14 Health Foods That Aren’t Healthy
Here is a list of ‘health foods’ that are actually junk food in disguise.
Eating well involves one simple thing; eating real food, it’s actually that simple. The issue is that everyone has a different definition of what ‘real food’ is. To me, real food is something with one ingredient, not something made of ingredients, and the more you focus on cooking with one ingredient foods the healthier your diet will be. However, the truth of the matter is that many of us rarely cook from scratch anymore and we rely on the food industry to help us put together our meals. Although many items in the grocery store are marketed towards us as ‘health foods’ if you dig a little deeper you will see that many of the foods we are consuming daily are not so healthy after all. With alluring claims like “high in fibre”, “low in carbs”, “high in protein” and “low in fat” on just about everything in the grocery store it is easy to see why even the savviest of shoppers can be confused, so here are the top offenders for health foods that aren’t healthy.
Health Foods That Aren’t Healthy
1. Gluten-Free Snacks
Gluten intolerance and Celiac disease have become increasingly common in North America, and the food industry has caught on to the trend of producing gluten-free “health foods”. Unfortunately, the term gluten-free has taken off like a marketing buzzword and in doing so has made nutrition claims rather confusing to consumers. Although there is validity to eating a gluten-free diet, eating a gluten-free diet that is rich in processed snack foods that is not any healthier. Just because items like crackers, bread, noodles, and muffins are gluten-free does not necessarily make them a healthy choice! If these items are still filled with refined flour (albeit gluten-free), vegetable oils and added sugars the fact that they are gluten-free is completely irrelevant, which is exactly why gluten-free snacks top the list of health foods that aren’t healthy.
Healthier Alternative: Whether you need to avoid gluten or not, stick to simpler 1-ingredient snacks like fruit, vegetables, nuts and seeds as much as possible.
2. Frozen Veggie Burgers
Real talk, plant-based eating has become trendy, but truth be told you can do any type of diet well and you can also do any type of diet poorly. Processed food is processed food, it doesn’t matter if it contains meat or plants. Many commercial veggie burger patties are made of processed soy, gluten and grains, and little to no actual vegetables. Although these items might be plant-based, their list of ingredients can be just a troublesome as a processed hot-dog making them a less than ideal choice.
Healthier Alternative: If you are looking for a plant-based burger you are best to make it yourself at home or look for brands that contain beans, lentils and actual vegetables.
3. Veggies Chips
What makes potato chips unhealthy is not the fact that they are made of potatoes, it is the fact that they are deep-fried in processed vegetable oils and covered with artificial flavours and added sodium. In fact, potatoes are an incredibly healthy food, a rich source of vitamin B6, potassium and vitamin C, and a great source of fibre, so take away the deep-fried version and you have an incredibly healthy food. If your carrots are carrots, your beets and beets, and your parsnips are parsnips, that’s one thing, but deep frying them into chips doesn’t make them any healthier.
Healthier Alternative: Opt for actual vegetables to help get your daily fix, or (once in a while) opt for potato or tortilla chips cooked in avocado oil, coconut oil or sunflower oil.
4. Flavoured Yogurts
In comparison to other breakfast options like cereals, pancakes and croissants, flavoured yogurts often seem like a healthier choice, however that is truly not the case. Most flavoured yogurts have over 10g, and upwards of 20g, of sugar per 3/4 cup serving. (For reference, a chocolate dip donut has 13g of sugar.) Although yogurt and fruit might be healthy on their own, the combination of added sugars, syrups and preservatives in the pre-made flavoured versions are less than ideal.
Healthier Alternative: Opt for plain full-fat yogurt and sweeten it naturally with a great natural sweetener like maple syrup or raw honey.
5. Rice Cakes
Sure rice cakes might be low in calories, but they are low in everything else too. Although they might provide a little fibre, they are generally void of micronutrients and made of refined carbohydrates, making them about as nutritious as a piece of cardboard. Not to mention, many of the flavoured versions are made with other processed sugar, refined oils and artificial colours, and contain upwards of 22 processed ingredients. Plus, because these little wafers have almost no nutrition to them, they don’t lead to satiety and can lead to mindless eating in the long run.
Healthier Alternative: If you want to eat rice, eat actual rice. But if you just aren’t ready to let the rice cakes go, make sure you opt for plain rice cakes and add a little nut butter or avocado for help improve satiety.
6. Vegetable Oils
Although vegetable oils have been marketed as a ‘heart-healthy choice’ they are one of the least natural foods and one of the most commonly used in the food industry. The term ‘vegetable oil’ is actually a blanket term for oil derived from plants; be it canola, sunflower, or soy, and a quick look a video about how canola oil is made and you can see how processed these foods actually are, not to mention man-made foods like margarine. Not only are these oils extracted from their seeds using very harsh chemicals and processes, they are overly rich in omega-6 fats, and although we need them in small amounts, they are known to cause inflammation when consumed in excess. In fact, I would argue that vegetable oils are one of the worst offenders of health foods that aren’t healthy at all.
Healthier Alternative: Opt for all-natural oils like olive oil, butter and animal fats to ensure you are using the best cooking oils and fats, and read ingredient labels to ensure vegetable oils are not hiding in your foods.
7. Flavoured Instant Oatmeal
When it comes to eating well, I am all for convenience but not when it comes at the expense of your health. In a pinch, using quick-cooking or instant oatmeal can be incredibly beneficial to help get you out to the door in a hurry, but it is important to forgo all of those flavoured options. Often marketed as “high fibre” or “high protein” many of the flavoured instant oatmeals not only contain added sugars but also contain vegetable oils, excess sodium and additives.
Healthier Alternative: Flavour your own oatmeal, be it instant, quick-cooking, rolled or steel-cut, by adding some ground spices, fruits, nuts, seeds and a little natural sweetener.
8. Sports Drinks and Vitamin Waters
It’s time we start calling these drinks what they actually are; Fancy Kool-Aid. Look at any pre-made sports drink and you will find a list of ingredients that include sugar, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavours, artificial colours and vegetable oils, and anything with fluorescent coloured doesn’t seem all that ‘natural’ to me. Sports drinks are created to provide extra hydration and a balance of electrolytes in specific sporting situations (not your afternoon at the office) and can be incredibly beneficial when used appropriately, but the quality of the ingredient determines if they are a good choice of not.
Healthier Alternative: Make your own homemade sports drink to ensure you are getting optimal hydration without any unnecessary additives.
9. Energy or Protein Bars
News flash, most protein bars are chocolate bars in disguise. Although some of these bars might be “low carb” and “high protein”, their actual ingredients are what determine if they are a healthy option or not. Hot dogs are ‘”low carb” and “high protein” too but I think we can all agree that they are not a health food. Of course, some brands are healthier than others so be critical of the ones you choose and why you choose them! There are many other healthy snacks that can provide you with a boost of energy and added protein.
Healthier Alternative: When looking for a healthy energy or protein bar, be sure to read the ingredients to ensure they are made with real whole foods and limited in added sugars.
10. Pre-Made Juices & Smoothies
Branded with words like “fresh” and “all-natural” one might think that these juices are a great way to get your 5-a-day. Unfortunately, many pre-made juices and smoothies contain enough sugar to fuel a family of four, and without the fibre many juices can spike your bloodstream and set you up for an energy crash. In fact, some of these pre-made smoothies contain more sugar than a can of Coke! Plus, shelf-stable versions have often been flash pasteurized to ensure they don’t go rancid on store shelves however most of the nutrition is lost in this process.
Healthier Alternative: You are better off making your own juice or smoothie at home, or if you must buy them to ensure they are freshly pressed or blended.
11. Fibre-Rich Granola Bars
But, fibre is good for us, right? Well, yes but if you are getting all sorts of added sugars, oils and preservatives with that fibre it’s missing the mark. Essentially, it’s like added lettuce to your Double Bacon Quarter Pounder and telling yourself you’ve made it healthy. If you are looking for fibre you are better off getting it from real foods like leafy greens, vegetables, oats, or legumes, not fibre-fortified foods. Although they are often presented as a healthy snack idea, these items are one of the worst health foods that aren’t healthy.
Healthier Alternative: Opt for actual nuts and seeds, or make your own No-Bake Granola Bar for a truly fibre rich snack.
12. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit might seem like an innocent snack, but many are coated in oil and sulfites to preserve freshness and contain added sugar for extra sweetness. In fact, a mere 1/4 cup of a common dried cranberry brand contains 29g of sugar, so a little sprinkle in your salad and handful in your trail mix is providing you with more than your daily fill of sugar. Unfortunately, this chewy addition to your meal might be more than you bargained for.
Healthier Alternative: Opt for 100% dried fruit with no added oils, sugars or sulfite, to ensure that you are truly eating nature’s candy.
13. Multi-Grain Bread
Multi-grain bread is just that, bread made with multiple grains. These types of bread say nothing about the processing of the grains or the additional ingredients the bread contains. Bread made with multiple grains are not any more nutritious than any white bread made of refined flour; once the brand and the germ have been removed most of the nutritional value has been lost as well, making it another one of the healthy foods that aren’t healthy after all.
Healthier Alternative: Opt for real bread made of whole-grain flours, and look for sourdough or sprouted bread; these are the most natural processes in bread making ensuring they are more nutritious and more easily digested.
14. Fat-Free Anything
There are two major issues when it comes to fat-free foods; 1) fat is an essential part of the human diet and contain many micronutrients, and 2) removing fat makes food taste horrible. Not only does fat contain fat-soluble nutrients vitamin A, D, E and K, but fat has many functions in the body from mental health to hormones and energy. Plus, fat is what gives food flavour, and removing it forces food manufacturers to add unwanted sugars and artificial flavours to make foods palatable.
Healthier Alternative: Always opt for full-fat options of dressing, sauces and yoghurts and use all-natural fats and oils in cooking. Still not convinced? Learn Why Full-Fat is Always Better.