In the food environment, we live in today, we are constantly subjected as consumers to a million different food advertisements. Many of those are from the diet industry in particular, and slap confusing and misleading claims on their packages to convince us that whatever they’re selling is healthy. So it is not surprising in the slightest why so many people, even when making a conscious effort to eat healthy or lose weight have so much trouble. I thought I’d do a blog post on 10 foods you think are healthy but really aren’t, because it would be frustrating and confusing to think you’re eating nutritiously, but really not doing any better than eating junk food.
I’ll introduce each food one by one, explain the health backfire, and offer a more nutritious alternative.
The single thing most people should look to in deciding whether a certain prepackaged food is healthy is added sugar. If sugar is one of the first ingredients listed, (anything ending in –ose), that means it’s one of the main ingredients and it’s probably something that is best left on the shelf.
1. Agave Nectar.
Okay guys this one is huuuuuge! I see it all the freakin’ time on food labels. Things like cereals, smoothies, cookies, etc. all proudly display ingredient lists with agave nectar front and center. Agave was touted as a healthy sugar alternative bc of its lower glycemic index, but the harmful effects of sugar don’t just come from a high glycemic index. The detrimental part of sugar comes from fructose, and agave is a fructose powerhouse. Here’s why. Fructose doesn’t raise your blood sugar in the short term, but if you eat too much of it over a period of time, it causes insulin resistance and elevated blood sugar. And just for reference, regular sugar is about 50% fructose, while Agave Nectar is about 70-90%. So don’t be fooled!
⦁ Healthier sweetener alternative: Stevia, coconut sugar, raw honey. With stevia avoid the overly processed powdered kind; I buy the Sweet Drops Stevia. Coconut sugar should still be used sparingly, but does offer health benefits from amino acids and potassium. Raw honey has antioxidants, minerals, and can boost the immune system. I buy Manuka Honey bc it has the biggest nutritional bang for your buck.
⦁ Bottom line: sugar is sugar! Even the healthier alternatives are still sugar. So instead of trying to cheat the system, focus on avoiding the terrible sugars (the ones ending in –ose), while using the healthier ones sparingly.
- Naked Smoothies.
⦁ Ugh these things make me so mad. I used to be a big fan of Naked smoothies when I was younger. It’s not surprising this brand has so many people fooled on their supposed health drink with names like “Green Machine” or “Mighty Mango”. They certainly sound healthy, and the green ones make you feel like you’re being a fit queen. So what gives? Well the problem with Naked, even though they don’t add sugar to their drinks, is that drinking fruits without the fiber causes some major issues when talking about the absorption of sugars into your blood stream. Fiber is what slows that process down, so when we are talking about a whopping 60 grams (seriously wtf!!) in one bottle of Naked, with no fiber to slow that down, you are looking at massive amounts of fructose heading straight to your liver to be converted into free fatty acids, and stored as fat. This doesn’t even begin to cover the other issues I have with Naked, but I found this amazing article that nails it on the head. .
⦁ Healthier smoothie alternatives… a real ass smoothie! Make one at home and don’t be afraid to load it up with fruits and veggies! Some of my favorite veggies to throw into smoothies are spinach, kale, zucchini, and cauliflower. They each add tonnnns of nutritional benefits and volume without adding much, if any flavor! My tip is to freeze them for a thicker smoothie. And if you do love to juice, go for it! I have a lot more faith in fresh juices that I know aren’t pasteurized or processed. BTW: Smoothie King is also not your best bet for real smoothies. Check the ingredient lists, fruit juices as an ingredient is not the same as fruit.
- Salad Dressings.
I’ll keep it short and sweet on this one. Be extremely critical of the salad dressings you throw on your meal. It’s so sad when people build a really healthy salad bowl then throw on a fat or sugar packed dressing. Check the nutrition label; look for minimal ingredients and lower sugar content. I’m talking nothing above 5 grams.
⦁ I usually use balsamic or coconut vinegar as a salad dressing. If you’re doing the salad right, the actual salad will be pretty flavorful. A little balsamic just adds enough of a kick to make it all really delicious. Olive oil dressings are also a healthier source of fat, but use it sparingly. I also like Annie’s Naturals Lite products and Cindy’s Kitchen Fresh Avocado Vinaigrette.
- Flavored Fat-free yogurt.
Okay guys yogurt is extremely misleading. Again, the issue with some flavored yogurts is that it is filled with sugar. Like upwards of 15 grams!! Ain’t nobody got time for that. Also, the low-fat and non-fat yogurts seem to dominate the industry, but more often than not when the fat is taken out, the sugar is put in to make up for the taste. My advice is that whatever yogurt you buy, full of fat or none at all, aim for the lower sugar varieties. Anything above 10 grams is not something you need.
⦁ Alternatives: I can’t eat yogurt anymore ))): b/c of a pretty bad lactose intolerance, but when I did eat it, I loved the Siggi’s brand! Short ingredient list and pretty low in sugar. I also found that I enjoyed plain Greek yogurt more when it had the fat in it.
- Dried Fruit:
At this point y’all probably know what I’m going to say. Dried fruit is filled with sugar, and its minimal health benefits of fruit are pretty much masked by the loaded sugar content. I read one article that said if you’re choosing between dried fruit and a candy bar like a Milky Way, you might as well reach for the chocolate. A Milky Way bar has bout 30 grams of sugar which is less than a cup of dried figs.
⦁ Eat whole fruit. Duh! But still be cognizant of sugar content. Fruit isn’t a free food. Though it has many health benefits, it isn’t as good for you as vegetables. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, grapefruit, are all your lower sugar fruit varieties.
- Veggie Chips.
These are like number one on the diet food list. People think they’re doing the right thing, fighting the good fight by eating their veggies in chip form. Have you ever looked at the ingredient list of a veggie chip? No? Well don’t worry, I found a pic of one product for reference.
⦁ VEGGIE CHIPS (POTATO FLOUR, POTATO STARCH, TOMATO PASTE, SPINACH POWDER, SALT, SUGAR, POTASSIUM CHLORIDE, BEETROOT POWDER [COLOR], TURMERIC), CANOLA OIL AND/OR SAFFLOWER OIL AND/OR SUNFLOWER OIL, SEA SALT.
⦁ I left the ingredients in bold and all caps to emphasize my point. Potato flour is offers you zip. Tomato paste? Um no thanks. Canola oil is an inflammatory oil, and potassium chloride is a chemical salt substitute. Basically chips like these are no better than just reaching for a bag of Lays.
⦁ If you want a REAL veggie chip, my advice is to roast your favorite veggies! My go-to is slicing up sweet potatoes and zucchini , and roasting them with my fav seasonings at 375 for about 45 mins. Seriously so good and so much better for you than this crap!
- Granola bars like Nature Valley Bars
These babies are loaded with sugar, processed flours like soy flour, and really don’t offer you any nutritional benefits. They are also messy af.
⦁ If you like granola bars, look for ones that are made from ingredients you recognize. My favorites are KIND bars, Larabars, and my all time favorites Superfood Seedbars by Elemental Superfood. These babies are ah-mazing!!!
- Protein bars.
Have similar issues to granola bars. Many have the nutritional content, aside from protein, to a candy bar. Stay away from brands like PowerBar or Adkins, which include ingredients like malic acid, pectin, calcium lactate, corn syrup, and maltodextrin. Aka toxic shit your body does not need, especially if you just finished a tough workout!
⦁ My favorites: Bulletproof collagen protein bars, Oatmega bars, RX Bars, Perfect Bars, EPIC bison bars, RAW REV Glo bars (so yummy!)
- Sports Drinks.
People have this idea that after a workout the only way to supplement the electrolyte loss from sweating is with a big jug of Gatorade or PowerAde. These drinks are looooadddeeed with sugar, anywhere from 20-30 grams per bottle. If you are a person that engages in strenuous and prolonged workouts, I’m talking upwards of 2 hours of exercise like marathon training, maybe swig a little ade. But honestly if you are eating nutritious food and drinking plenty of water, your body will be replenished with the minerals it needs to recover.
⦁ Sometimes after I sweat a lot, like after a hot yoga session, I will drink a little coconut water or throw some in a post-workout smoothie. I love the taste and that’s a more natural way to replenish electrolytes!!
- Healthy cereals/granolas/flavored instant oatmeal.
A lot of these brands of food are overly processed, filled with sugar or unhealthy fats, and then strapped with a label that says things like ‘gluten free’, ‘no artificial colors’, ‘whole-grain’, or ‘low-fat’ to trick people into thinking they’re making the proper and healthy choice. Again, act like a detective when you’re at the grocery store. So many food companies are not being upfront about whether their food is actually good for you. Brands like Honey Bunches of Oats, Special K diet cereals, or many of Quaker’s fruit flavored oatmeals are the perfect examples of this.
⦁ Here’s something I found at the grocery store that I think is totally misleading. On the package it boats things like “Hemp Peach”, “Made with Organic Oatmeal Superfood Hot Cereal.” Sounds totally healthy right? But when I turned the package over one serving was a whopping 28 grams of sugar. That’s more sugar than most dietitians reccommend for a whole day!
⦁ When buying oatmeal, try to buy the unflavored variety. To add flavor I use spices like cinnamon and often put some of my favorite protein powder in after cooking. It makes them so thick and keeps me full for a long time! I don’t eat much in the way of cereal, but I do love granola. My favorite brand, as anyone who follows my fitness Instagram has probably noticed, is Purely Elizabeth. I love, love, love her grain free granolas. And I’m also a huge fan of the fact that I recognize each of the foods in the short ingredient list.
So if you’re still with me, or if you just gave this post a scan, I hope you feel a bit more confident the next time you go to the grocery store in knowing what you’re buying is actually healthy. I get it, it’s so confusing!! I am the first person to tell you I have been tricked many times into eating foods I think are healthy. So educate yourself, pour-over ingredient lists, but most of all trust that whole foods are your best bet for nourishing your body!