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'Healthy' Foods That Are Actually Dangerous, According to Dietitians

These waist-widening products have been masquerading as health foods this whole time.
FACT CHECKED BY Olivia Tarantino

You've heard that you should never judge a book by its cover, but what about judging foods by their packaging? Looks can be deceiving, especially at the grocery store where it's easy to be tricked into thinking certain products are healthy when they're actually far from it.

But it's not just packaged "healthy" foods that could be sneakily unhealthy. There are also some unprocessed foods that have been given a health halo that they don't deserve. Whether it's because these foods can be harmful when eaten in excess (which is more likely when we think of a food as healthy), that they're hiding some less-than-healthy ingredients, or that they can cause some negative side effects in some people, these "healthy" foods are surprisingly dangerous.

We talked to a few registered dietitians and combed through studies to get the scoop. Find out which foods to stop piling onto your plate, and for more on how to eat healthy, don't miss the 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.

Coconut Oil

coconut oil with spoon

"Although coconut oil is loved by many, it's not the healthiest oil like many people think. While 15 percent of the fat in coconut oil is medium-chain triglycerides—a type of fat that is used for energy instead of storage—the other 85 percent is saturated fat. Many studies have shown that if saturated fat replaces unsaturated fat in the diet, it can raise your bad cholesterol. Because of this, the American Heart Association recently published a paper that states, 'We advise against the use of coconut oil.' While it's totally fine to use it in moderation, it shouldn't be an everyday oil. Instead, opt for vegetable or olive oil, both of which are associated with heart health and the Mediterranean diet." – Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD

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Acai Bowls


"Acai bowls have healthy ingredients but are very calorically dense. The portion sizes are usually enormous and the honey or agave that's drizzled on adds a lot of unnecessary sugars to the bowl, which already has a natural sweetness from all the fruit. I'd recommend ordering a small size and holding the added drizzle of sugar. Better yet, eat your fruit in its whole, natural state." – Kristie LeBeau, MPH, RN, RDN, Registered Dietitian Nutritionist

Eat This! Tip: Stay away from this and other 15 'Breakfast' Foods You Need To Give Up, going for Greek yogurt and fresh fruit in the morning instead to satisfy your sweet tooth.


Agave nectar

"Agave is thought to be a healthier alternative to sugar because it has a lower glycemic index, meaning it doesn't cause as great of a rise in blood sugar levels. The downside is that agave contains a lot of fructose, about 80-90%. Fructose can only be processed by your liver so when you take in more than what your liver can handle, the extra gets turned into fat. There is also some emerging research that shows a connection between high fructose intake and insulin resistance and heart disease." – Gina Hassick, MA, RD, LDN, CDE

Pre-Made Protein Shakes

protein shake

"Pre-made protein shakes are loaded with a ton of sugar and unnecessary ingredients to help with taste, consistency, and shelf life. If you aren't careful, it's easy to pick up a protein drink that contains twice the recommended amount of sugar for the entire day. A protein shake could be an excellent option if made at home where you are in control of the ingredients. Reading ingredient lists are key! Select a plant-based protein powder with a clean list to help cut down on artificial and added ingredients. Steer clear of brands that contain harmful ingredients like carrageenan, artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium and sucralose, artificial flavors, artificial colors, high fructose corn syrup, and hydrogenated oils." – Gina Hassick, MA, RD, LDN, CDE

Eat This! Tip: Unfamiliar with protein powders? Don't stress it. We Tested 10, And This Is The Best!

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

smooth creamy peanut butter in jar

The #1 Worst Peanut Butter to Eat, According to a Dietitian? Reduced-fat peanut butter. "The healthy fats are removed to make it lower in calories but are replaced with sugar. You're better off enjoying the real stuff—regular peanut butter with the healthy fats to keep you full for longer." – Lauren Manganiello, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and personal trainer in NYC

Eat This! Tip: Make sure you choose a brand with the fewest ingredients possible. In fact, your peanut butter should only be made with peanuts and maybe salt. Don't worry, we'll help you out: The 20 Top Peanut Butters—Ranked!

Diet Soda


Reducing added sugars in your diet by opting for a zero-calorie diet drink over a 150-calorie soda may sound like a good idea, but it could actually be setting your health up for failure over the long term. And researchers believe that artificial sweeteners like aspartame, saccharin, or Splenda may play a role. Yale researchers looked into this phenomenon in a recent Cell Metabolism study. They found that when a sucralose-sweetened diet soda was consumed with a carb (so, basically any meal), it impaired insulin sensitivity. In other words, drinking diet soda with a meal can impair your brain's response to sugar and even sugar metabolism, according to senior author Dana Small, professor of psychiatry and psychology and director of the Modern Diet and Physiology Research Center. For more, see 15 Reasons You Should Never Drink Diet Soda.

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