If you’re new to eating healthy, it can be tempting to walk in Whole Foods and think everything on the shelf is a great, healthy food you should keep in your pantry. The reality is much different. Just because foods are labeled as “healthy,” “natural,” or “organic” doesn’t mean they’re a good idea nutritionally. In fact, many of these “health” foods are really just junk food in disguise. You’ll probably be surprised at how many of these junk foods masquerading as health foods have fooled you:
Multi-grain or whole wheat bread
Even though these loaves of bread are brown and the names would make you think they really are good for you, most of them are still made with refined flour. How can you know whether you’re buying the real deal or an imposter? Read the label. Words like “bleached flour” or “unbleached enriched flour” will be your signal to keep looking.
It seems like these should be so healthy, right?! But most of them aren’t at all. While the advertised ingredients (nuts, oats, seeds, etc.) are good for you, the “glue” holding these bars together is often made up of little more than high fructose corn syrup. Often high in sugar, carbs, and calories, these “healthy” energy bars can undermine your dieting efforts. And don’t think plain old granola, trail mix, or müesli is much better. The added sugar, fats, and even sodium in these also make them a bad snack choice; just a small handful can easily be 300 calories1! If you really want a bar or granola, look for ones high in protein, low in sugar, and short on the ingredient list.
This condiment might seem unlikely as a junk food since it goes on leafy greens, but most salad dressings are loaded with unnecessary ingredients. Many are extremely high in sodium and sugar, and add synthetic ingredients and preservatives to your diet. They pile on the calories, practically negating any nutrition you would be getting from your veggies. A better option is making your own dressing (they’re super easy, usually involving about three ingredients) or buying a dressing with less than 300mg of sodium per serving.
Following a gluten-free diet has become popular lately, even though it may not actually be a healthy way to eat (unless you’re dealing with an allergy, of course). The problem is to create a gluten-free food, many companies wind up having to use less nutritious starches to create a look-alike bread or cracker and have to add extra fat or sugar to get a decent taste. If you need gluten-free food, look for the most nutrient-dense option or snack on naturally gluten-free foods like fruits and veggies.
Again, it’s fruit, so you would think it’s healthy! However, the truth is most dried fruits come with lots of preservatives and added sugar. That aside, because the fruit has been dehydrated, the portion size shrinks and doesn’t fill you up as fast, meaning you’ll end up eating more calories than you realize. As a treat, have dried fruit you know contains no added sugar and keep your portions under control.
Sports drinks and vitamin waters
In reality, these beverages are little better than soda. They still contain ridiculous amounts of sugar and are high in calories. While they have added benefits (electrolytes or vitamins), you’re really much better off sticking to water and saving the sports drink for a high-intensity workout.
Just because it’s not sugar doesn’t mean it’s good for you. In fact, agave nectar has more fructose than high fructose corn syrup2 – go figure! Fructose in such high quantities is likely to throw off your metabolism and raise insulin levels. In reality, you’d be better off going with a natural, unrefined sugar than this “healthy” alternative.
Dairy alternative milks
Having milk alternatives to dairy milk is great, especially for the lactose intolerant, but not all non-dairy milks are healthy. Whether soy, almond, or coconut, the flavored varieties of these beverages have unnecessary amounts of added sugar. Each alternative has its pros and cons, but some of them have very little to offer nutritionally. If you must go with a non-dairy milk alternative, do your research to know which one will offer the best nutrition and always opt for the unsweetened original flavor.
Now be honest: how many of these junk foods in disguise are hiding in your kitchen? Time to go do some cleaning! Next time you head to the store, keep these tips in mind so you avoid buying “healthy” junk food. Instead, try some of these healthy snacks.