With all the food trends and conflicting information out there, it's difficult to tell which foods are actually healthy for you-—and which ones are nothing more than a marketing gimmick hoping to take advantage of your quest for a better diet. We're here to knock the halo off of these 32 foods often considered healthy. See which ones fooled you—and then try these 30 Easy Eating Habits for a Flatter Tummy!
There's no denying that smoothie bowls are delicious. They can be super healthy, too, as long as they're made with whole foods with sensible portion sizes. The problem: Many of these smoothie bowls—especially the ones found in restaurants—are calorie and sugar bombs made with fruit juices, purees, honey, and sweetened yogurt. The result? A snack that clocks in at several hundred calories—and sometimes (way) over your daily recommended sugar intake.
Granola has to be healthy, right? Wrong. The crunchy stuff made with oats averages a whopping 597 calories per cup—not to mention 28 grams of fat and 24 grams of sugar per cup. Yes, per cup! There are somewhat healthier versions of your favorite crunchy granola, but your best bet is to ditch it for oatmeal.
Need to step your veggie game up? Don't go for veggie chips. This health food aisle staple seems like it would be healthy, the way they're processed in manufacturing plants means you're getting a ton of sodium (and maybe even sugar) without all of the nutrients. Crunch into some raw carrots or celery sticks, instead! But for some packaged foods you can get away with, check out these 17 Processed Foods Nutritionists Actually Approve Of.
Pre-Made Protein Shakes
A common theme of many foods on this list is that they can be healthy when they're made at home with healthy ingredients and portion control in mind. The problem is that we tend to assume that the same things we buy in-store are the same. Not true. Take pre-made protein shakes and smoothies, for instance. Like smoothie bowls, these pre-packaged treats include a ton of health-wrecking sugar and other ingredients you don't want in your body. Your best bet? Make your own with whey or plant-based protein powder and your choice of water or unsweetened nut milk.
Candy is never part of a healthy diet, and that goes for the seemingly-healthy organic candy, too. Organic candy is still candy; it's made with sugar-filled ingredients (like fruit juices and honey) that add up quickly. It's also a nutritionally-void food, meaning it has nothing in the way of vitamins or nutrients your body craves—zero, zilch, nada. Try these 30 Guilt-Free Snacks for Your Biggest Cravings instead.
Agave was pitched to consumers as a healthy alternative to white sugar and even honey because comes from a plant and has a love glycemic index, meaning it doesn't elevate blood sugar right after eating. It does, however, contain a ton of fructose—at least 80-90 percent, way more than white sugar—and can lead to insulin resistance over time.
Yogurt is a wonderful food; the probiotics found in it are great for your gut, plus it's loaded with protein. But the health benefits are wiped out when you eat the flavored versions sold at stores. The reason: They're loaded with sugar—sometimes 20 grams or more for just a few ounces of yogurt. Keep yogurt healthy by looking for low-sugar versions (ideally less than 8 grams) and add a bit of sweetener or berries for taste. Want some probiotics but not a fan of yogurt? Consider looking into these 14 Yogurt-Free Products with Probiotics.
Baked chips are touted as a health alternatives to regular potato chips since those crunchy snacks are typically fried in oil. While it is true that baked chips are lower in fat, they're typically processed with a ton of added sodium and even sugar to add taste.
Light Ice Cream
There are few things in life that are more refreshing on a hot summer day than a bowl of ice cream. Unfortunately, most ice creams are made with heavy creams and gut-busting ingredients that make it high in calories and fat. The answer has to be light ice cream, right? Nope. Light ice cream is loaded with artificial sweeteners and chemicals to give it taste without all the added calories. Speaking of being loaded with weird, unnatural stuff, these are the 23 Worst Food Additives in America.
Add butter for zero calories? That's the promise touted by various calorie-free sprays. The truth is that these so-called zero calorie sprays actually do contain calories—as many as eight or ten every few sprays. The reason: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration says any food that contains fewer than five calories per serving can "round down" and print zero calories on the nutrition label. Plus, many times they're not made with actual butter, but butter-like chemicals. Yuck! The better choice is to add spices or tasty oils (in moderation) to give your food flavor.
We've all heard that regular soda is one of the worst things to drink, thanks to its high sugar content. But, what about diet soda? It may be calorie-free, but the high ratio of chemicals and artificial sweeteners are shown to increase the amount of unhealthy bacteria in the gut, making it more difficult to maintain a healthy weight. Further, a study published in Diabetes Pro found that people who drank two or more diet sodas a day experienced waist-size increases six times that of non-diet drinkers.
100-Calorie Snack Packs
Those 100-calorie packs of your favorite sugary treats seem like a good way to eat your favorites in portion-friendly sizes, but in reality, these little snacks are devoid of any nutritional value and are packed with sugar. Plus, you might actually eat more because you assume that—since it's a "healthy" size—it won't matter much in your diet. But, those calories still add up. Have a cookie if you must, but don't make your diet revolve around these snacks.
Somewhere along the way, we were told that pretzels make a good snack when you're craving something salty and crunchy. Unfortunately, this just isn't true. Pretzels are often made with enriched white flour and a ton of salt, making its nutritional content virtually zero. Plus, some brands add a ton of sugar and other added ingredients which both increase the calorie count and sugar levels even more. If you're a carb lover, at least check out the 20 Worst Carb Habits of All Time before your next pretzel binge.
Spinach is packed full of vital nutrients our bodies need each day, but those wraps made with spinach tortillas honestly have so little of the green stuff that it won't do your body any good. These wraps are typically made with the same refined ingredients of other tortillas—like enriched white flour—and green food coloring that gives it the healthy green look. Sneaky!
Picture it: You just finished a difficult workout and need to rehydrate. Your choices are a flavored vitamin water or regular water. Which should you choose? The water. Sports drinks are marketed as the perfect recovery drink for those who play sports or work out on a regular basis because they contain electrolytes that replenish depleted muscles. But, what you probably don't realize is that these drinks contain upwards of 250 to 300 calories per bottle with as much sugar as a bottle of Coca Cola! These drinks do serve a purpose, but they're more for endurance athletes (think marathoners, soccer players, etc.) who need to replenish lost carbs and nutrients as they work out. A better option: 50 Best Detox Waters for Fat Burning and Weight Loss
There's a joke that muffins are just cupcakes, but this is basically true; in fact, some muffins are more calorically dense than your average frosted cupcake! The average cupcake rings in at an astounding 400 calories and has more than a third of your daily recommended intake for fat. Plus, most contain preservatives and ingredients like soybean oil, high-fructose corn syrups and trans fats, making it bad for both your waistline and overall health.
Anything Labeled "Gluten-Free"
OK, let's make this clear right away: Those who suffer from Celiac's Disease must go gluten-free to stay healthy, but that doesn't mean anything labeled as gluten-free is healthy. Marketers have quickly learned that slapping a gluten-free label on foods like candy make them seem healthier than they really are. Plus, foods like cookies, cakes and chips that are made without gluten often contain more calories, sugar and filler ingredients than their gluten-ized counterparts. Your best bet? Stick with the gluten-free versions of your favorite treats (if you can) and pay close attention to the nutrition label on anything labeled GF.
Popcorn is filled with healthy fiber and grains, but only if you get the air-popped versions. The pre-packaged microwave popcorns available in grocery stores are actually one of the worst foods on the planet, thanks to additives and chemicals used in popular brands like Jolly Time and Jiffy Pop. Many brands contain heart-harming trans fats and the dangerous butter-flavor additive, diacetyl, an ingredient shown to harm the brain. Even worst, the bags are also lined with perfluorooctanoic acid—the same toxic stuff found on Teflon pans.
Trail mix is made with ingredients like peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds and raisins, so how unhealthy can it be? Pretty unhealthy. Many brands pack their trail mixes with tons of sugar- and salt-coated ingredients loaded with a ton of fat and calories. You can make it on your own if you just have to have it, but make sure you're paying attention to portion sizes.
Fruit is good—but in moderation. The same goes for dried fruit, but it's actually best to stay away from the dried versions of your faves. Why? The fructose in fruit gets more concentrated when dried out, making it more potent in smaller doses. Also, many companies top their dried fruits with additional sugars and coating, making it even more sugary. To avoid the white stuff, try these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
Soy milk is often touted as a healthy alternative to soy milk, but recent research has linked processed soy products—like that found in soy milk—can actually have high levels of goitrogens, a substance that can cause thyroid problems. Plus, the majority of the soybean crop contain GMOs and high levels of pesticides.
Fruit and Yogurt Parfaits
Fruit = good. Yogurt = good. So why does fruit + yogurt = bad? It's simple, really. Like the smoothie bowls we mentioned earlier, fruit and yogurt parfaits sold in grocery stores and quick-serve restaurants are made with pureed fruits (lots of sugar) and sweetened yogurt. Top that off with a hefty serving of granola for crunch and you've got a calorie-loaded treat that tops that of your meals. On an even louder note, be sure to avoid these 23 Restaurant Foods With Crazy-High Amounts of Sugar.
Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
Blue corn tortilla chips are another health food aisle staple. While it's true that blue corn has more of the amino acid lysine and the antioxidant anthocyanin, most of it gets baked out during the production process. So, you end up getting the same processed and refined chips as other yellow corn brands on the shelves.
Those frozen dinners sold by some health food companies seem like they'd be a healthy meal on-the-go, but they're loaded with sugar, salt, and preservatives that negate any health benefits they have. Avoid dinners made with teriyaki or sweet-and-sour sauce—those are the ones definitely loaded with a lot of sugar. Your best bet is to just prep meals on your own that you can grab before leaving for the day. Like these 20 Make-Ahead Meals to Keep in Your Freezer!
Like popcorn, soup can be an incredibly healthy meal, but not when you buy it in a can. First of all, canned soups fall under the "processed food" label, meaning it's loaded with sodium—even in the low-sodium varieties. Then there's the added fats and sugar that can up the calories considerably. However, the cans are the real reason to stop buying it forever. The plastic lining in many of the popular soup brands contains Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor that can impact a woman's reproductive system and the health of a child.
Low-Fat Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is a health food full of heart-healthy monounsaturated fats and muscle-building protein, but too much of the good stuff is eliminated when you opt for the wrong kinds (often the low-fat version). The fats are part of what gives peanut butter its taste, so taking it out will leave you with a bland nut butter you won't want to eat. Manufacturers know this, so they replace the fat with tasty sugars. This isn't good. Instead, go for the "full fat" versions of peanut butter and eat in moderation, or grind your own peanuts for natural butters with nothing added.
Canned Fruit Cocktail
Fruit is good in moderation, but canned fruit cocktail is never a good choice. Sure, it won't spoil like fresh fruit does, but there's a reason for that. Canned fruit cocktails are preserved in heavy corn syrups and sugar-laden juices. And, like soups, they're often housed in cans and plastic containers that contain BPAs.
Say you have a choice between a soda and a glass of 100 percent fruit juice. Which is the healthier choice? Well, this is a trick question; most fruit juices are loaded with sugar and even high-fructose corn syrups that contain even more sugar than your regular can of cola. Sure, the fruit has nutrients, but most of the good stuff—including fiber—is taking out during the juicing process. Did you know that there are 27 Things a Juice Cleanse Does to Your Body and they're not exactly all wonderful?
We need protein to build our muscles, but we don't need protein bars to get our daily allotment. Why? Most protein bars are nothing more than glorified candy bars, with plenty of chocolate and sugar to boot. Many actually have more carbohydrates than protein, so it's clear the companies that make these bars are only trying to get in on the protein bandwagon. There are good protein bars, but they're the ones that contain fewer grams of carbs over protein.
Rice cakes were pretty much the go-to "diet" food back in the '80s and '90s because of their low-calorie counts. However, rice cakes actually rank really high on the glycemic index (GI). The GI measures how fast blood sugar rises in response to food. One a scale of one to 100, rice cakes come in at 82, meaning you'll get some energy from it quickly, but you'll quickly crash and be hungry again within an hour or two.
Organic Fruit Snacks
Like organic candy, people tend to think that organic gummy fruit snacks are somehow better than other "regular" brands of the sweet drops. Not true. Fruit snacks are typically made with fruit juice, which carries loads of sugar. Your best bet is to eat the real thing and get the filling fiber and nutrients that come along with it.
Fast Food Salads
Think you're making the healthier option because you picked a fast food salad rather than a burger? Sorry to break it to you, but most of the time you're not. Case in point: McDonald's just introduced a kale salad in Canada that contains more fat, calories, and less protein than a Big Mac. That's right: You'd be better off scarfing down a Big Mac rather than a salad. The problem isn't the kale; it's the ingredients added to the kale. Go for a side salad with dressing on the side if you want to indulge in some green stuff while out. And if you're at home, try these 20 Fresh Tips for How to Cook Kale!