Healthy eating is a hot topic. Buzz words are everywhere – super foods, clean eating, antioxidants, whole grain, natural and organic – to name a few. Not to mention the latest diet rage – paleo, raw food, acai berry, gluten-free, etc. And while most people really do want to eat healthier, it can be confusing to understand what “healthy” really means.
“Healthy” Foods That Aren’t
Food manufacturers know you want to eat well (at least most of the time), so they go to great lengths to make their food appear healthier than it really is. Tricky labeling, creative processing and popular misconceptions all contribute to the confusion. There are a myriad of foods that you always thought were good for you, but the reality is, not only are they not doing you any favors, they could actually be harming you.
Check out the list below for 26 foods that aren’t quite as healthy as you thought
– Many yogurts are flavored with sweeteners, both natural and artificial. The probiotics and protein found in yogurt are an excellent way to help regulate your digestive system. However, the added sugars and flavors can cross out any benefits found in the natural types of yogurt. Stick with the plain varieties, make sure they have live cultures and add your own bits of fruit or honey if you want more flavor.
– Studies can be confusing when it comes to this kitchen staple. Your body definitely needs the calcium and vitamin D found in milk, but whole milk is high in calories and fat. In addition, the proteins found in cow’s milk can be hard for some people to digest. Lactose intolerance anyone? Try getting your vitamin D from salmon, mackerel, tuna, mushrooms and even a bit of sunshine. Calcium can be found in dark green veggies like kale and broccoli as well as nuts like almonds and sunflower seeds.
– Yes, cheese is made from milk making it a great source of calcium and protein, but it can also cause some health concerns. In addition to having the same issues as milk, cheese brings its own set of concerns. While cheese is a “natural” food, the hard cheeses, in particular, can be extremely high in sodium and fat. Cheese is also a product made from the fermentation of milk. Thus, it is a by-product of molds and bacteria which can cause digestive distress in some people.
4. Processed Cheese Foods
– The name alone should be enough to scare you. If they’re legally not even allowed to call it cheese, you need to stay away from it. If it doesn’t need to be refrigerated, comes in a jar or box, or shoots out of a nozzle, you shouldn’t be putting it in your mouth.
– While pork does contain high amounts of protein and minerals, it does generally also have a higher amount of saturated fats than other “white” meats. Stick with the leaner cuts of pork like the tenderloin and bake or broil them instead of frying or sautéing in butter or creamy sauces.
6. Turkey Franks/Bacon
– Turkey is generally a great choice when it comes to meat, but pay attention to the nutritional labels. Ground turkey is a good option. But more processed types of turkey can be less than healthy. Some turkey franks can be higher in calories than the lean beef kosher varieties. And while turkey bacon is certainly better for you than regular pork bacon, if it’s loaded with sodium, nitrates and preservatives, it defeats the purpose. Look for low-sodium, nitrate-free brands.
– Made from the soybean, soy products like tofu, edamame and soy milk are often used as protein or meat substitutes. While the benefits of soy are well-documented, it does have some concerns. Soy contains called isoflavonoids or phytoestrogens, a substance that can act like estrogen in the body. Women who are sensitive to estrogen, and particularly post-menopausal women, need to be careful about their soy intake.
– While fruit, in general, does contain nice amounts of vitamins and fiber, most fruits also contain large amounts of sugar. And even though it’s a natural sugar, it’s still sugar. Your body will like the sugar just fine and process it accordingly, right to your waistline or hips if you get more than you need. You’re better off getting your vitamins and fiber from vegetables. Just not the vegetables listed next.
– While it is a vegetable, potatoes are primarily starch and fiber. They do provide some nutritional value in B vitamins, and if you eat the skin, vitamin C, but the sheer amount of starch tends to outweigh the benefits. All that starch gets converted directly to sugar in your body. Add in all the extras most of us slather potatoes with – butter, sour cream, etc. – and potatoes aren’t near as healthy as other vegetable options.
10. Iceberg Lettuce
– While we’re on the subject of less-than-impressive veggies, iceberg lettuce leaves much to be desired. Other than a source of roughage and a nice crunch, the pale green/white lettuce has almost zero nutritional value. You’re much better off choosing a dark green lettuce variety.
11. Salad Dressing
– Most salad dressings are loaded with sugar, fats, preservatives and all kinds of artificial flavorings and chemicals you can’t pronounce. Make your own dressing instead. Just mix together some oil, vinegar and a flavor you like (olive oil, balsamic vinegar and minced garlic for instance) for a much healthier alternative.
– Corn is one of those filler foods (like potatoes) that masquerades as a vegetable, but it’s really just a starchy plant/grain that turns to sugar when you eat it. It does have some vitamins such as B, C, folate and beta-carotene, but the large amount of carbs it contains means you should limit your intake, particularly if you like your corn smothered in butter.
13. Whole Wheat/Grain Bread
– While whole wheat grains do have more nutrition than kernels that have been stripped and processed, most whole wheat grain plants have been engineered to withstand severe weather, including high winds and drought. These plants do indeed survive through the harshest growing conditions, but that also makes them very hard to digest, giving you minimal nutritional value. Most breads also contain quite a bit of sugar as well as artificial preservatives. If your bread doesn’t go bad sitting on the counter after a week or so, that’s a sign it’s not doing your body any favors either. Instead, choose a bread made from sprouted grains like Ezekiel bread with no additives or preservatives.
14. Baked Whole Grain Crackers
– Just because something is baked doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Crackers, whatever they’re made of, contain very little nutrition, lots of additives and preservatives, and a whole lot of carbs and often calories as well. If you’re longing for that crunch, try vegetables lightly tossed in olive oil, sprinkled with herbs and roasted until they’re crisp.
15. “Fruit” Snacks
– Most fruit snacks don’t have any fruit in them at all. They are basically gummy candy made up of artificial flavors and sweeteners. Look out for words like “fruit flavored”, “imitation grape” and “flavor added.” Even if they do contain fruit, the pieces are often coated in sugar and preservatives to help maintain their shape and color.
16. Fruit Juice
– Fruit contains high amounts of natural sugar, and fruit juices have even more. And often they have even more artificial sweeteners added as well as other juices used as fillers. Check the label to make sure you’re getting 100% pure juice with no added sugar. And even then, drink in moderation. In fact, drink some water and just eat an apple instead.
– Red wine has been touted for its heart-healthy properties because it contains antioxidants which may help reduce heart disease. And while it probably does have some benefits, realistically, most people don’t drink just one glass of wine. The strain alcohol puts on your liver to process it as well as the relatively high caloric content makes the benefits of a nightly glass of wine questionable.
– If you’re a hard-core athlete who sweats excessively in the hot sun, then Gatorade is a good idea. It contains a shot of carbohydrates and electrolytes that can revive a spent competitor. But the extra calories, in what is basically sugar water, negate any benefits gained from the average exercise routine.
19. Vitamin Water
– The vitamins added to these products aren’t in a form that your body can really use. Drink regular water and eat an extra serving of vegetables instead. It’ll keep your money and the vitamins from being flushed down the toilet.
20. Ketchup/tomato sauce
– Condiments are notorious for having large amounts of added sugar and sodium. Ketchup and tomato-based sauces are major culprits. Check the labels and look for the sugar-free varieties. Watch out for artificially flavored spreads that are often just as high in calories and fat as those made with eggs or oils.
– Most peanut butters are loaded with sugar and artificial preservatives and contain rather a sad amount of actual peanuts. Again, if it doesn’t spoil if it’s not in the fridge, it’s not good for your body. All-natural peanut butter is still high in fat, but without all the added sugar and chemicals, it can be a much healthier choice. Check out all-natural almond butter for another healthier option.
22. Vegetable Oil
– Most “vegetable” oils, like canola, are made from using rapeseed which is often genetically modified and grown with heavy pesticides. They are then processed using harsh chemicals and extremely high heat thus destroying any nutritional value. Your best bets are to use olive oil or coconut oil. Look for cold-pressed organic varieties that actually do “press” olive or coconuts to extract the oil.
23. Margarine/Butter Substitutes
– Margarine and other butter substitutes are often hydrogenated vegetable oils. This means that normally they would be liquid at room temperature, but they are processed to make them similar in texture to butter. They are full of trans-fats and chemicals. While real butter is basically the fattest part of milk shaken up, it is a “real” food with no unhealthy chemicals or preservatives added.
– Gluten is a protein found in wheat and other grains like rye and barley. All the rage right now, gluten-free diets really can help those with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity. However, gluten-free shouldn’t be confused with healthy or low-calorie. Unless you truly are sensitive to gluten, there really is no reason to go gluten-free.
– Just because something is sugar-free doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, many sugar-free items contain some type of artificial sweetener which can be worse for you than real sugar. Aspartame, saccharin, Splenda and stevia are all sugar substitutes. The hazards of artificial sweeteners are well-documented. When given an option, choose the natural sugar, just do it in small amounts.
– Fat free items go through a chemical process to remove “fats.” While this not only results in over-processed and unhealthy food, extra sugar or other sweeteners are often added to make up for the loss in taste. Additional binding agents like grains or fake fats are added to help hold the food together. Furthermore, your body needs healthy fats found in foods like fish, avocados and nuts. Your brain, skin, hair and nails all need healthy fats to function properly.
In general, the more processed the food is, the worse it is for you. Your body is designed to efficiently use food to its maximum potential. But it can’t do that if the food it takes in is laced in chemicals and all the nutritional value has been processed out of it. Buy and eat truly natural foods that are as close as possible to what they looked like when they came out of the ground or an animal. It’s better for the environment, you’ll feel better, and your mind and body will thank you for it.