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

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… Trista - November 10, 2020
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.