Eating healthily isn’t always easy. Between a hectic work life, the temptation of delicious restaurant meals, and the rise of convenience foods, balancing nutrition is a tough job.
What makes this challenge even harder is the myriad of health claims on packaged foods today. Sadly, many ‘health’ foods aren’t really healthy at all. Bogus buzzwords like ‘natural’, ‘diet’ and ‘reduced fat’, just serve to distract us from the actual ingredients contained in what we eat – many of which are unhealthy and even harmful.
Here are 14 so-called ‘healthy’ foods which you might be better off without!
1. Protein Bars
Thanks to a national obsession with protein, sales of nutrition bars are soaring! While protein is vital for every cell in our body – to produce bones, muscles, blood, hormones and enzymes – protein bars aren’t exactly the best source of this macronutrient.
Some of these bars contain up to 27g of sugar from various sweeteners like cane invert syrup and even fructose syrup. Many are also loaded with non-organic soy protein isolate (which is likely genetically modified), sugar alcohols which negatively affect gut health and ‘natural flavors’ which can disguise many unhealthy additives.
2. Vitamin Water
Although staying hydrated is vital, sticking with plain water is a much better choice than Vitamin Water.
A bottle of one of these enhanced drinks contains around 32.5g of sugar – almost the same as a Coca-Cola! Sure, you’ll be getting 40% of your daily Vitamin C needs, but an orange plus a glass of water will supply the same amount of hydration and a whole lot more nutrition!
Similarly, watch out for sports drinks which often contain 50g of sugar per 12 ounces.
3. Flavored Yogurt
Often believed to be one of the healthiest choices for breakfast or snack-time, yogurt can be loaded with sugars.
Sugar is one of the main culprits for causing an imbalance of bacteria in the gut, something many yogurt brands claim their product will remedy!
When it comes to healthy choices, choose a plain natural or Greek yogurt instead, which are lower in sugar and can be higher in beneficial bacteria and protein.
4. ‘Diet’ Ready-Meals
Busy yet health-conscious people often turn to a frozen or pre-prepared ready-meal in a bid to stay in shape. But these meals are usually pumped full of both sugar and salt in a bid to improve their otherwise cardboard-like taste.
For example, Lean Cuisine’s so called ‘healthy’ offerings can pack in 23g of sugar per serving for a meal that contains chicken, French cut green beans, carrots and whole wheat orzo pasta; while a veggie scramble contains 690 mg of sodium – almost half the recommended maximum daily sodium intake!
Although not exactly a ‘food’, many people treat vitamins and supplements as such! That’s why it’s always advisable to buy from a reputable brand, and go for the best quality supplements you can afford.
Some vitamins and supplements are a shocking source of sugar, corn syrup and artificial sweeteners, particularly chewable vitamins marketed at children.
Even worse, these products may not even contain the vitamins and minerals they say they do!
In 2015, New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman revealed that 79% of supplements tested in one investigation didn’t actually contain the primary ingredient listed on the label! Many contained other plant material, including compounds that may cause an allergic reaction in some people.
Containing heart-healthy rolled oats, dried fruit, nuts and honey, crunchy and delicious granola seems like a healthy alternative to cereal.
An examination of several popular granola brands, however, has found that some have more sugar than a can of soda, and more saturated fat than a McDonald’s bacon muffin.
A generous portion of some granola may even lead people to consume half their daily calorie allowance for breakfast!
7. Canned Soup
While there are some incredibly healthy canned soups out there, many are too high in salt, sugar and fat, whilst seriously lacking in the fiber and protein department.
Another ‘ingredient’ in canned soups is BPA – a type of plastic which lines the can. According to Dr Mercola, BPA is ‘fine, if you ignore most studies on it’! This chemical is believed to disrupt hormones and even mimic the effects of estrogen in the human body.
In 2011, researchers at the Harvard School of Public Health discovered that volunteers who ate a single serving of canned soup a day for five days had ten times the amount of BPA in their bodies as when they ate fresh soup daily.
It’s also worth noting that canned soup made the American Heart Association’s ‘Salty Six List’, with some common brands containing 790 mg of sodium per cup. Given that a typical bowl contains around two cups, you’ll be getting your total salt intake for the entire day just from lunch!
8. Vegetable Oils
Although vegetable oils are often seen as a healthier alternative to other sources of cooking fat, not all vegetable oils are created equal. For example, extra virgin olive oil or coconut oil are great options, but oils made from soybean, corn, cottonseed, sunflower or safflower are not.
These oils contain huge amounts of omega 6 fatty acids. Although an essential fat which our bodies require, when consumed in excess – as is the case in the standard western diet – omega 6s can lead to chronic inflammation, heart disease, arthritis and more.
9. Gluten-Free Alternatives
Gluten-free products have grown to represent a $9 billion market, with 21% of the US population striving to eat gluten-free.
Unfortunately, many of the replacement gluten-free foods – such as breads, pastas, pastries and more – are essentially ‘empty calories’, pushing up total daily energy intake without providing any real nutrition. These products are made from refined potato or rice starch which lack the fiber, iron, zinc, phosphorus and B vitamins that whole grains do.
That’s not to say that you should abandon your gluten-free efforts if they’re working for you – simply switch processed alternatives for a variety of naturally gluten-free whole grains like quinoa, millet, amaranth, buckwheat, brown rice, oats, teff and corn.
10. Fruit Juice
Unbelievably, a recent study found that fruit juice has a sugar concentration which rivals that of soda! The worst offender was Minute Maid 100% apple juice, which contained more fructose per liter than Pepsi, Sprite, Coca-Cola, 7-Up or Dr. Pepper.
Studies show that drinking a lot of fruit juice raises the risk of type 2 diabetes, whereas greater consumption of whole fruits such as blueberries, grapes and apples significantly lowers the risk. This is likely because juice doesn’t contain the fiber that whole fruits do – a vital component in food which slows down the body’s absorption and processing of sugar.
Drinking fruit juice regularly is also one of the easiest ways to pack on the pounds, while contributing to tooth decay.
11. Instant Oatmeal
One of the healthiest ways to start the day, a big bowl of steel cut or rolled oats is known to stabilize blood sugar, boost energy, prevent diabetes, protect the heart, aid in weight loss and much more.
Choose the instant variety, on the other hand, and you will be getting a more processed type of oat, which can contain up to 17g of sugar per serving, added salt, and lower levels of fiber.
These factors can all explain why the glycemic index of old fashioned oats is 55, while instant oats have a GI of 83, pushing up blood sugar levels and leaving you feeling less satiated after eating.
12. Low Fat and Fat-Free Foods
Fat-free and low fat foods simply need to contain low levels of fat to be marketed as such, but there are no restrictions on the amount of other ingredients like salt, sugar, flour, thickeners, and artificial flavors.
The trouble is, fat doesn’t actually make us fat – diets high in calories, refined and processed foods and sugars contribute to weight gain, meaning high-sugar fat-free foods do more harm than good.
13. Diet Sodas
A seemingly innocuous way to quell a craving for sweetness, diet sodas are actually a pretty poor choice for health.
Not only is there a link between consuming diet sodas and having an increased waist size – of up to 500% greater than non-soda drinkers – but ingredients in these types of sodas have been linked to depression, brittle bones, tooth decay and much more.
Find out more about the scary side-effects of diet soda here.
14. Canned Fruits and Vegetables
Canned fruit and vegetables count towards our ‘five-a-day’ – and many of them can be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts because canning occurs shortly after harvest, helping to lock-in more nutrients.
However, as with canned soup and diet sodas, you’re risking exposure to BPA when consuming these products.
And some canned produce can be loaded with salt and sugar. One cup of canned cream corn contains almost half a day’s sodium allowance, whilst a fruit cocktail in light syrup boasts a whopping 30g of sugar per cup – highlighting the importance of reading labels carefully before purchasing.