You’ve just finished a great run, and you couldn’t be happier with your commitment to living a more active and healthy life. You’re one of the very few people who kept their new year’s resolutions past month six, and that’s quite an accomplishment. To refuel, you munch on a protein bar that you picked up at the store, and you make sure you have your bottle of green smoothie mid-day to keep your energy up throughout the day. You’re happy with your lifestyle changes, and can’t wait to sit down at the end of the day with some veggie chips and your bun-free vegan burger.
Kudos to you for becoming more active and being more conscious about your diet. Unfortunately, while your exercise habits might be helping ward off some chronic health conditions, the packaged health food you’re eating isn’t doing you any favors. The majority of “healthy snacks” on grocery store shelves are anything but. The marketing department of many food companies has caught on to the fact that “healthy” sells, even when there’s no real truth behind their claims. If you’re eating any of the foods on this list, don’t despair – you can still enjoy them. But remember that they are “sometimes” foods, not healthy snacks to be consumed daily.
15 Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
You need saturated fat in your diet. Saturated fat helps your body to provide padding and protection for organs, helps with signaling processes, and aid in necessary hormone production, among other functions.
Whereas saturated fat is necessary in the diet, over-consumption of saturated fats has been linked to cancer, heart attacks, and other negative health effects, so eating saturated fat in moderation makes sense. Most North Americans eat too much saturated fat, and when they decide to cut down on how much they’re eating, they’ll reach for low-fat products, such as reduced fat peanut butter. These people aren’t doing themselves any favors.
To keep reduced fat peanut butter palatable, companies add a ton of sugar, salt, and hydrogenated oils. Sugar provides calories without any nutrients. Too much salt increases blood pressure. Hydrogenated oils create trans fats, which have been associated with many poor health effects, including cardiovascular disease. Reduced fat peanut butter might sound healthy, but it really isn’t.
Opt for all-natural peanut butter instead. Whereas in most cases, the label “all-natural” doesn’t mean much, in the case of peanut butter, it usually means that the jar you’re holding simply contains crushed peanuts. Sure, the fat content is higher, but so is the nutritional content, and you won’t be getting all the detrimental side effects of the supposedly healthy reduced fat version.
14 Veggie Chips
Commercial veggie chips are often advertised as a “healthy snack” or as a “healthy alternative to potato chips” – except they are neither of those things.
We see the words “veggie” on a label, and the assumption is almost automatic that it’s good for us. Unfortunately, while there certainly are vegetables in veggie chips, they’ve been processed almost beyond recognition, and there really isn’t much left that could still be called healthy.
In truth, veggie chips are not much better than potato chips. Both contain high amounts of sodium and not enough vitamins or minerals to be considered a healthy snack. Sure, one major brand of veggie chips only contains 130 calories per serving. But it also contains 250 mg of sodium, no vitamins, and less than 1 gram of fiber. It is definitely not a healthy snack.
Should you avoid veggie chips all together? No. Just treat them for what they are: a treat food. If you must have veggie chips as part of your everyday diet, make your own. And speaking of veggie chips, organic potato chips aren’t healthy, either.
13 Organic Potato Chips
Just because something is organic, doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. People are afraid of pesticide use, and the food industry knows it. Touting all kinds of foods as organic, certain companies have people convinced that their foods are healthy, when in reality, they’re no better than their non-organic counterparts when it comes to nutrition density.
Nutrition density is the amount of calories in a food compared to the amount of nutrients in it. If a food contains too many calories in comparison to the amount of nutrients it provides, it is a “calorie-dense” food. If a food provides a good amount of nutrients in comparison to calories, it is a “nutrient-dense” food and is therefore a healthier option.
Potato chips, organic or not, fall in the “calorie-dense” category. Although potato chips do provide some vitamin C and even some iron, you’ll be much better off making your own chips at home, or making potatoes in a way that doesn’t involve the use of high amounts of salt and fat. High salt isn’t a problem just with organic potato chips, it’s also a problem with many other boxed “healthy snacks” – such as protein or granola bars.
12 Granola and/or Protein Bars
While most granola and protein bar companies tout their products as healthy, the truth is, most are no better than a candy bar. Claims on boxes of popular products include “gluten-free,” “non-GMO,” and “no trans-fat.” Each of these claims might be a good thing on its own. But if you look carefully at the majority of nutrition labels and ingredient lists for these products, you will see that the whole picture isn’t so healthy. Commercial protein or granola bars are often high in calories, high in sugar, and high in sodium, but low in everything else – very little fiber or vitamins and minerals. These products are also often filled with preservatives that you don’t really need to be adding to your diet.
If you must eat protein bars, it’s not very difficult or time-consuming to make your own. You have the advantage of knowing exactly what’s in them, and they can add more nutrition to your diet, instead of taking away from your healthy eating habits. You may not know precisely how many calories are in each serving, but that’s not necessarily a good thing anyway.
11 100-Calorie Packs
For people counting calories and wanting to cut down on the amount they consume, 100-calorie packs can seem like a dream come true. Imagine: knowing exactly how many calories you are consuming each time you sit down to eat, and not having to worry about complicated math to figure out how much is in each serving.
100-calorie packs of all kinds are marketed as a healthy option because of their low-calorie count; yet, healthy is the last thing you should call these snacks. In reality, 100-calorie packs are usually calorie-dense foods, meaning they have very few nutrients for the amount of calories they provide. These snacks often contain more sugar than vitamins, minerals, or fiber, and they don’t add much of anything (other than 100 calories) to your healthy eating plan.
Does that mean you should never eat them? No. If you must have a little treat, they would be better than a 500-calorie unhealthy snack, but they are still a treat food, and should be treated as such (e.g., not something to be eaten every day).
10 Gluten Free Boxed Snacks
Just because something is gluten-free, does not mean that it is healthy. As a matter of fact, many gluten-free snacks are less healthy than their gluten-containing counterparts.
Whereas people with celiac disease celebrate the fact that there are many gluten-free options to choose from at stores now, they also bemoan the fact that when they go to a restaurant or a friends’ house, no one takes their very real condition seriously. For people with celiac disease, gluten-free eating is a way of life over which they really have no choice. For the majority of people who eat gluten-free because they have come to believe that gluten is inherently bad, gluten-free eating is inconvenient to others at best, and unhealthy for themselves at worst.
Gluten-free does not equal healthy. Gluten-free boxed snacks often contain unnecessary preservatives and too many calories and sugar, and gluten-free diets that contain mostly processed gluten-free foods are often lacking in essential vitamins and minerals.
9 Fruit Muffins
Who doesn’t love a delicious baked good? And if it contains fruit, it must be healthy, right? Bakeries and coffee shops love to advertise their fruit muffins as a healthy option, sometimes including the claim “made with real fruit,” as if that fact made all the other unhealthy stuff go away. It doesn’t.
“Made with real fruit” sounds great, until you realize that, real fruit or not, muffins are really cupcakes without the icing. The amount of added sugar that most muffins contain puts them at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to healthy eating.
Does that mean you should avoid them at all costs? Of course not. Just like all the other foods on this list, treat them for what they are: treat foods to be eaten infrequently and in moderation. Don’t make these your go-to snack, because in one major brand’s single serve muffin, you’ll be packing a walloping 340 calories, 11 grams of fat, 25 grams of sugar, and no vitamins or minerals. This snack definitely qualifies as calorie-dense.
8 Commercial Green Smoothies And Juices
The juicing craze has gotten out of control. Whereas drinking your greens is better than not taking in any greens at all, the majority of commercial green smoothies and fruit juices are packed with sugar that doesn’t add any nutrition to your diet. Sure, these drinks pack lots of vitamins, but so does a salad or some raw vegetables – no sugar added.
If you must drink your greens, try making them yourself with a high-powered blender, and if you must add sugar, use dates, which are very high in sugar, but at least you get iron, vitamin B-6, magnesium and calcium out of it.
Don’t forget to also stay away from any juicing cleanses, which don’t “cleanse you” (whatever that means), put you at risk of mineral deficiencies, don’t give you enough protein, force your body into starvation mode, and are sold as healthy weight loss options but aren’t anything of the kind.
7 Veggie Burgers (and other processed soy products)
No, the fear-mongering anti-soy people aren’t right. Soy can actually be a very healthy food. It’s a complete source of protein, high in iron, and provides many necessary vitamins and minerals. But if you want to eat healthy soy food, stick with raw or cooked whole edamame beans, or GMO-free, organic tofu.
Whereas the scientific jury is still out on whether GMO food is to be avoided at all costs (meaning there isn’t scientific consensus or enough research yet), I would avoid it for that exact reason. We’ve been messing with our food and we don’t know the consequences. Therefore, I’d stick with as little processing as possible, and GMO-free would fit that list.
Since soy is one of the top pesticide and herbicide-sprayed foods, and since we know that several of these chemicals have been linked to cancer, it would make sense to stick to organic versions of these foods. Just be aware that not all “organic” food is actually organic. The soil can be treated before seeds are planted, and wind can carry pesticides from one farm to another. So be informed, but make the decision that best fits your lifestyle and budget.
While you don’t need to avoid all soy products, the majority of processed soy products (such as veggie burgers, veggie sausages, and veggie sandwich meats) are definitely out of the healthy foods list. There are way too many fillers and not enough vegetables in the majority of these products.
If you’ve decided to go vegan, it’s best to make your own veggie patties. It’s not that difficult, it’s much healthier, and you know exactly what goes in it.
6 Vegan, Non-GMO, and/or Organic Baked Snacks
Vegan, non-GMO, and organic are often plastered all over unhealthy foods to make you believe they’re healthy. Having no animal products included does not necessarily mean something is healthy. For example, potato chips are animal-free, but no one would say they’re healthy.
Not having genetically modified organisms does not make something healthy. Plenty of products with a non-GMO label are not great as a diet staple. Some products that display non-GMO labels are just using a marketing ploy to sell more products to the non-informed (one company labeled its water as a non-GMO product).
Organic treat foods are still treat foods, and often still have just as much sugar, fat, and sodium as their conventional counterparts.
Don’t fall for the marketing claims of companies that are more interested in making money than looking out for your health. Is organic good? Sure. Is non-GMO good? Probably. Is vegan good? Depends whom you ask. But all of these labels don’t magically turn treat foods into healthy snacks. Read labels and read ingredient lists, and make a sound decision based on the information you gather (and on the advice of dietitians with several years of training).
5 Rice Cakes
Rice cakes are delicious and can be a very convenient snack, and they are low in calories. Does that make them healthy? Absolutely not. Rice cakes are low in calories, sure, but they’re also low in everything else. Long touted as a “diet food” because they’re low in calories, the reality is that this product doesn’t do much for weight loss or healthy eating.
Because rice cakes are low in protein, fiber, and fat, they don’t really satisfy your hunger, which leaves you more prone to snacking on either more rice cakes (which defeats the purpose of the low-calorie benefit) or other less-than-healthy foods.
Instead of snacking on rice cakes, choose a snack that contains protein, fat, and fiber, such as homemade protein bars. Whereas they’ll be higher in calories, they’ll satisfy your hunger and provide you with needed nutrients, which will, in the long term, help with weight management.
It may seem strange to see sushi on a list of foods that aren’t that healthy. After all, sushi is low in calories and contains very little fat. Unfortunately, a lot of the fish used to make sushi is extremely high in mercury.
The scientific evidence is strong that even a small amount of mercury in the diet is linked to detrimental effects on brain development, making consuming mercury particularly dangerous for children under the age of six and women who may become pregnant or who are pregnant.
But sushi lovers don’t need to despair. Whereas it’s probably wise to put sushi on the “sometimes” food list, there are things you can do to limit your exposure to mercury when eating this food. Avoid eating the larger fish such as tuna, yellowtail, sea bass, and mackerel, and stick to other species such as eel, salmon, clam, and crab, which contain much lower levels of mercury.
3 Frozen Yogurt
On a hot summer day, a frozen treat can be a great thing to share with friends. Many people who are working on weight management or weight loss will choose frozen yogurt instead of ice cream, thinking that the former is healthier than the latter.
Frozen yogurt is delicious and can feel like a guilt-free treat, but it is not a healthy food. People hear “yogurt” and they think “healthy.” But in truth, frozen yogurt isn’t that much better than ice cream. Sure, it’s usually lower in fat, but it’s still extremely high in sugar and contains no vitamins or fiber. Frozen yogurt is not a healthy food – it’s a treat food to be eaten infrequently and in moderation.
Some people think of frozen yogurt as a healthy food because yogurt contains live bacteria that are good for your gut. The problem is that the freezing process used to make your favorite “fro-yo” actually kills most of that bacteria. In addition, many frozen yogurts actually have more sugar than ice cream. Sugar isn’t evil and to be avoided at all costs, but it does contain empty calories, so the less you eat, the better.
2 Trail Mix
It can feel really satisfying to eat a mouthful of nuts and raisins, especially if you’re out and about and a sit-down meal is unlikely. While very convenient, the majority of trail mixes isn’t that healthy, even though most people believe otherwise.
Maybe it’s because the word “trail” brings into mind pictures of hiking the great outdoors, or maybe it’s because trail mix contains nuts and dried fruit, but trail mix has long been believed to be a health food and has long been advertised by smart marketers as such. Commercial trail mix, however, has never been, is not, and probably will never be a true health food. Most commercial trail mixes are very high in sugar and calories.
While most trail mixes do provide some nutrients, you would be better off choosing some raw nuts that you enjoy and mixing them together with no-sugar added dried foods. You’ll still get all the benefits of commercial trail mix, without the unnecessary added sugar, salt, or preservatives.
1 Organic Cereals
Organic is the word of the day for people who want to live a healthier and environmentally conscious life. Marketers have caught on to this, and the word “organic” is plastered on many products as a way to make you think the food is better for you. Unfortunately, there are plenty of unhealthy organic products on grocery shelves.
Just because something is organic, does not mean that it is healthy. The public’s obsession with organic everything has not escaped smart marketing eyes. The label “organic” ensures higher sales for many companies, and many consumers assume they’re buying healthy products when they see the label.
In reality, organic just means that the product you are holding or eating does not use ingredients that have been grown with the use of pesticides, herbicides, or other conventional farming methods. The organic label does not mean the food is healthy, and sometimes it doesn’t even mean that the food is organic, as crops can be exposed by the wind, water, and soil to non-organic components.
Is organic better? It all depends. But just remember that organic treats are still treats.