This post features a list of 19 healthy foods that are bad for you. This post contains affiliate links. Please read my disclosures.
Have you ever wondered if those so-called health foods are actually good for you?
You know the foods. They bear those clever-yet-confusing claims like “grain-free,” “gluten-free,” “dairy-free”, “all-natural”, and/or “organic.” Are these foods better for you, or are you simply falling for marketing hype?
A survey by the International Food Information Council Foundation found that eight in 10 people admit to being confused by conflicting information about what foods are okay to eat and what foods should be avoided.
The truth is most people want to eat right, they don’t understand what to eat and how to decode health-food claims.
In this post, I list 19 healthy foods that are actually bad for you despite sounding healthy to help you make better decisions about what to eat and drink.
1. Dried Fruit
Dried fruit sounds like it must be healthy (hey, it’s fruit!), but the truth is that dried fruit contains excess 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.
To enjoy dried fruit, enjoy a few pieces at a time as a sweet treat. Remember, it’s easy to overeat. Also, look for brands without added sugar (Made in Nature Organic Dried Mangoes) or buy a dehydrator and dehydrate your own fruit altogether.
Even better, simply eat fruit vs. dried fruit. A good old-fashioned apple is full of fiber to keep you full without spiking your blood sugar like dried apples would.
2. Flavored Yogurts
Yogurt is purported as a health food, but really it is a gut-busting dessert! In fact, most yogurts 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 so healthy anymore, right? Even the Yoplait Light version contains 14 grams of sugar. Activia Probiotic Yogurt also sounds healthy, but it contains 14 grams of sugar.
Remember, sugar feeds the bad bacteria in your gut and can make you feel worse. To introduce good bacteria in your gut, you’re much better off popping a probiotic than eating yogurt.
That said, if you want to eat 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. (Try my Make-Your-Own Dairy-Free Yogurt Breakfast Bowls.)
3. GoodBelly Probiotic Drinks
GoodBelly has been tricking customers into thinking its probiotic drinks create a healthy gut. The truth is that even though GoodBelly probiotic drinks add beneficial bacteria to your gut, they also contain a ton of added sugar that feeds the bad bacteria. In fact, six GoodBelly flavors contain 20 grams of sugar or more.
4. Instant Oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is a breakfast of choice for millions of Americans because it’s easy to make, portable, and tastes great. Plus, we know that oatmeal is chocked full of soluble fiber, which is good for the digestive system and heart health.
While eating oatmeal is encouraged by dieticians, beware of pre-packaged oatmeals that contain flavoring and excess sugar, and even gluten-free instant oatmeals contain added sugar. Gluten-free Quaker oatmeal (maple and brown sugar flavor), for example, contains nine grams of added sugar.
If you want to enjoy oatmeal, buy plain oats, cook them in water, and add your own touch of sweetness via a scoop of honey or by topping it with gluten-free granola.
It’s easy to think Gatorade and other sports drinks are healthy because athletes are seen drinking them, and they are healthy, right? The truth is sports drinks are not healthy, but the marketing would have you think differently. In fact, Gatorade pays the NFL more than $45 million annually to secure its place on the sidelines.
The truth is that one-20 ounce bottle of Lemon-Lime Gatorade contains 34 grams of sugar, which is more than a can of Coke.
Instead of reaching for an 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 or kombucha instead. Coconut water contains 15 grams of sugar, but the sugar comes directly from the coconut fruit, not added sugar. And kombucha contains a negligible amount of 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 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 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.
Just eat real butter. A good vegan alternative is Earth Balance.
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 caloric salad dressing. Plus, many dressings contain 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.
Below are a few salads like to make with homemade dressings:
- Blackened Salmon Salad with Jalapeno Lime Vinaigrette
- Strawberry Salad with Spinach and Homemade Coconutmilk Salad Dressing
- Black Bean and Corn Salad with Chipotle Lime Dressing
- Quinoa Pasta Salad with Lemon Dill Vinaigrette
8. Orange Juice
Orange juice manufacturers tout their products are healthy and 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.
The truth is that an eight-ounce glass of OJ contains a lot of sugar. In fact, Tropicana Original Orange Juice contains 22 grams of sugar! When you start your day with orange juice, you’ll start off with spiked blood sugar. In a few hours, you’ll crash, and hunger pangs will have you craving more sugar.
You’re better off eating a whole orange. You’ll consume much less sugar, plus you’ll enjoy all the fiber and nutrients an orange has to offer.
Granola, even gluten-free granola, is loaded with added sugars. 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, enjoy it in moderation and 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.
10. Sweetened Soy Milk
Soy milk is often touted as a health food as it has less fat and more calcium per serving than dairy milk and is a great plant-based alternative to dairy milk.
However, if you’re going to enjoy soymilk, or almond milk, coconut milk, or cashew milk, 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. The pizza crust is still made with white flour and starches that quickly convert to sugar in your body, and it’s coated with greasy 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
Diet soda is loaded with artificial sweeteners that trick your brain into thinking it’s enjoying something sweet. This spike in insulin makes your body go into a fat-storing vs. fat-burning state. At the end of the day, diet soda makes you crave more sweets, and that’s how the vicious, unhealthy cycle begins.
If you love soda, try kombucha. It’s fizzy and low in sugar. Plus, you’ll repopulate your gut with beneficial bacteria with every sip.
13. Fruit Cocktail
A fruit cocktail sounds healthy, but this packaged fruit contains excess sugar. In fact, Del Monte Fruit Cocktail contains 21 grams of gut-busting sugar.
Even the “100 calories” claim on some fruit cocktails is deceiving. Sure, it’s only 100 calories, but the bulk of the calories comes from sugar.
Instead of eating sugary fruit cocktails, buy fresh (or even frozen) fruit instead.
14. Packaged Veggie Straws/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. I guess if you consider potatoes a vegetable, these veggie straws are loaded with vegetables.
Instead of packaged Veggie Straws, enjoy the original vegetable sticks known as carrots and celery.
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, you’ll see that one 20-ounce can contains 41 grams of sugar (worse than Coke!) along with another nasty ingredient: high fructose corn syrup. Snapple is the worst offender 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 to it. Again, kombucha (aka fermented tea) is a great low-sugar option.
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 favor and opt for salads with grilled chicken and skip the dressing (or use a tiny bit of it) instead. I prefer a drizzle of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper any day over creamy, fattening, and sugar-loaded fast food dressings.
17. Fruit Snacks
Did you know that fruit snacks don’t actually contain fruit? Even brands like Annie’s Organics and Welch’s don’t contain real fruit. Rather, fruit snacks contain fruit flavorings, extracts, and juice concentrate, along with a good scoop of sugar too.
Instead of giving your kids fruit snacks, give them real fresh fruit instead.
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!
19. Jarred Spaghetti Sauce
Spaghetti sauce should be healthy because, at its core, it’s made from fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, and herbs. Unfortunately, many of the conventional jarred spaghetti sauces contain sugar and other artificial ingredients that render these sauces unhealthy.
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 really 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 healthy foods that are bad for you and ready to sabotage your health-forward diet.
Read labels carefully and avoid packaged foods when possible. Fresh and whole foods will always be better for you than anything you can buy in a box, bag, or cup.
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
- Juicing 101: The Benefits of Green Juice
- 10 Ways You’re Sabotaging Your Gluten-Free Diet
- 10 Surprise Products that Contain Gluten