You may think you’re being virtuous when noshing or sipping on these 10 seemingly “healthy” foods and drinks, but think again: It turns out, they’re actually surprisingly unhealthy. (Don’t beat yourself up too much though, some of these had us fooled, too!) Ahead, nutrition experts weigh in on these sneaky health saboteurs and share some legitimately healthier alternatives.
Nothing healthier than a juice cleanse, right? Not quite. “Juicing removes all of the fiber and concentrates the sugars naturally found in fruit,” says Georgie Fear, RD, CSSD, and author of Lean Habits for Lifelong Weight Loss. “What you get does contain some vitamins, but also a lot of sugar and liquid calories.” If you are juicing, choose options made with mostly greens and only a little fruit that’s low on the glycemic index, like green apple, if you absolutely need some sweetness, adds LaMacchia. If you prefer strictly fruity juices, eating whole fruit is a much better way to go.
Swapping banana chips in place of potato chips may seem like a good move (it’s fruit, right?) but banana chips are typically deep fried, so they pack 10 grams of fat in each ounce, and not the heart-healthy kind, notes Fear. If it’s the crunch you crave, snack on a single-serve bag of freeze-dried fruit, pistachios, or bake your own pita chips, she recommends.
“The majority of yogurt available in the grocery store is flavored, which means full of sugar or artificial sweeteners,” explains Christina LaMacchia, certified nutrition coach and colon hydrotherapist, and owner of Christinas Colonics in Chicago. “These additives feed the bad bacteria in the gut, which basically negates the benefits of the probiotics in the yogurt.” Pick unsweetened varieties that you can flavor yourself, she suggests.
With a higher fructose content than any other common sweetener—even high fructose corn syrup—this isn’t the better alternative to white sugar that it’s been made out to be. Among other negative effects, fructose can lead to obesity and impair liver function, says LaMacchia, who advises using small amounts of maple syrup as a sweetener instead.
Whole Wheat Bread
Simply looking for the words “whole wheat” on the label isn’t going to cut the mustard: “If it isn't 100-percent whole wheat, that bread can contain enriched flour, which gives you a sugar spike and crash without any nutritional value,” cautions LaMacchia. Read the ingredient panel carefully to ensure you’re getting bread made of 100-percent whole wheat.
Marketed as one of the newest health drinks (companies boast that it contains 46 different kinds of compounds like vitamins, minerals, and amino acids), all this is is bottled sap from maple trees. “Almost all foods contain hundreds of compounds, so this diluted sugar water likely isn’t going to be a game changer for your health,” Fear explains. Hydrate with good ol’ H2O instead.
Granola was one of the first “health foods,” but many of the pre-packaged varieties are often not so healthy. “One cup of granola can have more than 600 calories, scoops of sugar, and be loaded with unhealthy oils,” notes LaMacchia, who says to limit your serving size to no more than a tablespoon and using it as a topper for yogurt or even roasted veggies.
Though these may seem like great pre- or post-workout fuel, not all bars are created equal. Many are loaded with sugar, and those that aren’t usually contain sugar alcohol, which is just as detrimental and can cause serious digestive upset, says LaMacchia. Not to mention that some bars contain over 50 ingredients. Her advice: “The fewer ingredients the bar contains, the better. You can also search for homemade protein bar recipes on Pinterest or build your own on youbars.com.”
“Most restaurants and chains generally serve smoothies that have sugar-laden bases, contain only fruit, use regular milk, cheap protein powders…the list goes on and on,” says LaMacchia. Point being, here’s a case where making your own can make a world of difference. Use unsweetened nut milks or teas as a liquid, load up on green veggies, and cut back on fruit, then get creative and add whatever good fats (coconut oil, avocado oil, unsweetened nut butter) and herbs or spices you like.
Sixty percent of the calories in this calorically-dense sack come solely from sugar, notes LaMacchia, who adds that people often eat way more than one single serving size. Stick to no more than a tablespoon-worth used as a topping for yogurt or salad when you need to satisfy a sweet craving.