15 “Healthy” Foods That Aren’t So Healthy

Eating healthy has become a major trend in recent years, as people are becoming more conscious about their health and wellbeing. As a result, navigating the grocery store in search of nutritious foods has become increasingly complex as more and more “healthy” products fill the shelves.

Unfortunately, not all foods that claim to be healthy are actually good for you. In fact, many foods marketed as “healthy” or “natural” are loaded with sugar, salt, unhealthy fats, or additives that can harm your health over time. 

Read on for some of the most popular “healthy” foods that aren’t as good for you as you may think…

1. Granola and Granola Bars

Granola is often marketed as a healthy breakfast, but most commercial brands are high in calories, sugars, oils, and unhealthy additives, which can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Make sure to read the labels and choose brands that are lower in sugar and made with whole grains, or consider making your own with nutritious ingredients like nuts, oats, and dried fruits.

2. Pre-made Smoothies or Protein Shakes 

Homemade smoothies can be a nutritious way to add extra fruit, veggies, and protein to your day. However, pre-made smoothies and shakes are often loaded with sugar or fruit juice, added ingredients, and preservatives that can lead to weight gain and cause digestive issues like bloating. 

If you are buying a smoothie on the go, choose a brand that’s lower in sugar. Alternatively, make a healthy homemade smoothie with a combination of fruit and veggies, protein, and healthy fat. You’ll minimize the sugar content, get more fiber, and avoid any added ingredients or preservatives. 

3. Energy and Protein Bars

Similar to granola bars, many protein and energy bars are high in calories, unhealthy additives, and sugar equivalent to that of a candy bar. Some also contain high levels of saturated fat or hydrogenated oils. Do your best to choose low-sugar options made with whole ingredients, high quality protein, and fiber.

4. Agave Nectar

Agave nectar is often marketed as a healthier alternative to sugar, but it is actually higher in fructose than table sugar. Fructose is a type of sugar that can be harmful in large quantities, as it is metabolized differently than other types of sugars. While small amounts of agave nectar may be okay for some people, it is essential to use it in moderation and to choose brands that are lower in fructose.

5. Fat-Free and Low-Fat Foods

Being fat-free or low-fat doesn't make something healthy. In fact, manufacturers often replace the fat with sugar, vegetable oils, and other additives to make up for the loss of flavor and texture. What’s more, fat-free products are usually less filling, since fat is a macronutrient that supports satiety. You’re better off going with the full fat option, which will keep you full longer.

6. Gluten-Free Foods

While a gluten-free diet is necessary for people with celiac disease or gluten intolerance, many gluten-free products are higher in calories, sugar, and unhealthy additives. Additionally, gluten-free items tend to be lower in protein, fiber, and certain vitamins and minerals than their gluten-containing counterparts. It is essential to read the labels carefully and choose products that are made with whole ingredients and without added sugars.

7. Nut Butter

It is no secret that nut butters like peanut and almond butter are delicious and filling. But not all nut butter contains healthy ingredients, and even in their purest form, they’re an easy way to consume a lot of calories without realizing it. 

Many nut butters also come with added salt, sugar and oils, added to improve their taste, mixability and shelf life. Choose nut butters without added sugar, oil, or additives, or eat whole nuts for a healthier option. 

8. Flavored Yogurt 

Yogurt is often marketed as a healthy snack, but many commercial varieties are loaded with sugar and artificial flavors to improve taste and extend shelf life. Some contain as much sugar as a candy bar, which can contribute to weight gain and other health problems. Instead of buying flavored yogurt, opt for plain yogurt and add your own fruit, nuts, and honey for flavor.

9. Veggie Chips

Veggie chips are often marketed as a healthy alternative to potato chips, but many commercial varieties are fried in unhealthy oils and contain as much salt as potato chips, which can contribute to high blood pressure and other health problems. Instead of buying veggie chips, opt for whole veggies like carrots, celery, and cucumbers and add a dip like hummus for a nutritious snack. 

10. Pre-Packaged Lunch Meat

Pre-packaged lunch meats are often highly processed and contain high levels of sodium, preservatives, and additives such as nitrites and nitrates. These additives are used to enhance flavor and increase shelf life, but they can also be harmful to health. Excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and an increased risk of heart disease, while nitrites and nitrates have been linked to an increased risk of cancer. Additionally, pre-packaged lunch meats may contain less protein and more unhealthy fats compared to freshly cooked meats. Do your best to consume fresh, unprocessed meats whenever possible.

11. Plant-Based Meat Products 

While plant-based meats can be a good alternative for those looking to reduce their meat consumption, they are not always a healthier option. Some contain high levels of sodium, saturated fat, and calories, which can contribute to health problems such as high blood pressure and obesity. Additionally, many plant-based meats are highly processed and contain additives such as preservatives and flavor enhancers. Instead of relying on store-bought products, try using whole-food ingredients to make your own at home. 

12. Pre-Packaged Salads 

Pre-packaged salads are convenient, but they may not always be the healthiest option. Many pre-packaged salads contain high levels of sodium, added sugars, and unhealthy fats in the form of dressings or toppings. It’s best to prepare your own salads with fresh ingredients, and to use healthier dressings and toppings such as olive oil, vinegar, nuts, and seeds.

13. Plant-Based Milks

Plant milks can be an excellent alternative to dairy products for those who are vegan or intolerant to milk products. However, not all nut milks are as healthy as you think. Unless explicitly stated on the bottle, most plant milks contain added sugar to improve their taste. Additionally, some plant-based milks contain added fillers and gums, and many are low in protein and don’t provide the same nutrient content as dairy milk. For this reason, it’s good to choose unsweetened nut milks with added protein, or make your own and sweeten it with dates to moderate your intake of refined sugar.

14. Diet Soda 

Even though diet soda contains no sugar and generally zero calories, it is still loaded with artificial sweeteners and other unhealthy additives. Studies show that those who drink it regularly are more likely to develop health issues than people who don’t. For example, diet soda has been linked to an increased risk of metabolic syndrome, a group of symptoms that include increased belly fat, blood sugar, blood pressure, and blood fat levels. 

15. Fruit Juice 

Fruit juice is often marketed as a healthy alternative to soda, but it's often made from concentrate, loaded with sugar, and lacking the fiber found in whole fruit. Furthermore, fruit juices from grocery stores often have added food coloring, flavors, and other additives. Even scarier – a study in the US examined 45 fruit juices of different flavors and found that more than half of the juices had elevated levels of lead that could cause neurodevelopmental problems in children. Instead of drinking fruit juice, opt for whole fruit or homemade smoothies. 

The Bottom Line

Regardless of what their packaging or marketing may tell us, many “healthy” foods aren’t as good for us as we’ve been led to believe. These products often contain added sugars, salt, and artificial ingredients, which can adversely impact your well-being. Furthermore, many foods marketed as "healthy" are heavily processed and lack essential nutrients. 

Do your best to read labels, choose whole foods, and limit your consumption of processed foods to optimize your health and wellbeing.