We all know white bread, white sugar and trans fats are bad for us and should be minimized in our meal plans or just avoided altogether. While many of us desperately want to find healthier options without compromising flavor or texture, the food industry has found ingenious ways into tricking us to buying much of the same old stuff in growing quantities as long as there’s some kind of ’’healthy’’ label on it. Many of the items on the list I put together you might already know for their false healthiness but I do hope you’ll find some new ones in there too! In the list I have gathered 20 foods or labels that you thought were healthy but are actually far from it. As a bonus, I added one extra surprising product at the very end.
THE MORE COMMON ONES
1.JUICES AND SMOOTHIES
This one you’ve probably heard of. If you make your own, good for you! Self- made juices aren’t the problem here, those can be super healthy and packed with all the natural good stuff. The same can’t be said about the colorful juices and smoothies in those hipstery glass bottles in the store as they are packed with additives, artificial sweeteners if not sugar and low quality calories. Recommendation: make your own, it tastes way better anyway! For ideas, check out this list of 27 juice and smoothie recipes on health.com.
Commercial trail mixes are tasty without doubt. However, if you check the nutrition facts you’ll find that often the raisins and other fruit are covered in sugar and the nuts in salt so in addition to making your blood pressure sky rocket, it’s so damn tasty you’ll most likely get a massive craving and eat the whole bag in one sitting. Oh wait, that’s me… Even if you don’t do that, you’re still likely to get the craving to do so. Again, making your own is the healthier way to go. Here’s an actual healthy but tasty and wholesome recipe I found a while back from Elizabeth Rider.
Starting to see a pattern here? The thing with many of the foods on this list are simply that commercially made, they are almost always loaded with sugar, fat, additives and sketchy stuff you likely wouldn’t want to put in your mouth in the first place. With many dried fruits, you get all of the above. Sulfur dioxide is a nasty smelling gas that is used in the food industry as a preservative and is used in the making of dried fruit to make them maintain those rich colors. While SO2 isn’t considered a health risk for healthy adults, it is advised that the sulphite (the ion formed when sulfur dioxide dissolves in water) intake for children shouldn’t exceed around 15mg per day. That’s roughly the equivalent of one dried apricot.
Again, often sneakily loaded with sugar. They’re so tasty that they are extremely easy to over consume. If the package says ’’sugar free’’, don’t be fooled. That just means they’re loaded with artificial sweeteners instead, making them easily as unhealthy as low quality breakfast cereal. It is true that nuts are healthy and high in good fats and protein but all that goes to waste with all the additional sugar. I recommend making your own or just check the nutrition label and limit the amount you consume.
5.FRUIT AT THE BOTTOM YOGURT
Yes, I realize that fruit and berries are good for you. But not if they’re literally swimming in syrup, color enhancers and preservatives. Just get plain yogurt and fresh fruit or berries instead.
6.HEALTHY BREAKFAST CEREAL
Loaded with, you guessed it, sugar. And preservatives and well, you know the drill by now. I’ve not personally tried this even though I eat oatmeal almost every morning but to make a more healthy breakfast choice, just make oatmeal and your own granola and sprinkle it on your oatmeal. If you absolutely need sweetening to get it down (I used to hate oatmeal), use honey instead of sugar or agave syrup. Organic honey, as clean as you can find. Honey is so much sweeter than sugar that you’ll need a lot less and as a bonus, you’ll get a bunch of antioxidants on the side. Highly recommended!
By the way, before I continue with the list I just want to say that I’m no expert in nutrition. I also want to remind that there’s actually nothing wrong with consuming any of these ’’healthy’’ foods. None of these are going to instantly give you diabetes or clog your arteries. As long as you know what you’re actually consuming, you’re good to go and make your own nutrition decisions. The only point of this post is to bring up stuff that is widely advertised as being better for us but really isn’t. Okay, disclaimer time over. Let’s move on to the
MORE UNKNOWN FOODS
7. GLUTEN FREE PRODUCTS
This only applies to people that only eat gluten free because it’s ’’healthier’’. That’s not really the case as gluten free products are often full of added sugar and fat to compensate the loss of flavor and texture the removal of gluten causes.
These are most often just candy bars with a bit of extra protein. It is true that protein helps you stay full for longer than other macro nutrients, though. What I recommend is to grab some of that self made trail mix instead or if you really like protein bars, just make sure it’s an actual protein bar and not just glorified candy.
9. NUT BUTTER
Wait, I just praised nuts as being protein rich and fulfilling. Isn’t PB just peanuts in butter form? At best, yes it is. But the thing here is that many nut butters actually contain a ton of sneakily added fat and sugar that is written in the small text in the label. So yes, pure nut butter is amazing, added sugar not so much. If you’re feeling crafty, you can try making your own. Here’s a popular, highly rated and delicious recipe from Minimalist Baker.
Hold on, wasn’t this supposed to be a list for unhealthy foods? Yes it is and avocado belongs in it. Just hear me out. It is true that avocados are loaded with monounsaturated fats, fiber vitamins B, K, E and C as well as minerals such as potassium and copper. Avocado has exploded in popularity once food and fitness bloggers revealed this fatty health bomb to us. Here’s where the unhealthiness kicks in: it is truly loaded with fats. Even if these fats are the ’’good fats’’ that lower your cholesterol, it’s fat nonetheless. One cup of avocado contains around 22 grams of fat, which is anywhere between 29-40 percent of the recommended fat intake in a daily 2000 calorie diet. Lets get real, are you going to stop at that one cup of that nutty goodness? Probably not. That added to all the other fat you consume, be it good or bad fat, is going to build up.
11. LOW FAT ANYTHING
If the label says ’’low fat’’ or ’’no fat’’ you can be pretty sure that it’s going to be compensated with sugar, additives and sodium. There’s nothing wrong in consuming fat as long as you know what you’re eating and your nutrition in general is fine and balanced. Due to this, in the long run it might be better to just go with the fatty option and limit your intake of the quantity.
12. LOW SUGAR ANYTHING
It might come as a surprise, but your ’’sugar free’’ food actually contains sugar. In order to be allowed to use the ’’sugar free’’ label, the product must contain less than 0,5 grams of sugar per serving. What happens is people get less of a bad conscience after eating a ton of ’’sugar free’’ stuff and that 0,5g will add up. Also, the lack of sugar is probably compensated with artificial sweeteners, that are not entirely risk free. You can read more on that from this Harvard Health article I found.
Again, often full of sugar and unnecessary additives (as the bright colors suggest). Personally I can’t see the appeal of these since every sports drink I’ve ever tasted tastes just absolutely wrong, like something you just shouldn’t drink. They are wildly popular though. If you do want something more flavored than water and avoid sugar and additives, you could try the popular infused waters.
14. INSTANT OATMEAL
Can you already guess what’s lurking in the ’’healthy’’ bag of instant oatmeal? Yep, it’s added sugar and other additives. The glycemic index of instant oatmeal is quite high meaning that it won’t keep hunger at bay for long. Actual oatmeal is actually a much better option.
15. RICE CAKES
Another item that has a very high glycemic index and added sugar. Try swapping rice cakes for fiber rich whole grain bread.
Pre- made, of course. Again, if you make these yourself, you can make them as healthy as you want. Just as most other pre- made foods, veggie burgers are no different when it comes to added salt, sugar and fat. They often contain only very little actual veggies. Cookie and Kate has three amazing veggie burger recipes definitely worth trying!
THE SURPRISING ONES
17.DELI MEAT/ COLD CUT
Okay this one wasn’t so surprising but I was surprised about how much negativity I could find on the interwebs about them. First of all, processed meat is generally found to be unhealthy as it has been linked to cancer and cardiovascular diseases by several studies (World Health Organization, Science Daily , NCBI) . Processed meat is meat that has been processed by curing, salting, smoking, drying or canning. Processed meat that is fried or grilled may contain high levels of nitrosamines. These nitrosamines have been linked to gastrointestinal cancers. Smoked meats have been found to contain high amounts of PAH compounds (Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbon) that are released by imperfect combustion. Deli meats also contain high amounts of salt that has a negative effect on blood pressure.
Now this one is wildly debated. A growing number of studies suggest that our dear milk that is said to make our bones strong and prevent osteoporosis has no effect on these things even at best. Some studies even suggest that regular dairy consumption actually increases the risk of osteoporosis and bone fracture in an elderly age especially in women. In Finland, it would be a massive ’’scandal’’ if this was eventually found to be the case because we have a nation wide campaign to make kids consume tons of dairy products for their health benefits and as a whole, Finns drink large amounts of milk even as adults compared to most other people in the world. As I’m researching this thought provoking topic, it does seem like dairy products’ benefits are true for children, the debate concentrates on benefits for adults more. A Physicians Committee article concluded based on 52 listed studies that dairy is not necessary in a healthy diet and it can, in fact, be harmful to one’s health. Studies have began to emerge more and more on the subject so feel free to do your own research and make your own decisions.
19. SOY BEAN OIL
You’ll find soybean oil in many bottles labeled as ’’vegetable oil’’ as well as in many dairy free options. Soy bean oil does not preserve well unless it is processed by hydrogenating it, causing the formation of trans fats in the process. Trans fats are the ’’bad’’ fats we’re always warned against. According to a 2015 study, soy bean oil can be more obesogenic and diabetogenic (obesity and diabetes causing) that fructose or coconut oil and may induce fatty liver disease. Of course, this is still fairly contradictory so you make the decision. If you do want to swap your soy bean oil for something else, you could go for coconut oil, olive oil, butter, avocado oil or macadamia nut oil.
No, not even stevia is safe from this brutal list that will make you wonder what can you eat anymore. The thing is, stevia itself is perfectly fine but most ’’stevia sweeteners’’ actually consist mostly of regular sugar and just enough stevia to be allowed to call it that. Often you’ll find dextrose (sugar) as the 1st ingredient followed by things like maltodextrin (corn syrup) and sugary natural flavors. Stevia is still a great way to replace sugar, just make sure it’s as pure as possible!
BONUS: WHEY PROTEIN
You might think that a bag of whey protein contains just that: whey protein. Whey protein is one of those products where the price can really be a telltale sign of the quality. In the cheaper options you can easily find additives such as soy lecithin, different kinds of dyes and ’’unlisted heavy metals’’. Soy lecithin has caused a massive outburst of speculation after it was found that soy contains plant chemicals that very closely resemble our human estrogen, potentially causing hormonal disruptions (such as infertility in both genders), developmental problems and certain forms of cancer. As for the heavy metals, quality whey should never contain them. However, studies have discovered many products to actually contain high levels of cadmium, lead and arsenic. They are not added into the products but can make their way there by means of poor processing methods or polluted farmland (as whey is a side product of the dairy industry). Not surprisingly, much of the low quality whey comes from China.
So, there you have it, 20+1 foods that you thought were healthy but really aren’t. It’s pretty much impossible (and unnecessary) to always eat 110% clean as it seems that everything is poisoned these days or at least carcinogenic. For this reason, this list is only meant to be a ’’guideline’’ for ingredients and foods to inspect more closely if you do want to try to be at least a bit more healthy and eat more cleanly according to the latest studies. Of course, nothing in the field of nutrition is without controversy (I’m looking at you, sugar and fat) and honestly, I don’t think there are many foods that should absolutely be avoided or foods that are absolutely healthy as every single person is different, production methods vary, farming methods vary and most of all, scientific studies find new information all the time. So, take what you will from this list (if anything) and just remember to do your own research before making your decisions!