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7 Worst "Healthy" Foods You're Eating, According to a Dietitian

There are some foods you might not realize are actually not as good for you as you may think!

If you know that chocolates or donuts are your true kryptonite, leaving you powerless to turn them down, it's OK—you're not alone! But if you're tired of having these foods have control over you, we're here to help. See, there's an easy, effective, dietitian-approved way to gain control over those yummy, addictive, calorie-dense treats: Recognize them for what they are. 

Yep, that's all it takes!

So what does this mean? Well, all you have to do is paint a picture in your mind's eye of what, for example, a pancake really is—it's just cake! There really isn't much of a difference between those Saturday morning flapjacks and a slice of birthday cake. "When you can change your mindset, you'll realize that pancakes are never worth it for breakfast when you know you can have actual cake or a cocktail later in the day," says weight-loss expert Ilana Muhlstein, M.S., R.D.N, and author You Can Drop It!. This logic applies to those foods that might come across as "healthy" too, but really are just junk food in disguise.

"I always thought sushi was a healthy choice until I recognized that sushi is the carb equal to several slices of bread," Muhlstein says. "When I started looking at certain foods this way, it made them so much easier to pass up."

And it worked. Muhlstein dropped 100 pounds safely and now shares her secrets as a practicing registered dietitian, having helped more than 240,000 clients. So we asked Muhlstein to lend us her food binoculars so we can spy our healthy and not-so-healthy treats in new ways.

Find out which are the worst "healthy" foods that are actually not good for you at all (and what eating them actually means for your body) below, and then check out You Can Drop It! for more useful weight-loss strategies.

One Sushi Roll

Chili shrimp sushi roll

Equals about 3 slices of bread

How's that for a buzzkill? Yep, a typical California roll contains the carb exchange of between 2 1/2 to 4 slices of bread.

"People think sushi is so healthy," says Muhlstein. "But you have to realize, [in Japan it's] a side dish after a big bowl of clear broth soup. They eat a ton of vegetables and when they eat rice, they use chopsticks; they don't shovel it in like we do. Here's a tip: If your sushi roll has a scary name—Tsunami, Volcano, Hurricane, Torpedo—it's lethal."

A 1/2 Cup of Granola


Equals 1 Crushed-Up Cookie

It's full of sugar (10 grams), carbs (35 grams), high in fat (5.5 grams), and clocks in at about 200 calories. For just one 1/2 cup!

"People think 'oats' and feel good about eating it, but it's oats literally tossed in honey, which is crystallized sugar," says Muhlstein. If you want oats, eat unsweetened oatmeal with a toss of fresh berries on top.

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plate penne pasta tomato sauce

Equals A Bowl of Paste

You read that right: paste. See, if you're like most people, you don't love to eat pasta plain; it's just bland. What you probably really enjoy is the flavor of the sauce, olive oil, or gobs of salted butter that it's tossed in. So, instead of paste-a, get yourself a big bowl of steamed vegetables and a side bowl of sauce with a spoon, Muhlstein suggests. You can create your own fantasy dish that's mostly veggies.


Bagel with cream cheese

Equals About 3 1/2 Slices of Bread

If you're thinking, ugh, another quarantine day, I deserve a bagel, think about this: "[Keep in mind that it's actually] three to five slices of bread depending on the size, and it'll be a lot harder to eat that bagel," says Muhlstein. "You have to realize that when you wake up and have a breakfast of carbs, that sets you up for eating more and more carbs the whole day."

Having protein in the morning, by contrast, keeps cravings at bay. Researchers from the University of Missouri used MRI scans to compare the brain activity of people who ate a high-protein breakfast to those who either skipped breakfast or ate breakfasts of more carbs and moderate protein. The researchers scanned the participants' brains right before lunch and found that those who ate the high-protein breakfast experienced less brain activity in regions that control food motivation or hunger than those who ate carb-rich cereal for breakfast.

Some true food for thought!


cornmeal pancakes

Equals Cake/Donut/Deep-Fried Dough

It is what it is. If you can think of these foods as what they really are, you can make a point to savor one of them specifically, and not all things with dough.

"I have a friend who is 'naturally thin' and loves donuts. (I know. Annoying, right?) But she's very picky about how fresh, hot, and amazing a donut has to be [in order] to be worth it," says Muhlstein. Although donuts are her favorite treat, she is prewired to push off the subpar donuts, so she only ends up eating three or four really amazing donuts a year.


cooked quinoa

Equals Rice, Just with a Little More Protein

Don't be fooled by this trendy grain. Sure, it has more protein than rice, but some people take that to mean it's healthy to eat a whole bowl of quinoa. Sorry, but you're getting a lot of calories and carbs for a relatively small hit of protein. And the same goes for avocado.

"When you mash [an] avocado and put it on toast, you'll end up consuming a lot more avocado than if you sliced it," says Muhlstein. Remember, while avo is a healthy fat, it's high in calories. So just remember to practice portion control!

Discover exactly how Ilana Muhlstein lost 100 pounds and kept it off in You Can Drop It!


Door handle open to toilet can see toilet

Equals Liquid Bread

"I tell a lot of my guy clients, your beer is your bun when you have a hamburger," says Muhlstein. "It makes it a lot easier for them to eat a burger without a bun when they know it's equal to a beer they can have with it."

Jeff Csatari
Jeff Csatari, a contributing writer for Eat This, Not That!, is responsible for editing Galvanized Media books and magazines and for advising journalism students through the Zinczenko New Media Center at Moravian University in Bethlehem, PA. Read more about Jeff