Eating well is hard enough without impostors getting in the way. We’re calling bluff on these 11 sneakily sinful foods masquerading as healthy.
You should always turn a more discerning eye toward processed foods, and cereal is one of the worst offenders when it comes to misleading labels. The big trouble here is sugar. Cereals that are marketed as healthy often contain even more sugar than those traditionally considered sweet and unwholesome, and a single bowl can often account for your entire recommended daily intake of the sweet stuff. That fact is often overlooked by shoppers who zero in on the promise of whole grains, fiber, or protein, and fail to check out the nitty-gritty on the label. While those ingredients are good—though often synthetically added—their benefits don’t outweigh the sugar overload.
2. FRUIT JUICE
It’s pretty well established that store-bought fruit juice can be troublesome because it contains high fructose corn syrup. But it’s okay if you sip all-natural, 100 percent juice, right? Not so much. While a glass of orange juice might be better than a can of soda, it still contains a lot of sugar—several fruits worth—without many of the benefits you reap by eating a piece of nature’s candy in its entirely, like nutrients and fiber. If you’re going to drink juice, keep portions small and consider diluting with water. Same goes for smoothies and dried fruit, which are also known for hiding a lot of extra calories and sugar behind a healthful mask.
3. LOW OR REDUCED FAT FOODS
Low fat foods were all the rage years ago until people started realizing that in order to get rid of one bad thing, you often had to replace it with another bad thing. When they took the good, healthy fats out of peanut butter, for example, manufacturers found they needed to add more sugar and sodium in order to keep the taste the same. As such, the new, low-fat product usually has the same amount of calories as the original, but less fat and more sugar. That’s a losing trade for those looking to make the healthiest choice. Among their many virtues, healthy fats (the unsaturated variety) help to tell your body when it’s full and will therefore keep you from overeating.
Muffins are great. Part of the reason they’re so great? They often taste a lot like cake. Even the healthiest-seeming muffin type, the beloved bran, is often full of sugar, salt, and other unhealthy added ingredients like preservatives. Store-bought muffins are particularly dangerous, so if you’re craving the sweet breakfast treat, it’s best to make it from scratch. This way you can reduce the processed ingredients and control the portions, which are often outrageously hefty at the corner café (muffin sizes have increased by up to four times since the 1980s).
5. EGG SUBSTITUTES
This is another case where fat gets a bad rap. People opt for egg white-only products because they contain all the protein of whole eggs and none of the fat or cholesterol. The truth is, the yolks in whole eggs can help increase HDL (healthy cholesterol) when eaten in moderation. Plus, they’re full of real nutrients like iron and vitamins. Generally speaking, egg substitutes aren’t bad for you, but they’re often touted as a healthier option when the real thing is in fact the better choice for most of us.
While we’re on the subject of healthy fats, let’s turn our attention to everyone’s favorite health food: the avocado. It’s delicious, nutritious , and, unfortunately, super easy to overindulge in. Snacking on too many avocados can lead to weight gain when people don’t adjust their diets accordingly, as one avocado has almost a third of your recommended daily fat intake. Just like eggs, moderation is the name of the game here. If you stay mindful, you and your precious fruit (it’s actually a berry!) will never have to break up.
7. BARS (PROTEIN, GRANOLA, ENERGY, CEREAL)
Few things in this world are as convenient as a granola bar. It’s fast, easy, ready-to-go, and easy to pack. Unfortunately, that convenience comes at a price. Generally speaking, the snack-able bars contain a lot of sugar, high fructose corn syrup, trans fats, carbohydrates, saturated fats, hydrogenated oils, artificial sweeteners, and a whole lot of calories. More specifically, the soy protein found in protein bars is heavily processed and stripped of most of its nutritional value, and energy bars are usually meant for people like athletes who use them as a meal replacement or to compensate for the large amount of calories they’re burning on the regular. Many energy and protein bars have more calories than a candy bar.
8. SPORTS DRINKS
If you’re not a hardcore athlete, you probably don’t need a sports drink. These colorful concoctions are full of electrolytes that help athletes refuel after intense workouts, but they also have a lot of sugar and calories. Sports drinks are rarely better than plain old water for most of us who need to hydrate after 30 minutes on the treadmill.
9. “WHOLE GRAIN” and “WHOLE WHEAT” BREADS
When standing in front of the bread shelf at the grocery store, it seems like every package contains words like “multi-grain” or “whole wheat”—but you must look to the nutrition label to make sure your breadbasket is stocked with the healthiest goods. The impostors are often made with enriched, refined grains that have fewer nutritional benefits, so flip that loaf over and check to make sure the first ingredient is “whole wheat flour” and not “wheat flour” or “enriched wheat flour.” As for grains, look for ingredients like oats, brown rice, wheat berries, bran, buckwheat, whole-grain sorghum, whole rye, buckwheat or barley. Basically, ask your bread to name names before you take it home with you.
In pure concept, salad is a great choice if you want to eat right and stay healthy. The problem comes when we try to gussy our salads up with things like glazed nuts, fried chicken, cheese, bread, dried fruit, and worst of all, salad dressing. Bottled salad dressings—especially creamy ones—are loaded with fat, sugar, and calories, with almost no nutritional value. You’re better off mixing your own dressings at home, which is a lot easier than you might think: All you need is a little balsamic vinegar or olive oil and lemon. Lastly, choose your lettuce wisely: Arugula and spinach are princes to iceberg’s pauper (if we’re equating nutrients with wealth).
The healthy eater is drawn to a wrap as a lighter sandwich alternative, but the tortillas and flatbread they come in can be deceptively high in calories. A better bet is whole grain bread (a good source of fiber), which also has plenty of room to stack up your favorite healthy sandwich ingredients.
Sorry we’re not sorry if we just ruined your “healthy” afternoon snack.