This post features a list of 19 so-called health foods that aren’t even healthy and contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosures. This post last updated January 2020.
There are so many health foods that aren’t healthy readily available in grocery stores across the U.S. But have you ever wondered if the health foods you’re eating are actually good for you?
A survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that about eight in 10 people admit to being confused by conflicting information about what foods are okay to eat and what foods should be avoided, leaving more than half of them second guessing their own dietary choices.
One thing I’m constantly coming across in my nutrition coaching practice is that many people genuinely want to eat right, they just don’t know how to do it or who to listen to.
Decoding food label claims is a full time job, and deciphering good nutrition advice from poor advice is so darn confusing. Products that seemingly look healthy and claim to be healthy might actually be bad for you.
What’s a person to do these days?!?
19 So-Called Health Foods that Aren’t Even Healthy
I’ll help you separate fact from fiction with this list of 19 so-called health foods that aren’t even healthy. Read this and see if you know health foods from marketing hype.
1. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is a deceivingly food that sounds healthy (hey, it’s fruit!), but the truth is dried fruit contains a lot of sugar. The Philippine Dried Mangoes, for example, contains 32 grams of sugar per serving. Compare that to 39 grams of sugar in a can of Coke.
When fruit is dried, the sugars are condensed and intense. Plus, it’s easy to overeat dried fruit because they pop in your mouth so easily and taste so sweet.
If you want to enjoy dried fruit, eat just a few pieces at a time and call it a day. Also look for brands with no added sugar (like Made in Nature Organic Dried Mangoes) or buy a dehydrator and dehydrate your own fruit altogether. Even better, eat fruit raw. An apple will be the better choice over a dried apple any day.
2. Flavored Yogurts
Another so-called health food that isn’t really healthy is yogurt. Yogurt is purported as a health food, but really it is a gut busting dessert!
Most yogurts are flavored and contain an exorbitant amount of sugar. Yoplait original, for example, contains 27 grams of sugar per cup. Of its 170 calories, 108 calories come from sugar. Doesn’t sound like much of a health food anymore, right? Even the Yoplait Light version contains 14 grams of sugar.
Activia Probiotic Yogurt sounds healthy, right? Wrong! It contains 14 grams of sugar. Sugar feeds bad bacteria and pretty much counteracts the probiotic.
If you want to enjoy yogurt, buy unsweetened and unflavored yogurt (or yogurt with no added sugar or at least contains less than 10 grams of sugar) and then add your own flavors to the mix like a dash of honey, cinnamon and fresh fruit and nuts.
3. GoodBelly Probiotic Drinks
GoodBelly is a company I’ve had my eye on for awhile for tricking customers into thinking the product helps create a healthy gut. The truth is that even though GoodBelly probiotic drinks add beneficial bacteria to your gut, the probiotic benefits comes along with tons of add sugar that undo the benefits altogether. I’ve written about GoodBelly in length in my article titled, GoodBelly Drinks are Full of Gut Inflaming Sugar.
Six GoodBelly flavors each contain 20 grams of sugar or more, and sugar feeds bad bacteria. When you drink GoodBelly, you’re feeding the bad bacteria at the same time you’re trying to repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria. Seems completely counterintuitive to me – and like a waste of money.
You’re better off taking a probiotic capsule – it contains no sugar and all the beneficial bacteria.
Related Reading: The Benefits of Probiotics
4. Instant Oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is a breakfast of choice for millions of Americans. It’s easy to make, portable and tastes great. Plus we know that oatmeal is chocked full of soluble fiber, which is good for our digestive system and heart health. So yes, eating oatmeal is fine to do, but you need to beware of those pre-packaged oatmeals because they contain excess sugar.
Quaker instant oatmeal (not gluten-free), for example, contains 12 grams of sugar per packet. You’re better off buying plain oatmeal and then adding your own touch of sweetness. This way you control what goes into it, not the food companies.
Glutenfreeda makes unflavored instant oatmeal packets that contain only 1 gram of sugar and Bakery on Main’s Gluten-Free Instant Oatmeal packets contain no sugar.
Remember, even gluten-free brands contain sugar, so read labels carefully. All the flavored instant oatmeal packets in Nature’s Path Gluten-Free Instant Oatmeal contain less than 10 grams of sugar.
Related Reading: Is Oatmeal Gluten-Free?
It’s easy to think Gatorade and other sports drinks are healthy, right? We see athletes drinking them all the time – they look healthy so what they eat and drink must be healthy too, right?
Unfortunately such logic is flawed. Majorly flawed.
Gatorade pays the NFL more than $45 million annually to secure its place on the sidelines. Pretty good marketing trickery, right? If you associate NFL players with good health, and you see Gatorade on the sidelines, then Gatorade has done its job securing its place in the deceptively and unhealthy Hall of Fame.
One 20 ounce bottle of Lemon-Lime Gatorade contains 34 grams of sugar. Why don’t you just go ahead and drink that Coke instead, eh?
Instead of reaching for that energy drink after a long workout, drink lemon water and eat a banana to replenish your electrolytes. Or if you want a sweet beverage, try some coconut water instead. It contains 15 grams of sugar, but the sugar comes directly from the coconut fruit, not added sugar.
One of the most disgusting food-like substances of all time is margarine. Margarine had its day in the sun as a low calorie alternative to butter – many people thought this health food was healthy – boy were they wrong.
I admit, I ate margarine growing up. But when you dial into what margarine really is, you’ll be so disgusted that you’ll never touch the stuff again!
Margarine goes through a hydrogenation process that turns polyunsaturates (which are normally liquid at room temperature) into fats that are solid at room temperature. Sally Fallon, in her amazing book, Nourishing Traditions, details the process in which margarine (and shortening) is made.
She says manufacturers begin with the cheapest oil they can find (soy, corn, cottonseed or canola), which are already rancid from the extraction process. Then she says the oils are mixed with tiny metal particles, usually nickel oxide. The oil, with nickel as its catalyst, is then subjected to hydrogen gas in a high-pressure, high-temperature reactor. Then manufacturers take emulsifiers and starch and squeeze them into the mixture to give margarine a better consistency. To finish off the process, the margarine is then bleached and dyed. Strong flavors are added into it to make it resemble butter.
Sounds not-so-appetizing after all! Makes you realize you should just eat real butter as margarine is far from a health food.
7. Salad Dressing
Many people turn to salads as a healthy menu alternative. While salads are healthy, what is not healthy is when we slather them with salad dressing. Many dressings contains artificial ingredients, chemicals, preservatives and, you guessed it, added sugar.
Look for salad dressing brands with no or low sugar and clean ingredient labels. Or even better, make your own using olive oil, balsamic or red wine vinegar, squeeze of lemon and salt and pepper. All the taste and health benefits, none of the chemicals and sugars.
8. Orange Juice
Orange juice commercials drive me 🦇 💩 😜! OJ manufacturers tout their products are super healthy – a great way to start your day. They make claims like “no sugar added” to make you feel like their products are low in sugar and healthy.
Here’s the deal: An eight ounce glass of OJ contains a lot of sugar; in fact, Tropicana Original OJ contains 22 grams of sugar!
Related Reading: Why Tropicana Probiotic Juice is Bad for Your Gut
When you start your day with OJ, you’ll start off with spiked blood sugar. In a few hours you’ll crash and crave more sugar to hold you over until lunch.
If you truly want to eat healthy, you’re better off eating a whole orange. You’ll consume way less sugar plus you’ll get plenty of fiber and nutrients along the way.
Remember, OJ might look like a health food, but it’s one of the many health foods that aren’t healthy for you after all.
Granola is loaded with added sugars. Read labels carefully. Even Bob’s Red Mill brand granola contains 12 grams of sugar per 1/2 cup serving.
If you want to enjoy a little granola, look for brands that contain less than 10 grams of sugar per serving. Make sure you check that serving size too. Sometimes a serving size of granola is measured in tablespoons, and we all know no one eats just one tablespoon of granola.
10. Sweetened Soy Milk
Soy milk is often touted as a health food as it has less fat and more calcium per serving that dairy milk and is a great plant-based alternative to dairy milk.
However, if you’re going to enjoy soymilk, or almondmilk, coconutmilk or cashewmilk for that matter, just be sure you get unsweetened varieties to avoid a sugary overload.
11. Veggie Loaded Pizza
You might feel good eating that pizza loaded with veggies, but the truth is, you’re still eating pizza. It’s like putting lipstick on a pig. The pizza crust is still made with white flours and starches that quickly convert to sugar in your body, and then it’s all coated with cheese.
Don’t be fooled into thinking you’re healthier than the other guy just because your pizza is topped with veggies. Pizza is pizza.
12. Diet Soda
There are no definitive studies that I know of that found that people lose weight drinking diet soda, but there are plenty of studies that show you will gain weight by indulging on diet sodas. Diet soda is not a health food. Never was. Never will be.
Diet soda is loaded with artificial sweeteners that trick your brain into thinking it’s enjoying something sweet. This spikes insulin levels and makes your body go into a fat-storing vs. fat-burning state. At the end of the day, diet soda just makes you crave more sweets and that’s how the vicious, unhealthy cycle begins.
Do yourself a favor; skip the cola and instead enjoy good old fashioned water instead.
13. Fruit Cocktail
Fruit cocktail has the magic word “fruit” in it, but this packaged fruit does more harm than good. Del Monte Fruit Cocktail 100 calorie can contains 21 grams of gut busting sugar.
Event the “100 calorie” claim makes me so angry, as people will buy fruit cocktail thinking they’re only consuming 100 calories without realizing that the bulk of the calories comes from sugar packaged with very few nutrients and fiber.
Instead of enjoying a fruit cocktail, buy fresh (or even frozen) fruit instead.
14. Veggie Chips/Sticks
I used to think that veggie chips and veggie sticks were made from vegetables… but boy was I wrong! The first three ingredients in Veggie Straws are potato starch, potato flour and cornstarch.
As far as I’m concerned, Veggie Straws are about as good for you as a bag of potato chips… heck, even a bag of potato chips contains only potatoes, salt and oil. Potatoes are a vegetable, right?
15. Flavored Tea Drinks
Tea is a beverage that is quite healthy, and many varieties are rich in antioxidants too. In fact, green tea has many health-promoting and cancer-fighting benefits.
Arizona Green Tea with ginseng and honey or cucumber and citrus sounds pretty healthy, right? But upon further inspection, however, you’ll see that one 20 ounce can contains 41 grams of sugar (worse than Coke!) and another nasty ingredient… high fructose corn syrup. 🤮 Snapple is the worst offended at 49 grams of sugar in its peach flavored tea.
If you want to enjoy tea, simply brew and sweeten it yourself. There’s no way you’ll be adding 49 grams of sugar in it. Snapple now offers straight-up, unsweetened tea with no sugar in it if you must purchase (vs. make) tea.
16. Fast Food Salads
McDonald’s Bacon Ranch Salad with Buttermilk Crispy Chicken (with no dressing) is 490 calories and contains 28 grams of fat. If you add the ranch dressing (and I know you will!) you will add 200 calories and 17 grams of fat to your meal. Your seemingly healthy salad is almost 700 calories! Compare that to a Quarter Pounder with cheese at 530 calories and 27 grams of fat. Makes you think about what is actually healthy, right? (Truth is, neither are.)
Do yourself a healthy favor and opt for salads with grilled chicken and skip the dressing (or just use a tiny bit of it) instead. I prefer a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and S&P anytime over creamy, fattening and sugar-loaded dressings.
17. Fruit Snacks
Did you know that fruit snacks don’t actually contain fruit? Even the good brands like Annie’s Organics don’t contain real fruit.
Rather, fruit snacks contain fruit flavorings, extracts and juice concentrates. Oh, and they contain a lot of sugar too.
Instead of giving your kids fruit snacks, give them real fresh fruit instead. There’s nothing like the real deal to start off your kids with good eating habits for life.
18. Isolated Protein Powders
Isolated protein powders are made from soy, whey, casein and egg whites and can be found in many health food stores. According to Sally Fallon in the book, Nourishing Traditions, these protein isolates are “usually obtained by a high-temperature process that over denatures the proteins to such an extent that they become virtually useless while increasing nitrates and other carcinogens.” No thank you!
If you want to eat a high protein diet, make sure your protein foods – like meat, eggs and milk – are real foods and come with fat to assist in the assimilation of the protein.
19. Jarred Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti sauce should be healthy, right? At its core it’s made from fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic and herbs. Yum! But be warned that many of the conventional jarred spaghetti sauces contain sugar and other artificial crap that has no place in our food supply.
Ragu and Prego are the worst offenders. A half cup of Ragu contains 9 grams of sugar and a half cup of Preggo contains 10 grams of sugar, making these bottled sauces so-called health foods that aren’t healthy.
Opt instead for no-sugar added sauces like Muir Glen, which contains no added sugar (only naturally occurring sugars), or even better, make your own homemade marinara sauce using fresh or canned tomatoes.
Beware of these 19 so-called health foods that aren’t even healthy. They are here to trip you up at every turn.
Eating healthy requires you to be an avid label reader and food detective. Avoid foods that contain excess sugar, artificial ingredients and that are overly processed. Enjoy sugar for dessert, not as part of your so-called healthy breakfast.
Remember, nothing beats eating foods straight from the earth as Mother Nature intended.
Want more nutrition information? Read these articles:
- Sugar Addiction: 4 Root Causes of Cravings and 10 Tips to Cut the Sugar
- 10 Naturally Gluten-Free Foods Every Celiac Should Be Eating
- How I Healed My Gut After a Celiac Diagnosis
- The Case for Green Juicing Your Way to Health
- 10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Gluten-Free Diet
- 10 Surprise Products that Contain Gluten