10 Common “Health Foods” That Are Actually Terrible For You

Disclaimer: I am not a nutritionist but I know a thing or two about food.

1. Fruit Juice

The idea that fruit juice isn’t “healthy” is one that personally pisses me off. I mean it’s fruit in a different form right? Except it’s not. A lot of fruit juice that is available in the store is filled with preservatives and many times is “from concentrate,” meaning it doesn’t have the nutrients you would want from fruit. But even when it says 100% fruit juice, know that it doesn’t mean it’s not 50% sugar as well. And not all the sugar in it is natural sugar from fruit. So be careful around those fruit juice labels and if you’re like me and refuse to give it up entirely, you’re better off making your own and drinking it in light quantities.

2. Dried Fruit

I know it seems like I’m hating on fruit but I think anything with “fruit” in it seems to get a pass because there is an almost automatic assumption that it is healthy. (All fruits are not even created equally but that’s a conversation for a different day.) Dried fruit is often filled with unhealthy sugar, fruit juice, bad oils, and other refined ingredients that aren’t doing your body any good. If you can’t give up dried fruit, consider getting a food dehydrator or if your climate permits, you might be able to do it yourself outside. If that’s not feasible, try to only choose dried fruits that are naturally and organically processed. Of course the problem is having to discern what is really “natural” and “organic” and what pretends to be.

3. Granola Bars

Because they contain nuts, granola bars are another health fruit that slip through the cracks of being “health foods.” Now, here’s the thing about granola bars, the less sweet it tastes, the better it is for you. If it tastes like it could be a candy bar, it probably contains similar ingredients. Granola bars often overdo the salt and sugar, and do not contain as much fiber and protein as we’d all like to believe they do. You’re better off with your homemade granola where you can use as many natural nuts and control the salt and sugar you put in it.

4. Protein Bars

I used to love protein bars especially after a long day at work and you’re headed to the gym and you think, “I could use just a light snack.” Protein bars, which are sometimes also energy bars, contain numerous artificial ingredients and have as much nutritional value as a milk chocolate bar. That said, some protein bars can be healthy if they contain all the healthy, whole, and very few ingredients that make up the bar. If you see upwards of 15 ingredients in your protein bar, I would say stay away from it.

5. Veggie Burgers

Contrary to popular belief, being a vegetarian does not automatically mean leading a healthier lifestyle. In fact, there is a lot of research to suggest otherwise. And especially where vegetarianism is a fad, rather than a contentious choice that makes choosing whole, natural, and organic foods a priority without animal flesh. Having been a vegetarian for over two years, it was interesting how frequently many veggie burgers were sold as a “healthy” alternative. The ingredients in the veggie burger matter as much as how it is processed. Avoid veggie burgers that are made with processed soy and ones that may have unnatural ingredients. The best veggie burgers, like most things, are the ones you make yourself. But if you must order from a restaurant, always ask exactly what they are made from.

6. Sports Drinks

Not going to name any names here but we should all know by now that a lot of popular sports drinks contain almost as much sugar as soda. And this also includes the numerous kinds of flavored waters that are enriched with artificial ingredients. When it comes to the liquids you consume – the less in them the better. But especially when it comes to your need to hydrate – stick to good old-fashioned water.

7. Rice Cakes

Do people still eat rice cakes? I see it in the grocery store from time to time and I just shake my head. Congratulations to every single marketer two decades or so ago that managed to convince people that eating a completely nutrition-empty, tasteless snack would be great for you. That aside, and it may be hard to believe this because of their taste, but rice cakes will send your blood sugar levels through the roof. Don’t be fooled by their low calories, you’re consuming mostly empty, artificial calories. And no, adding peanut butter or something similar will not raise its nutritional value by much.

8. Pretzels

Pretzels are not the “good for you” snack everyone and their mum wants you to believe it is. Like many false healthy snacks, they slip through the cracks because they appear “light.” As mentioned earlier, oftentimes if the snack food you’re eating contains numerous ingredients, rest assured that it is probably not as healthy as you think it is. In the case of pretzels, overdoing the artificial flour, salt, and bad oils used to make this snack take almost any “health” benefit away from it.

9. Low-fat/Fat-free Foods

Most “low fat” and “fat free” foods are a disgrace. The thing about food production is this: When you take anything out – often things such as fat that are natural to the food – you will almost always have to “add” something else into it. The substitutes that are used for “low fat” and “fat free” foods are often worse than simply getting the “regular” version. If something has to be further processed, generally speaking, it is taking it further away from its natural state and that is most times not going to be good for your plate and your health.

10. “Fad” junk foods (i.e. Vegan, Gluten-Free junk foods)

If you can’t tell by now, I’m not a big fan of “trendy” eating. Now I understand that for physiological, socio-political, environmental, religious, etc. reasons, people may have chosen to commit to a particular diet. (For instance, I seldom eat red meat.) However, there seems to be this weird thing going on in society where these fad diets assume a position of “healthy.” I have done both short-term gluten-free and vegan lifestyles and while I did them, I noticed how the snacking choices that had “gluten-free” and “vegan” were often worse for you than regular items. They usually were more processed, had extreme amounts of sodium or artificial sugar or unpronounceable ingredients that honestly sounded like they belonged in gas and oil industries. This is one I would say to completely cut out of your diet. You don’t need it. And if you are gluten-free or vegan, avoid them all the same – God invented carrots for a reason.

All in all, when it comes to food remember that wonderful Michael Pollan line, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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