Foods You Think Are Healthy, But Aren’t!

Here is some helpful information about foods you might think are healthy but aren't and suggestions for better alternatives.
1. “Health” drink options on the market today. You can find drinks filled with vitamins, probiotics and even fiber. Drinks with various ingredients (more than 1 or 2) are likely to either have added calories in the form of simple sugars, and if it’s sweet but has no calories, it’s got artificial sweeteners, which aren't great for your waistline, either.

2. Premade Smoothies - That premade or store-bought smoothie you think is so healthy may in fact have more calories than a cheeseburger! Smoothies can have as much as 650 to 1000 calories in them due to the extreme portions of fruit, vegetables, and, often times, added simple sugars and syrups.

Try making your own smoothies or juicing at home. Use fresh vegetables and fruits. You can always limit the amount of fruit you use to keep sugar content low and you can also add a scoop of protein powder for a protein boost in your smoothies.

3. Trail mix - from a bag for a quick snack on your way out the door. Low in calories, no. Although healthy trail mix is possible (made with just nuts, some dark chocolate, and some dried apricots, ok), most of the versions we buy at the store are loaded with candy-coated pieces, yogurt-covered raisins, sesame sticks and deep-fried banana chips. If you put your hand in the bag twice, you're looking at almost 600 calories.

4. Frozen Diet Entrees - are typically loaded with sodium. And while they may be low in calories, they’re also low in nutrients (for example, refined grains may be used instead of whole grains). These frozen meals are a great example of quick convenient food that provides no bang for your nutritional buck.

5. Many energy, fiber and protein bars - are about two steps away from a candy bar! We’re often lured in by promises of high fiber or protein, but other than these added-in nutrients, there’s not much else. Want fiber and protein? Have some string cheese or an apple instead! I promise you it’s a much better option if you’re trying to get back into your high-school jeans. There are some varieties that are healthy options but read the labels.

6. Frozen yogurt - seems so much better than ice cream. In the world of saturated fat, it is – but in terms of calories and simple sugars, they’re closer than you think. Once we load up the frozen yogurt with sugar- and fat-laden toppings, it’s pretty much equal to its ice-cream counterparts!

You are best off having an all-natural pure fruit (no added anything) sorbet not to be mistaken with sherbet. Freeze fresh fruit and then blend it or put it in a food processor to make your own. Sorbet generally implies a fruit-based frozen dessert with little to no dairy. Sherbet which is alternatively spelled sherbert is a frozen fruit and dairy product that contains anywhere from 1 percent to 3 percent milkfat from milk or cream. Anything above 3 percent is generally labeled ice cream; anything below 1 percent is referred to as water ice.

7. Fat-free cookies and cakes - are deceiving. People think that “fat-free” means “calorie-free,” so they tend to eat more than usual. Further, the sugar replaces the fat in these products so you’re still getting a high number of calories.

8. Granola - For most (but not all), a teeny tiny amount of granola will give you a wallop of trans fats and sugar – both trans fats and sugar have been shown to increase the risk of heart attack and stroke – and increase calories. Plus, the portions are so small that we tend not to be satisfied with the initial bowl and continue to fill the bowl until the milk is gone … and then add a little more milk, what I like to call the vicious cereal cycle.

9. Peanuts, walnuts and cashews butters - are amazing, and so are their healthy fats. They’ve been shown to help boost heart health and keep weight down, so why would you take some of the fat out and replace it with sugar and saturated or trans-fat? When it comes to nut butters, stick with options that have one to two ingredients; for example, peanuts or peanuts and salt. Once you go beyond that, your health food has just become unhealthy. Try organic or all natural nut butters and read the labels and list of ingredients.

10. Salads - Most of us could use more vegetables—so what’s not to love? In a word, toppings. The pecans and Gorgonzola cheese on Panera Bread’s Fuji Apple Chicken Salad (580 calories, 30 grams fat, 7 grams saturated fat) propel it into double-cheeseburger territory. A McDonald’s double cheeseburger has 440 calories, 23 grams fat, 11 grams saturated fat. Before ordering a salad, check its nutrition information plus that of the dressing and all add-ons (often, they’re listed separately).

11. Yogurt - is a great way to meet your calcium needs, but not all are created equally. Some premium whole-milk yogurts can give you a hefty dose of saturated fat. Shop around: many low-fat versions of these products are every bit as creamy. Enjoy a fruit-flavored low-fat yogurt, but understand that the “fruit” is really jam (i.e., mostly sugar). Or opt for low-fat plain and stir in fresh fruit or other sweetener to suit your taste; you’ll probably use less. A tablespoon of Vermont maple syrup (52 calories), provides all the sweetness needed. Although they are still good sources of calcium, some yogurts can be closer to dessert than to a healthy snack. Don’t let fat and added sugars spoil a good thing.

12. Sushi Rolls - There is a wide variety of sushi rolls out there and in some the fried tidbits and mayonnaise can really tuck in the calories. The Southern Tsunami sushi bar company, which supplies sushi to supermarkets and restaurants, reports its 12-piece Dragon Roll (eel, crunchy cucumbers, avocado and “special eel sauce”) has ¬almost 500 calories and 16 grams of fat (4 grams saturated). Signature sushi rolls often come with a creamy “special sauce”; you should ask what’s in it. Or just order something simple: for example, a 12-piece California roll (imitation crabmeat, avocado and cucumber) or a vegetarian roll with cucumbers, carrots and avocado supplies around 350 calories and 6 or 7 grams of fat, and most of it is the heart-healthy mono¬unsaturated type.

13. Microwave Popcorn - Popcorn can be a healthy, low-cal snack says Cottrill. The problem with microwave popcorn is that depending on the brand and flavor you choose, prepackaged kernels may contain high levels of sodium and sugar, she says. “And the latest concern in microwave popcorn involves perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a chemical coating on the inside of microwave popcorn bags that may be carcinogenic, and diacetyl, a chemical used in some artificial butter flavorings, which has been linked to lung problems in workers at microwave popcorn factories,” she says.

The Better Pick: Steer clear of any potential carcinogens and chemicals by creating your own healthy version with some popcorn kernels and a paper bag, suggests Cottrill. For about 3 1/2 cups of popcorn, pour 3-4 tablespoons of kernels into a standard lunch-size brown paper bag. Fold over the top of the bag and microwave it for about one to two minutes (it’s done when the popping slows down) and then add your own seasonings. If you prefer a packaged option, try Newman’s Own Organic Unsalted Pop’s Corn, with an ingredient list of only two words: organic popcorn. Pop it and add your own toppings.

14. Almond milk - can be a healthy, non-dairy alternative, especially since it’s fortified with calcium and vitamin D, says Graham. But it’s the flavored almond milk you need to watch out for -- vanilla almond milk contains as much as 15 grams of sugar per serving, which is more than a serving of chocolate ice cream, says Graham.

The Better Pick: Graham suggests sticking with plain, unsweetened varieties to keep this non-dairy alternative to milk a healthy choice.

15. Spinach Tortilla Wraps - These sound healthy in theory, but they aren’t even close to the real thing, says Hartley. “If you are looking for the nutrients in spinach -- vitamins A, B, C and lots of minerals --don’t expect to find them here,” explains Hartley, who says spinach wraps are made of white flour and colored with blue dye No. 1 and yellow No. 5, with just a sprinkling of powdered spinach.

The Better Pick: Hartley recommends going with a 100 percent whole grain wrap instead for a higher fiber count. You can use fresh spinach to wrap to make it even healthier.

16. Sweetened Cranberries - Dried cranberries are only masquerading as healthy food? But how could that be? “One-third of a cup contains about as much added sugar as an 8-ounce serving of regular soda,” says Michelle Dudash, a registered dietitian, chef and author of Clean Eating for Busy Families. Craisins, for example, contain at least 40 percent added sugar, says Dudash, effectively removing them from the "health food" category.

The Better Pick: Skip sweetened dried fruits and grab some plain cranberries, apricots or dates instead. While these dried fruits do include naturally occurring sugar, at least you're getting 100 percent real fruit and all of their nutrients. Raisins, for example, contain almost 20 times more potassium than sweetened dried cranberries, says Dudash.

17. Rice Cakes -These little light and airy snacks have made their way into every dieter’s menus because of their low-calorie content. Sadly, while they may be almost calorie-free, they are also devoid of any nutrients (and taste) and aren’t doing you, or your waistline, any favors. “They are straight, simple carbohydrates. They aren't providing you with any nutrition to help keep you satisfied,” says Berman.

The Better Pick: There are plenty of snacks you can munch on without ruining your calorie count for the day. Berman recommends air-popped popcorn. “It’s a whole grain and it's very filling -- you can have 3 cups for under 100 calories,” she says.

18. Instant Oatmeal Packets - Oatmeal is a healthy food, as long you pick the right kind. The problem with instant oatmeal is that it has been processed, so it’s broken down more quickly in your body, says Batayneh. As a result, it has a higher glycemic index, which leaves you with unstable blood sugar levels. A lot of instant oatmeal is also flavored, meaning it probably contains artificial flavorings and a lot of sugar, she explains.

The Better Pick: Batayneh recommends sticking with plain oatmeal and sprinkle in some blueberries, cinnamon, walnuts or a little maple syrup to add some flavor. And switch from instant packets to microwavable steel cut oatmeal for a breakfast that is still quick to make, but less processed.

19. Turkey Bacon - “Turkey Bacon sounds like a healthier option, but a couple of slices can cost you about 400 mg of sodium and a plethora of unpronounceable ingredients,” says Berman. And depending on what brand you choose, some turkey bacon contains about the same calories and fat per slice as pork bacon, with an even higher sodium content.

The Better Pick: Berman says you are better off sticking with fresh turkey or trying an all-natural brand of turkey bacon like Applegate Farms.

20. Splenda (Plain or with Fiber) - “Although there haven’t been any conclusive long-term studies on Splenda, short-term studies have found that heavy use resulted in shrunken thymus glands, an enlarged liver and kidney disorders in rats,” says Batayneh. Many experts believe that the use of artificial sweeteners can actually cause weight gain, by training your taste buds to crave even more sugary tasting foods and drinks. And the added fiber Splenda is not a benefit, says Batayneh. “That just encourages unhealthy eating habits: Consumers are misled and taught to get their fiber from sugar, as opposed to whole grains, fruits, vegetables and nuts.” Bad idea.

The Better Pick: Go for honey instead -- it's all natural! While it has about 44 calories per tablespoon, it has a low glycemic index compared with other sweeteners.
I'd like to add a couple other options to this: Stevia, Agave Nectar, or Organic Coconut Sugar. Also, go for a raw unprocessed honey (local honey if possible).

21. Flavored or Vitamin Water - Judging by their advertisements some enhanced waters sound like they are as good for you as a multivitamin! Don’t be swayed into thinking these flavored versions are good for you though, many contain artificial flavorings, sweeteners, sugar or even caffeine, says Cottrill.

The Better Pick: Save your money and stick with plain old water. With zero calories and no artificial ingredients, it will always be superior to its enhanced cousin, Cottrill says. And if you need to add a little kick to your water, try sparkling water with a sprig of fresh mint or a splash of lime juice to perk it up without adding calories or artificial ingredients.

22. Roasted Nuts - Nuts in their raw form are completely healthy, but the minute they are heated in the roasting process, they lose most of their health benefits, explains Traci D. Mitchell, a certified sports nutritionist based in Chicago, Illinois. Why? “The fat in nuts is largely polyunsaturated. Polyunsaturated fats are extremely fragile and oxidize (go bad) very quickly when they're exposed to air and heat. Oxidized fats are a breeding ground for free radicals, and free radicals damage our body much in the same way rust damages a car.”

The Better Pick: Keep eating nuts, says Mitchell; just go for the raw, unroasted varieties for a healthier option.

23. Bottled Salad Dressings - You use it on healthy salads and veggies -- how bad can it be? “Look at the label,” says Cottrill. “You’ll find little more than preservatives, hydrogenated fats, fillers and excess sodium. Two tablespoons of bottled dressing add up to 120 calories (who uses just 2 tablespoons?) 12g of fat, 2.5g of saturated fat and 360mg of sodium.” Definitely enough to ruin a healthy meal!

The Better Pick: Cottrill says your best bet is to ditch the bottle and make your own dressing. She recommends trying this simple recipe: In wide-mouth jar mix one part champagne vinegar, two parts extra-virgin olive oil, one tablespoon of mustard and freshly ground salt and pepper to taste. Shake and serve. “It’s simple, delicious health, and free of additives.” If you're looking for something simpler try a few squeezes of fresh lemon juice and olive oil or mix equal amounts of olive oil and balsamic vinegar to dress your salad.

24. Spinach (or Other 'Veggie') Boxed Pasta - Sorry, just because the pasta is green doesn’t mean it can count as your vegetable, says Batayneh. “These pastas often contain negligible amounts of vegetables (spinach is the last ingredient in one major brand), and in fact, only contain spinach mostly for coloring purposes,” she says.

The Better Pick: Eat your veggies in their natural form to get all their nutritional (and fiber) benefits, recommends Batayneh. Make your own spinach pasta: Cook some whole-wheat pasta and stir in some raw spinach just before serving for a true spinach pasta dish.

25. Multi-Grain Bread - Not all multigrain and wheat breads are created equal -- some may not even contain ‘whole’ grains, and be high in sugar and low in fiber, says Rachel Berman, a registered dietitian, member of the American Dietitian Association and director of nutrition for Calorie “Read the package for the words "whole grain" to ensure that's what you are getting,” Berman says.

The Better Pick: Berman recommends looking for a product with a label that reads 100-percent whole grain and check the ingredient list. “If the first ingredient is a whole grain (whole wheat, whole oat, whole rye) it's likely a large percentage of that product really is whole grain since the list is organized by concentration,” she says. (Berman likes Arnold’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread).

26. Banana Chips - Banana chips sure sound like they’d make a healthy snack, but nutritionally they are far inferior to their original fruit source. “Banana chips don’t contain the same nutrients that bananas do, plus they're fried,” says Cottrill. That makes one ounce of these healthy-sounding chips about 147 calories. A medium banana only has 105.

The Better Pick: “Keep it real,” says Cottrill. Stick with a plain banana to get fiber, potassium, vitamin C and a lot less calories and fat.

27. Vegetable Chips - While some veggie chips are lower in fat and calories than regular potato or tortilla chips, they still aren’t a health food, says Matilde Parente, M.D., a physician, biomedical consultant and author of Resveratrol. They may be made from vegetables but a chip is still a chip, and these veggie versions can still pack in plenty of sugar, salt and fat per serving. Plus, you might be likely to overindulge because you believe they're healthier than real potato chips.

The Better Pick: For a true healthy snack, Parente recommends ditching chip-type snacks altogether and eating real vegetables instead. “Grape tomatoes are easy to pack, neat to eat, sweet and loaded with nutrients.” If you need something crunchy, Parente suggests munching on some fennel slices for a crisp and refreshing snack.

28. Pretzels - This salty snack food may be lower in fat than potato chips, but they are basically empty calories that won’t really satisfy you, says Cottrill. “The lack of healthy fat in pretzels leads to a lack of satiety, which may explain the tendency to devour the entire bag.” Not to mention, she says, one serving provides nearly a quarter of the sodium a person needs each day.

The Better Pick: Snack on some raw nuts instead! “They offer a variety of vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, plus they pack some protein and fiber, and just a few will keep your hunger pangs in check,” she says.

29. Breakfast Cereal Bars - Many brands tout whole grains, real fruit and fiber on their labels, but are they really a healthy choice for breakfast? Not exactly. These bars are more of a convenience food, and shouldn’t be considered healthy, says Parente. One look at their nutritional info and you'll see low amounts of protein, fiber, 10-12 grams of sugar, plus a long list full of artificial flavors and ingredients.

The Better Pick: Don’t let your nutrition suffer in the name of convenience. Parente recommends grabbing fiber filled fruits like bananas or apples along with a handful of peanuts or a hard-boiled egg instead of these packaged bars for a travel-friendly breakfast.

30. Margarine - This spread is often touted as the healthier alternative to butter, but is it really? No! “What’s in margarine? Hope you’ve got a minute: Liquid canola oil, water, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, plant stanol esters, salt, emulsifiers (vegetable mono- and diglycerides, soy lecithin), hydrogenated soybean oil, potassium sorbate, citric acid and calcium disodium EDTA to preserve freshness, artificial flavor, DL-alpha-Tocopheryl acetate, and vitamin A palmitate,” says Carol Cottrill, a certified nutritional consultant and author of The French Twist. Whoa, that's a lot of stuff. And while margarine is cholesterol free, says Cottrill, your cholesterol reading has more to do with the mix of fats in your bloodstream rather one particular food.

The Better Pick: Butter. “What’s in butter? Cream and salt. One tablespoon of unsalted butter contains 100 calories, 11 g total fat, 7g saturated fat, 0 trans fat, 30 mg cholesterol and 2mg sodium. Margarine and its 87 calories, 10 grams of fat, and 98 mg of sodium is the clear loser here.

31. Baked Beans (canned) - Beans, with their healthy doses of fiber and protein, are a healthy addition to any meal, Batayneh says. Unfortunately, baked beans are a messy mix of pinto beans, sugar, syrup and molasses with an unnecessarily high calorie counts, she says.

The Better Pick: Stick with unadulterated pinto beans instead, Batayneh recommends. “They contain 40 fewer calories per and 23 grams of sugar per cup.” And their fiber and protein helps you feel full longer.