Think that food you’re eating is healthy? Guess again – here’s a breakdown of the most commonly perceived healthy foods that turn out to be more like junk food.
Beware: Just because it seems healthy doesn’t mean it is! Check out Jennifer Cohen’s list of 14 “healthy” foods that are actually bad for you before you go on your next shopping trip, or out to pick up a quick bite. These are some common mistakes that people tend to think are healthy. Remember, the most powerful tool for nutrition you have is knowledge of what you’re eating.
1. Wheat Bread
You can add wheat to literally any carbohydrate and label it as a wheat product. These days, you can get Whole Wheat Lucky Charms – do you really think that makes them healthy? If it isn’t 100% whole wheat, bread can contain enriched flour, which gives you a sugar spike and crash without any nutritional value. Basically, enriched flour means nutrients are stripped from the bread.
Swap it for: Fiber-rich breads that are 100% whole wheat. Other breads like multigrain and sprouted are good options too, as long as those are the first ingredients on the package. Better yet, if you want to cut 200 calories, try wrapping your sandwiches with romaine lettuce.
2. Dried Fruit
Sure, it’s got fiber. It also has tons of added sugar and sulfur to keep it preserved longer. YUM! Since the fruit is dried, it has at least 3 times more calories per volume than its fresh counterpart. A bag of banana chips has three times as many calories as a banana and 20% more fat.
Swap it for: Fresh is ALWAYS best with fruit! It will keep you feeling full longer, and you get all the nutrients that weren’t sucked out in the drying process.
3. Trail Mix
If you’re not on the trail, skip the trail mix. Packed with salted nuts, sugar covered raisins and even M&M’s, even a small handful can contain 300+ calories. Trail mix is a quick energy snack to people on the trail who need those extra calories to burn, but not a good option for healthful snacking. In your everyday life you don’t need that ton of sugar and salt.
Swap it for: A single portion serving of unsalted nuts. Measure it out from the bag so you know exactly how many to eat. A small handful of almonds can satisfy your hunger and give you a great nutrition boost until your next meal.
4. Flavored Soy Milk
Yes, soy can be a source of protein and potassium. But drinking the vanilla or chocolate flavors adds 10 grams of sugar and 50 calories per cup. No thanks!
Swap it for: regular soy milk, or you could try almond milk or hemp milk. If you’re staying away from dairy these are two great options.
5. Fat Free Flavored Yogurt
Say it with me: fat-free foods are NOT health foods! I always say fat doesn’t make you fat, sugar makes you fat. Most flavored yogurts pack 15 grams of sugar in 6 oz., and yes, even if they’re flavored with fruit they’re not healthy.
Swap it for: Greek yogurt with fresh cut fruit. Raw blueberries are my favorite – they have the highest antioxidants of all fruits, and taste great. If you want that added sweetness, add a drizzle of honey or agave.
6. Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
One of the biggest benefits of peanuts is that they’re full of monounsaturated fats, aka good fats. Take that out of the peanut butter and what do you have left? Tons of sugar and the same amount of (now empty) calories. Typically whenever you see reduced fat in any product, it means that the fat was replaced with sugar or salt.
Swap it for: Just stick to the real thing and have less of it. Get natural peanut butter with no added sugar. It’s the best way to go for nutrition, and just a little bit will help fill you up.
7. Fruit Cocktail
You may think that anything with fruit in it is healthy for you. But it’s how fruit is preserved that can make a huge difference. A cup of fruit cocktail may be around 110 calories, but has 26 grams of sugar. That is your entire daily value!
Swap it for: After this article you know that real fruit is ALWAYS better! A banana or an apple is just as portable as a little plastic cup.
While they have 1/10 the fat of potato chips, pretzels have just as much sodium and are nutritionally empty. They’re also made with white flour, which spikes your sugar and just makes you hungry soon after. Look at the back of the bag: Pretzels have a ton of ingredients (a big red flag) and are incredibly calorie dense because the number one ingredient is enriched flour, followed by salt, corn syrup and corn oil. Doesn’t sound too healthy anymore, does it!
Swap it for: Kale chips. For fewer calories, you will get protein, fiber, vitamins and minerals to keep you going. Kale chips will satiate you for way longer than pretzels, without the sugar crash, and they’ve becoming increasingly popular lately for just this reason.
9. Protein Bars
Read. The. Label. Too many protein bars are just processed bricks of artificial ingredients and fillers. Most of them end up being not much more than a candy bar with protein sprinkled in it. You do not want to grab these as snacks, and if it has over 200 calories and more than 8 grams of sugar, leave it on the shelf!
Swap it for: If you’re looking for a protein boost try beans in a meal, damage, or humus and vegetables for a snack. These options will have protein from the source instead of being added on to a candy bar, like many protein bars end up being.
10. Frozen Yogurt
No matter what mix-ins you choose there is absolutely no nutritional value in frozen yogurt. You’re not doing yourself a service by eating fro-yo instead of ice cream. It’s a sugar treat that needs to JUST be a treat!
Swap it for: Just have the real thing in a smaller portion. Half a cup of real ice cream is more satiating, you’ll feel more full and you’ll be eating the real thing. It’s a treat – nothing more, nothing less.
11. Organic Snack Foods
I was shopping with my mother at an upscale grocery store when she picked up a box of organic toaster pastries and started laughing. “Organic or not, a pop tart is still a pop tart!” she said, and she’s right. It’s very popular these days to use the words organic or gluten free, and people think these are synonymous with healthy – they’re not.
Swap it for: A snack that will love you back. Instead of sugary cookies, try fast-baked apples – microwave apple slices with a pinch of cinnamon. Instead of greasy potato chips, try a handful of shelled, unsalted pistachios.
12. Granola Bars
If it’s a choice between a granola bar and skipping a meal, granola bars are useful. However these bars are packed with sugar, sodium and saturated fat. If you thought a granola bar was healthy as a snack, you might as well have a Snickers! Doesn’t sound all-natural anymore, does it?
Swap it for: Sliced mango and a small piece of dark chocolate. For a fraction of the calories and sugar, you can eat something delicious, nutritious and still satisfy your sweet tooth and snack cravings.
13. Sushi Rolls
Fish, rice & seaweed – why isn’t this healthy? A regular salmon or tuna roll can be a good treat, but it’s the westernized versions you have to watch out for. For example, a salmon rolled with rice and seaweed is 120 calories per serving. A Philadelphia roll with salmon, cream cheese, spicy mayo and house sauce can add up to 500 calories per serving. You might as well have a McDonald’s Big Mac!
Swap it for: Sashimi! It’s usually accompanied with radish and ginger, and arranged beautifully. Avoid ordering anything spicy or crunchy, as these typically add 300+ calories to your otherwise healthy dish.
14. Veggie Omelette
Like sushi, this food isn’t inherently evil – if you know how to order it. The extras that get added in are what needlessly raise the calorie level. The veggies in your omelet are often cooked in a sea of oil to begin with. Combine that with the oil and butter in the pan and cheese, and you’re looking at over a cup of oil in your seemingly healthy breakfast.
Swap it for: a dry omelet – restaurants know this means no oil in the pan. Ask for steamed veggies, and hold off on the cheese. Remember, the devil is in the details so keep that in mind next time you choose to be healthy!