75 “Healthy” Foods That Aren’t
“I’m eating healthy these days,” my friend Corrine said the other day. She was tossing a salad, and poured some French dressing over the kale.
“That’s not healthy,” I said. “That’s quote-unquote-healthy. You just poured high-fructose corn syrup and vegetable oil onto an otherwise perfectly good lunch!”
Poor Corrine. She’d shopped at her local health food store but discovered a deep, dark secret: tons of fat, sugar, and sodium. Those gorgeous veggies at the salad bar are soaked in butter, your granola bar is held together with less-than-savory sweeteners, and that organic cookie is, well, just a cookie, after all. Here, the researchers at Eat This, Not That! uncover the 75 “Healthy” Foods That Aren’t.
Granola’s reputation as a health food isn’t exactly well-earned. Many of the granolas at your local supermarket are made using butter, vegetable oil, and white sugar. Just a cup of Nature Valley’s Oats ‘N Honey Protein Granola packs 6 grams of fat from canola oil, as well as 13 grams of white sugar, honey, and molasses. Depending on the brand you buy, you may be consuming far more calories than you’d expect; many granolas have upwards of 400 calories per cup before adding milk.
Low-Fat Salad Dressing
Low-fat foods were once thought to be weight loss-friendly, when, in fact, they’re often just as bad, if not worse, than their full-fat counterparts. Low-fat salad dressings often make up for their lack of satisfying fat by adding sugar, high fructose corn syrup, salt, and scary additives and preservatives to the recipe instead. For instance, a 2-tablespoon serving of Ken’s Fat Free Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette has a shocking 12 grams of sugar — that’s 3 grams more than you’d get in a fun-sized bag of M&Ms.
While going gluten-free can be a lifesaver for those suffering from celiac or gluten sensitivity, the gluten-free treats at your supermarket aren’t always a bargain when it comes to your health. Many gluten-free treats have just as much sugar, if not more, than their gluten-filled counterparts, and the flours in place of wheat are often significantly more caloric and not any lower in carbs.
Whole Wheat Bread
That whole wheat bread likely isn’t the health food you were hoping for. A slice of Great Value whole wheat bread contains both high fructose corn syrup and molasses, making it a poor choice for anybody trying to make healthy food a priority.
If it comes in chip form, chances are, it’s not good for you. Much like their potatoes-only counterparts, many veggie chips are deep-fried and heavily salted. Unfortunately, those ultra-thin cuts of veggies used to make the chips crispy are also hardly enough to infuse your diet with the nutrients you’d expect from a vegetable-based snack. Veggie chips aren’t the only thing you should ditch from your diet — just check out the 30 Worst Summer Foods For Your Belly!
Cracking open a can of soup might just be the first step toward a less healthy body. While many brands of soup claim to be a great choice for the weight-conscious, they’re often loaded with salt and sugar. An 11-ounce of Campbell’s Creamy Tomato Soup has a whopping 22 grams of sugar, courtesy of high fructose corn syrup, as well as 27 percent of your sodium RDA per cup. Even worse, a study published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism has linked the BPA that often lines cans to an increased risk of obesity and insulin resistance.
Think that turkey bacon is a healthy alternative to that of the pork variety? Think again. While choosing turkey bacon may shave a few calories off your meals, it’s often loaded with artificial colors, sodium, saturated fat, and nitrates, which researchers at the Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing University Medical School and the First Affiliated Hospital of Nanjing Medical University have linked to an increased risk of digestive cancers.
Green juice devotees may be in for a sugar shock. That pressed juice at your health food store may contain tons of veggies, but all the fruit used to sweeten it is loading it with sugar, too. Unfortunately, unlike a smoothie, your juice contains only a tiny amount of fiber, meaning you’ll be hungry again before you know it.
Spicy Tuna Rolls
While certain types of sushi can load your diet with anti-inflammatory omega-3s, that spicy tuna roll is also loading it with saturated fat. The mayo-based sauce used to give the spicy tuna roll its heat adds a significant amount of fat to the recipe, as well as making it nearly twice as caloric as a traditional tuna roll. The next time you eat out, choose from our list of 25 Restaurant Meals Under 500 Calories instead.
Protein can be a great way to fuel your muscles, but most protein bars are hardly health food. Between belly-bloating soy, sodium, artificial colors, sugar, and high fructose corn syrup, most protein bars are potential saboteurs to your well-being. Those sugar-free or low-carb protein bars are no better; research published in the Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine links the artificial sweeteners used to flavor many low-sugar foods to an increased risk for weight gain and sugar cravings.
Rice cakes may be generally low in calories, but their toppings can turn them into junk in an instant. In addition to high sodium counts in savory flavors like cheddar and ranch, a single Quaker Caramel Corn rice cake has 3 grams of sugar, thanks to a combo of sugar, fructose, and maltodextrin.
Ditch the coconut water and hydrate with water for better health. A single bottle of O.N.E. mango-flavored coconut water packs 29 grams of sugar — that’s just 2 grams less than a Milky Way bar.
While yogurt may be touted as a superfood for weight loss and gut health, it’s not quite the cure-all you might imagine. Flavored yogurt is loaded with potentially-carcinogenic artificial colors, flavors, and loads of sugar, and research suggests that dairy products may actually contribute to osteoporosis.
Make sure that bowl of oatmeal isn’t starting your day with a boatload of sugar. Just one packet of Quaker Maple and Brown Sugar Oatmeal has 12 grams of sugar in it, making it a poor choice for anyone trying to stick to a healthy diet. Instead of sugary oatmeal, start your day off right with the 50 Overnight Oats Recipes For Weight Loss!
Don’t waste your money on açai bowls —they might not be the health food you’d hoped for. Many açai bowls are high in calories, and some even use sugary, belly-bloating frozen yogurt as their base instead of whole-fruit smoothies.
That dried fruit you’ve been snacking on could be adding tons of sugar to your diet. Many commercially-prepared dried fruits are coated with added sugar and preserved using sulfites, one of the most common food allergens.
Chia seeds are showing up in everything from smoothies to salads these days, but not everything about these little seeds is as healthy as you might expect. Eating too many chia seeds can irritate your digestive tract, may cause less-than-pleasant interactions with your blood sugar or heart medication, and, according to the Carolinas HealthCare System, may even present a choking hazard, thanks to their ability to absorb huge amounts of liquid.
Much like granola itself, granola bars are hardly health food. However, unlike granola, granola bars often have chocolate chips and even frosting on them. If you’re looking to lose weight or get healthy, you should definitely keep these out of your shopping cart.
Sadly, not everything that comes from a vegetable is a health food. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is a major source of trans fat, which can raise bad cholesterol and increase your risk for heart disease, according to the Mayo Clinic.
That protein shake may have more in common with a milkshake than you’d like. Many protein shakes are loaded with sugar and belly-bloating dairy, and the sugar-free ones aren’t much better, thanks to their potentially weight gain-inducing artificial sweeteners. Up your protein intake the healthy way by enjoying the Eat This, Not That! approved 23 Best Protein Shake Recipes For Weight Loss instead.
Low Carb Snacks
Just because something is labeled “low carb” doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Case in point: sugar-free cookies, pork rinds, bunless double cheeseburgers, etc. At the end of the day, junk food is still junk food whether it’s loaded with carbs or not.
Popcorn can sometimes be low in calories, but much of what you’ll find on the shelves of your local supermarket isn’t so healthy. Many varieties of popcorn are loaded with trans fats and salt; one bag of Orville Redenbacher’s Ultimate Butter Popcorn has 30 grams of fat and 688 milligrams of sodium.
Your favorite flavored soy milk may even worse for you than the dairy variety. In addition to being an endocrine disruptor, potentially wreaking havoc on individuals with hormonal issues, soy milk is often heavily sweetened. A cup of Silk chocolate soy milk has 17 grams of sugar, and the original variety packs 6 grams of the sweet stuff.
Fruit may be good for you, but the other ingredients in parfait certainly outweigh its benefits. Sugary granola, bone-weakening yogurt, and whipped cream definitely aren’t doctor-approved foods. Think parfait is bad? You’ll be shocked by the 25 Unhealthiest Carbs On the Planet!
Throwing those veggie burgers on the grill might not do much for your health in the long run. In addition to bloat-inducing soy, many veggie burgers are loaded with salt, fat, and preservatives that make them a poor choice for anyone trying to eat healthier.
Frozen yogurt’s reputation as a healthy alternative to ice cream may be undeserved. Not only is frozen yogurt often just as high in sugar as ice cream, research suggests that dairy may actually speed up bone demineralization, increasing your risk of osteoporosis instead of lowering it.
Those bottled smoothies could be adding serious sugar and calories to your diet. Just one 28-ounce Jamba Juice Orange Dream Machine smoothie has 590 calories and 120 grams of sugar. For a better bet, blend up your favorite fruits with some ice, and make sure to avoid the 10 Smoothies Worse Than a Big Mac!
Organic is one of those food industry buzzwords that might not mean quite what you think it does. What it definitely doesn’t convey is the healthiness of any food; an organic cheese puff or candy bar is just as likely to contribute to your weight gain as a non-organic one.
If you’re eating egg substitutes, you’re missing out on a whole host of nutrients. Egg substitutes are mostly egg whites, meaning you’re not getting the wealth of vitamins contained in egg yolks, including vitamin D, which research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition has linked to lower rates of obesity and reduced abdominal fat.
If we’re being honest with ourselves, trail mix is often little more than an excuse to eat chocolate chips and sugary dried fruit by the handful. Opting for a handful of raw nuts instead can help you stay full without all the extra calories and sugar.
Skim milk doesn’t just have less flavor than the full-fat stuff, it also may be less good for you in general. Research published in Circulation suggests that full-fat dairy products are linked to lower rates of diabetes, and researchers at Harvard University, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Sweden’s Institute of Environmental Medicine have linked consumption of full-fat dairy to reduced obesity rates. Ditch the skim milk and slim down today by making the 25 Best-Ever Fat-Burning Foods to your menu!
Veggie pizza may have more color than your average slice, but its benefits more or less stop there. The same white flour crust and tons of cheese make most veggie pizzas just as caloric and high in fat as a regular slice. Make your favorite cheat foods healthier by discovering the 20 Best & Worst Baking Mixes today!
Margarine may have once been heralded as being a healthy alternative to butter, but it’s actually worse for you. A tablespoon of margarine can contain upwards of 2 grams of trans fat, increasing your risk of heart disease and high cholesterol along the way.
Don’t assume that opting for pita chips instead of potato or tortilla chips will do much for your health. While they’re not deep-fried, pita chips are generally little more than white flour topped with butter, sugar, and some seasonings. A 1-ounce serving of Stacy’s Parmesan Garlic & Herb Pita Chips has 140 calories, about the same number you’d get from an equivalent serving of Doritos.
Don’t ruin the health benefits of your raisins by adding sugary yogurt to them. A 1-ounce serving of yogurt-covered raisins packs 19 grams of sugar and 140 calories — that’s a 30 percent jump from the calorie count of regular raisins. Find out which other unhealthy snacks to ditch from your diet by avoiding the 150 Worst Packaged Foods in America!
Low-Fat Peanut Butter
Don’t try to improve your health by ditching full-fat peanut butter for the lighter stuff. Many brands make up for the flavor they’ve taken out of your PB with tons of extra sugar and salt, while reducing the amount of heart health-promoting monounsaturated fat.
Even if you’re sweating like LeBron in the playoffs, there’s virtually no good reason for most people to be downing sports drinks. In addition to their potentially-carcinogenic artificial colors, most energy drinks have similar amounts of sugar to soda. Cut the sports drinks from your diet and hydrate the healthy way with the 50 Best Detox Waters For Fat Burning and Weight Loss!
Bad news, maple syrup lovers: that sweet syrup is every bit as sugar-laden as table sugar. Unfortunately, it’s even more caloric, with 52 calories per tablespoon as opposed to white sugar’s 48.
You might be surprised to hear that wraps aren’t actually saving you many calories when compared to sliced bread. One Toufayan Organic Sprouted Whole Wheat Wrap has 160 calories, just as many as you’d get in two slices of whole grain bread. Cut calories from your diet the easy way with the 25 Food Swaps That Cut 2,500 Calories a Week!
Flavored Iced Tea
Flavored iced teas are no friend to your waistline. While many teas are loaded with inflammation-fighting antioxidants, the sweeteners they contain —like 43 grams of sugar in a 16-ounce lemon Nestea— can raise your blood pressure, cause insulin spikes, and increase your risk of weight gain. For a healthier alternative that’s just as flavorful, squeeze some lemon into an unsweetened tea instead.
Ordering a turkey burger instead of beef might not do as much for your health as you think. Not only is dark meat turkey nearly as high in fat and calories as beef, many restaurants add salt, butter, and other oils to their light turkey to keep it moist, making it just as fat-laden as a regular hamburger. Instead of a fattening turkey burger, slim down with the 29 Best-Ever Proteins For Weight Loss!
While they may be lower in calories than other bar fare, like chicken fingers and fries, pretzels aren’t exactly a healthy snack. Just a 1-ounce serving of salted pretzels packs over 300 milligrams of sodium and 110 calories, most of them in the form of white flour. Combat the effects of your past pretzel offenses with the 20 Foods That Lower Blood Pressure!
Egg White Omelets
When you opt for eggs without the yolks, you’re not only missing out on some satisfying fat, you’re also reducing your intake of energizing B12, weight loss-boosting vitamin D, and a means of raising your good cholesterol. Fortunately, science says you should indulge: research suggests that you can safely consume up to 3 whole eggs a day without adverse effects.
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
It may have two different veggies in it, but spinach and artichoke dip is no health food. An order of Applebee’s Spinach and Artichoke Dip has 960 calories and other recipes call for as much as a jar of alfredo sauce. Ick.
Whole Grain Cereals
Whole grains can be a good addition to your diet, loading it with filling, gut health-promoting fiber, but that doesn’t mean your whole grain cereal is healthy. Cereal isn’t the only sugary saboteur on your shelf —just discover the 14 “Health” Foods Worse Than a Donut.
Your diet soda habit could be the reason for your less-than-stellar health. In addition to their obesogenic artificial sweeteners, diet sodas are loaded with potentially-carcinogenic colors and tooth enamel-eroding flavors and additives.
Spice up your meals by opting for salsa that’s spicy, not sweet. Fruit salsa may seem like a good bet, but in addition to the natural sugar from the fruit in it, it’s often sweetened with sugar or high fructose corn syrup, and packs less of the metabolism-boosting capsaicin you’d get from spicier versions.
Just because it has a fruit in its name doesn’t mean banana bread is a health food. Sugar, butter, and white flour are also major components of this sweet treat.
You probably know that processed meats like salami and bologna aren’t health foods, but that supposedly healthy deli turkey could be just as bad. Deli turkey is often loaded with sodium and artificial flavors, as well as nitrates, which have been linked to cancers of the digestive tract. Instead of preservative-laden turkey, boost your protein intake and health with the 15 Best Egg Combos That Double Your Weight Loss!
That bran muffin may be hiding a dark secret, namely its surprising lack of fiber. A Dunkin’ Donuts Honey Bran Muffin packs nearly double the calories as a glazed donut and has 39 grams of sugar, but just 5 grams of fiber.
Salmon’s omega-3 content hardly makes up for the less-than-healthy sauces used to complement this fatty fish. From sugary barbecue to plain butter, salmon is regularly coated in toppings that have no place in a healthy meal.
Not all wines are created equal when it comes to your health. While research published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that wine can have a blood pressure-lowering effect, research published in the BMJ reveals that all that sugar in your glass of Riesling or white zinfandel may actually have the opposite effect, putting you at risk for both hypertension and weight gain.
Fruit can be a great addition to your diet — as long as you’re not soaking it in syrup first. In addition to the BPA that lines many fruit cocktail cans, a single cup of fruit cocktail in syrup can pack upwards of 37 grams of sugar, more than you’d get in an equivalent amount of soda.
Veggie sticks have a whole lot of good marketing to thank for their reputation as a health food. In fact, most veggie sticks are little more than potatoes, oil, and salt with some vegetable coloring in them. A 7-ounce bag of Veggie Stix with sea salt has 200 milligrams of sodium and not a single gram of fiber. Having trouble losing weight? The 26 Worst Foods in America could be to blame.
While honey may be an effective antimicrobial, those honey-roasted nuts are doing no favors for your health. The supposed honey coating on them is often little more than a mixture of brown sugar and butter, making this one highly-caloric snack you should definitely pass up.
Baked potatoes may not be quite as bad for you as French fries, but that doesn’t mean they’re always a healthy choice. Most of the baked potatoes you get at restaurants have been heavily salted and brushed with butter to give them a crispy exterior, making them nearly as caloric as their deep-fried counterparts.
Slowing down on energy drinks might just be the first step toward better health. A single 12-ounce can of Red Bull has 37 grams of sugar —just one gram of sugar less than the same amount of Sprite —as well as 140 milligrams of sodium and an amount of caffeine that may prove dangerous for some sensitive individuals.
The veggies you’re getting from tomato sauce hardly outweigh the damage its other ingredients may cause. Just a half-cup of Prego tomato sauce has nearly a third of your daily sodium and 10 grams of sugar, making it nowhere near as healthy as you might imagine. If you’re eager to add some flavor to your pasta, try making your own sauce at home, or season it with a bit of olive oil and fresh herbs instead.
Coconut oil is often heralded as the best thing since sliced bread, but not all of the claims made about this supposedly magical monounsaturated fat are true. While coconut oil has been shown to have some photoprotective and antibacterial properties, a single tablespoon of the stuff still has over 115 calories and 12 grams of saturated fat, making it a food that’s better left to the occasional indulgence. Want some real-life medical advice? Turn to the 16 Snacks Doctors Eat to Lose Weight.
Just because fruit snacks have the word fruit in their name doesn’t mean they’re anything more than a glorified candy. An 80-calorie pouch of Welch’s fruit snacks packs 11 grams of sugar in the form of corn syrup, sugar, and juice, while boasting not a single gram of filling fiber (or much fruit, for that matter).
Vegetable pasta isn’t much better for you than its plain white counterpart. While it may claim to have some vegetables in it, most brands simply use pigments or juice from those vegetables to color their noodles, adding little in the way of fiber, vitamins, or minerals to the recipe.
Don’t let seasoned rice mixes sabotage your weight loss. A cup of Uncle Ben’s Parmesan & Butter rice packs a whopping 510 milligrams of belly-bloating sodium, while their traditional brown rice has none. For a healthier convenience meal, turn to the 46 Best Frozen Foods in America!
Fast Food Salads
Fast food chains are trying to market to health-conscious consumers with their salads, but much of what’s on their salad menu is just as bad as their burgers. The Keep Calm & Caesar On salad at McDonald’s houses a whopping 730 calories and 53 grams of fat, more than you’d get in a Big Mac.
Those sugar substitutes may be calorie-free, but that doesn’t make them health food. Research conducted at Yale University indicates that artificial sweeteners can increase your overall caloric intake, make you crave real sugar, and may put you at risk for diabetes and obesity, just like the real stuff.
It’s nice to imagine that the sautéed vegetables at your favorite restaurant are just lightly drizzled with olive oil and seasoned with herbs, but that’s not exactly the case. Many sautéed veggies can be drenched in as much as a half-cup of butter before they reach your plate masquerading as a healthy dish. Ditch those fatty veggies in favor of the 20 Fruits and Vegetables That Fill You Up!
Don’t look to agave nectar for a healthy solution to your sugar cravings. Agave nectar is pretty much pure fructose, which is significantly linked to obesity and insulin resistance.
Cream of Wheat
Starting your day with cream of wheat means you’re starting things off on the wrong foot. Just one packet of plain cream of wheat packs 13 grams of sugar and just a single gram of fiber. Even worse, flavored varieties are loaded with sugar and salt, making them a definite contributor to a bloated belly and weight gain.
While beans on their own can be a healthy choice, baked beans are anything but. A cup of Bush’s Baked Beans has only 140 calories, but packs 550 milligrams of sodium, 12 grams of sugar — more than in a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup — and just 5 grams of fiber.
A little almond milk in your coffee or cereal can be a healthy alternative to dairy, but not all almond milks are created equal. Many non-dairy milks are loaded with sugar, artificial flavors, and belly-bloating carrageenan, making them a recipe for a jiggly middle. Beat belly bloat today by discovering the 24 Ways to Shrink Your Belly in 24 Hours!
Although fish tacos are often lower in fat than their beef counterparts, they’re not always a healthy alternative. Tilapia, the fish most commonly used in fish tacos, has a high omega-6 to omega-3 ratio, making this a potentially weight gain- and inflammation-inducing meal, and that’s just for tacos of the baked variety. If your fish is breaded and deep-fried, you’re adding tons of inflammatory wheat and saturated fat to your meal, too.
While many people assume that couscous is a grain, it’s actually just little balls of semolina. That’s right: it’s just white pasta with some seriously good marketing.
Baked chips may have less fat than their deep-fried counterparts, but they’re hardly a bargain for your health. Baked chips have been found to have more acrylamide, a known carcinogen, than fried chips, and because they’re marketed as a healthier option, you might just convince yourself that it’s no big deal to eat more of them.
Edamame can add some protein and fiber to your diet, but watch out: it’s often a major culprit when it comes to bloating and water retention. Edamame is often topped with blood pressure-spiking salt, and its plant estrogens may make it a poor choice for those with certain types of hormonal imbalances.
That frozen diet dinner is as sad as it is bad for you. To maintain some semblance of flavor in low-calorie frozen meals, they’re generally loaded with added sugar and salt instead. Womp womp.
Don’t let sunflower seeds fool you: they’re no bargain when it comes to fat, calories, or sodium. A cup of David’s ranch sunflower seeds has 760 calories, 60 grams of fat, and 720 grams of belly-bloating sodium. Steer clear of those salty sunflower seeds and get healthier in no time with the 30 Best Anti-Inflammatory Foods!