With all the food trends and conflicting nutrition information out there, it’s difficult to tell which foods are actually healthy for you—and which ones are nothing more than a marketing gimmick. The bittersweet truth is that many health foods pack just as much sugar, fat, and calories, as their counterparts. They might also be littered with preservatives, food additives, and other ingredients that might be damaging to your health.
Not only can these healthy foods be as bad as (if not worse than) traditionally “unhealthy” foods, but it’s possible that you may end up eating more of them. According to a Yale University study, when you think of your meal as a “light” or “healthy” choice, it can actually cause your brain to pump out more ghrelin (the hormone that boosts appetite and slows metabolism). On the other hand, if you think of a meal as “indulgent” your brain will pump out less ghrelin, so you’ll end up feeling fuller after eating. The takeaway? If you think you’re eating healthy food when, in reality, the food isn’t that good for you, you may end up eating more of it than you typically would. As a result, you set yourself up for weight gain, not weight loss.
To help you make healthier and smarter choices so you can reach your weight loss goals, make sure you remove these seemingly-healthy foods from your diet—stat. And though we advocate for a splurge from time to time always be sure to steer clear of these 100 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet.
Smoothie bowls or acai bowls can be healthy, as long as they have a balance of whole fruits and veggies and have sensible portion sizes. The problem: Many of these smoothie bowls—especially the ones found in juice shops and fast-casual chain restaurants—are calorie and sugar bombs that pack fruit juices, purees, honey, and sweetened yogurt. When you consider all of those ingredients, you get a snack that clocks in several hundred calories and way more than your daily recommended sugar intake. If you’re looking for a blended fruit snack, opt for any of these nutrient-balanced 25 Best-Ever Weight Loss Smoothies instead.
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Granola is healthy, right? Not all the time. A cup of the crunchy topping averages a whopping 597 calories, 28 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar. Some granola brands also use processed oils and load up on sugar with dried fruit and chocolate chips. Your best bet is to enjoy a bowl of oatmeal and top with fresh fruit and a touch of honey for some natural sweetness. Or try any of these healthy overnight oats recipes for weight loss.
Don’t count on veggie chips to increase your fiber and antioxidant intake for the day. While many veggie chip labels claim to have actual vegetables, they often contain veggie powders, which lack the same nutritional value, to give the chips a vibrant color. They also have a high sodium content (and maybe even sugar) to replicate the same flavor of potato chips. For a healthier alternative, crunch into some raw carrots or celery sticks! But for some packaged foods you can get away with, check out these 17 Processed Foods Nutritionists Actually Approve Of.
Agave seems like a healthier alternative to sugar and honey because it has a low glycemic index, but it, however, contains more fructose—at least 80-90 percent—than white sugar. Too much fructose can lead to insulin resistance, and eventually metabolic syndrome. Plus, when you think you’re adding a healthy sugar to foods, you may end up using more of it than you would with granulated sugar. The result? You consume even more calories than you would if you had just used regular sugar, and you gain weight as a result.
RELATED: 25 Popular Fruits—Ranked by Sugar Content!
Yogurt is one of the best gut-friendly foods. The probiotics in it help healthy bacteria in your microbiome grow, building your body a great defense against diseases. But many flavored versions have high amounts of sugar—sometimes 20 grams or more—per serving. Be sure to look for low-sugar versions (ideally less than eight grams) or go for Greek yogurt and a bit of natural sweetener or berries for a touch of sweetness. Looking for other food sources of probiotics? Consider looking into these 14 Yogurt-Free Products with Probiotics.
We’ve all heard that regular soda is one of the worst things to drink, thanks to its high sugar content. But what about diet soda? It may be calorie-free, but it’s not healthy. Many diet sodas have artificial sweeteners that have been shown to increase the number of bad bacteria in the gut. Your body also reacts to artificial sweeteners the same way as it does to sugar. A study in Diabetes Pro found that people who drank two or more diet sodas a day experienced waist-size increases six times that of non-diet drinkers.
100-Calorie Snack Packs
Those 100-calorie snack packs of your favorite sweet treat seem like a good way to get your sugar fix in portion-friendly sizes, but in reality, these snacks are full of empty calories. Plus, you might be tempted to eat more than one snack because it has fewer calories. There’s no harm in enjoying a cookie once in a while, but don’t make your diet revolve around these snacks.
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Spinach is packed with antioxidants, fiber, and essential nutrients, but those tortilla wraps masquerading as the green veggie have so little of the vitamin-rich stuff that it won’t do your body any good. These wraps are typically made with the same refined ingredients of other tortillas—like enriched white flour and corn—and green food coloring to give it a “healthy” hue. Sneaky!
You just finished a sweaty HIIT workout, and now you need something to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes ASAP. Sports drinks might seem like the perfect recovery drink, but what you probably don’t realize is that they contain upwards of 250 to 300 calories per bottle and have as much sugar as a bottle of Coke! While these sports drinks are great for endurance athletes who need to replenish a lot of lost carbohydrates and nutrients, they’re not for the average exerciser. A better option: 13 Healthy Sports Drinks for Weight Loss.
There’s a joke that muffins are just cupcakes, and this is basically true. In fact, some muffins are more calorie-dense than your average frosted cupcake! The average cupcake rings in a whopping 400 calories and has more than a third of your daily recommended fat intake. Plus, many packaged muffins have soybean oil, high-fructose corn syrups, and shortening, making it bad for both your waistline and overall health.
RELATED: The Best & Worst Muffins at Costco—Ranked!
Those who suffer from Celiac disease should eat gluten-free foods, but that doesn’t mean anything gluten-free is healthier. Many gluten-free snacks can contain just as much calories, sugar, sodium, and fat as their gluten alternatives. So if you must have gluten-free foods, pay close attention to the nutrition label and ingredients list and choose products with fiber-rich grains, like quinoa.
RELATED: Dangerous Signs You’re Not Eating Enough Fiber
Yes, popcorn is a whole grain, but pre-packaged microwave popcorns are actually one of the worst foods on the planet, thanks to additives and chemicals. But perhaps worst of all is that many brands contain high amounts of artery-clogging saturated fat. So if you want to enjoy popcorn, we recommend making your own over stovetop and seasoning it with the spices of your choice.
The fructose in fruit gets more concentrated when dried out, making it more potent in smaller doses. Also, many companies infuse their dried fruits with added sugars or a sugary coating. If you want to cut back on the sweeteness, check out 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating So Much Sugar.
Fruit = good. Yogurt = good. So why does fruit + yogurt = bad? It’s simple, really. Like the smoothie bowls we mentioned earlier, yogurt parfaits sold in grocery stores and quick-serve restaurants have sugary granola, pureed fruits (lots of sugar), jams and jellies, and sweetened yogurt.
RELATED: The 20 Best and Worst Greek Yogurts, According to Dietitians
Blue Corn Tortilla Chips
While it’s true that blue corn has more of the amino acid lysine and the antioxidant anthocyanin than yellow corn, most of it gets baked off during the production process. So you essentially end up getting the same processed and refined chips as other yellow corn brands on the shelves. As tortilla chips are among the unhealthiest, nutrient-void carbs, eating a significant amount of these can contribute to weight gain.
Many diet frozen meals seem like the ideal on-the-go dish, but they often have many preservatives and more sodium than the daily recommended amount. Some TV dinners, like those labeled teriyaki or sweet-and-sour sauce, are loaded with sugar. For a quick weeknight meal, try a stir-fry or a sheet pan recipe. Or, try these 20 Make-Ahead Meals to Keep in Your Freezer!
Like popcorn, soup can be an incredibly healthy meal, but it’s not always one when you buy it in a can. Canned soups can contain high amounts of sodium and Bisphenol A (BPA), an endocrine disruptor. Then there’s the added fats and sugar that can up the calories considerably. So choose wisely and go for low-sodium varieties so you don’t have to experience that dreaded belly bloat post-meal.
RELATED: The Best & Worst Chicken Soups on the Shelves—Ranked!
Canned Fruit Cocktail
Fruit is very healthy, but canned fruit cocktail is never a good choice. Sure, it won’t spoil like fresh fruit does, but there’s a reason for that. Canned fruit cocktails are preserved in heavy corn syrups and sugar-laden juices. Go for fresh fruit instead!
Most fruit juices are high in sugar because they strip the fiber from the whole fruits. This results in a drink with more sugar than your regular can of cola. Even if it’s from fruit, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. For better-for-you options, there are 7 Best ‘Healthy’ Juice Brands & Which To Avoid at All Costs.
Most protein bars are nothing more than glorified candy bars with plenty of chocolate and sugar to boot. Many actually have more carbohydrates than protein, so stick to ones that contain fewer grams of carbs over protein and have less sugar. For decision-free buying, turn to our guide 15 Best Healthy & Low-Sugar Protein Bars, According to Dietitians.
Read more about your favorite healthy foods:
The 100 Healthiest Foods on the Planet
Costco Members Share The 15 Healthiest Snacks You Need Right Now
40 Healthiest Foods That Doctors Always Eat