still providing them with nutritious food.

Eating dried fruit does not have the same benefits as fresh fruit. My Fitness Pal

3. Dried Fruit

It can be challenging to eat fruits on the go because they can be incredibly messy. Not to mention that they can be difficult to travel with because they bruise so easily in a purse or backpack. The development of dried fruit has sort of helped with that problem, making it easier for people to bring a healthy source of vitamin C with them on the go that they can snack on alone or drop into their favorite yogurt during lunch.

Dried fruit, however, can be a dangerous slope to slide down when it comes to eating healthy. Because the fruit has been shrunk in size, it becomes tempting for people to eat even more of them. Overeating fruit doesn’t seem like a bad idea, but with all of the juice gone, the sugar is even more concentrated, resulting in more sugar being digested by the body and putting on more weight. Whole fruit is a much better option, and it can be easily transported by cutting it up into slices and carrying them in a small Tupperware container.

Although it seems better than other alternatives, second guess having this snack. Wikipedia

2. Agave Nectar

With people trying to avoid sugar as much as possible, they’ve been looking for alternative sweetness sources for their cooking purposes or adding to their tea or coffee. Many people have chosen to use agave nectar, seeing it as a more natural sugar source than corn syrup. However, most agave nectars are highly processed to make them sweeter, making them not that much different from corn syrup.

Agave nectar, when digested, also goes straight to the liver when it’s absorbed. That is why agave nectar is believed to be suitable for people with diabetes since it doesn’t raise blood sugar. However, this puts the liver under a lot of stress as it works overtime to work on agave nectar. That can eventually lead to liver conditions and diseases in the future. To give your liver a break, you’re better off using plain honey or just a light sprinkling of sugar.

Double check labels to make sure it actually has the ingredients it so claims. Go Dairy Free

1. Sweetened Nut Milk

Finding alternatives for milk has made the market explode with different variants, everything from soy and almond milk to oat milk and rice milk. These are great options for those who are lactose intolerant or are looking for a way to get their calcium without the extra calories and fat of cow’s milk. People make a mistake by buying sweetened milk to have it taste as close to cow’s milk as possible. That’s because there’s a lot of added sugar, making these milk alternatives even less healthy than they need to be.

Look for nut milks that are labeled as “unsweetened” to avoid all of those unnecessary sugars so that you’re not putting on extra weight. The new taste may take some getting used to, especially if you’re using to having cow’s milk all your life, but you’ll come to appreciate the change. Nut kinds of milk also don’t spoil in your fridge as quickly as cow’s milk, so you’re getting more value for your dollar if you can drink it all instead of throwing out milk that spoils within a week.

Sources:

https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/go-red-get-fit/unhealthy-foods
https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/
https://www.healthline.com/
https://www.isitbadforyou.com/
https://www.blissfulbasil.com/
https://www.independent.co.uk/
http://www.eatingwell.com/article/283568/which-peanut-butter-is-best-reduced-fat-vs-natural-peanut-butter/
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2833354/
https://cascadehealth.org/healthiest-fat/

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