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20 “Healthy” Foods That Aren’t Healthy

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By: Erin Coleman, B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.,

Writer at The Fit Father Project

healthy foods that aren't healthy

Do you know what's really “good for you”? What you may think are “health foods” may actually be “healthy foods that aren't healthy.”

Believe it or not, but you might be consuming “healthy” foods that aren't healthy more often than you think.

Some foods commonly considered healthy aren't always what they seem.

Knowing when healthy food is truly good for you is crucial if you want to maintain a healthy weight, maximize lean muscle mass, and reduce your risk of chronic diseases.

Think you're eating healthily? You may be surprised what's in that “diet” food.

Watch out for these 20 healthy foods that aren't healthy!

Once you understand nutrition labels, you will have more control over what goes into your body. Learn how to read nutrition labels properly!

 

20 Healthy Foods That Aren't Healthy

1. Diet Sodas

Diet sodas are often calorie-free, so you'd probably think these diet drinks would be much healthier than regular sodas packed with added sugar.

However, studies found that ingesting artificial sweeteners may actually change your gut bacteria, decrease satiety, and increase calorie intake and weight gain.

There are numerous reasons for this.

One is that diet drinks taste sweet but don't provide your body with energy that usually accompanies sugar and other carbohydrates.

This can cause you to crave real sugar and additional calories to feel satisfied.

You're better off sticking with water, coffee, or tea if you want to lose weight, maintain a healthy weight, or avoid cravings for sugary drinks.

Watch this video to discover the biggest dangers of artificial sweeteners.

 

2. Some Yogurts

When you think of yogurt, you probably think of healthy food rich in protein, probiotics, and calcium.

However, not all yogurts are created equal.

Check the nutrition facts label on your favorite flavored yogurts, as many brands contain added sugar or artificial sweeteners.

Opt for Greek yogurt whenever possible, which is naturally higher in satiating protein and lower in sugar than traditional yogurt.

Choose plain yogurt over yogurts flavored with added sugar.

3. Kefir Containing Added Sugar

Like yogurt, some types of flavored kefir contain hidden added sugar as an ingredient — up to 20 or more grams of total sugar per serving in some cases.

Kefir is a super-food in the sense that it's rich in high-quality protein, calcium, and probiotics.

But make sure to choose kefir with minimal or no added sugar in place of sugar-sweetened kefir, to maintain optimal health and reduce your risk of undesirable weight gain.

Learn more about probiotics and how to choose the right ones.

 

4. Certain Soups

Be careful when choosing “healthy” soups, as some are much healthier for you than others.

As a general rule, broth-based soups (especially those containing vegetables) are a better choice than cream-based soups.

If you struggle with high blood pressure or heart problems, however, it's best to choose reduced-sodium soups over traditional soups.

Pick chicken and vegetable broth-based soups (low-sodium when necessary) instead of cream of potato soup, clam chowder, or cheddar soups.

5. Regular Cheeses

Cheese is a good source of protein and calcium, which is why cheese is often thought of by many people as a healthy food.

However, regular cheese is also a source of saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium. It's high in calories too.

If you decide to add cheese to your meal plan, opt for reduced-fat cheeses instead as it contains the same amount of protein and calcium as regular cheese, but with fewer calories and less saturated fat.

Making this simple cheese swap means you can reduce your risk of developing high cholesterol and heart problems, without sacrificing flavor.

You can also replace regular cheese with hummus, nut butter, olives, or avocado slices.

6. Traditional Pasta

If you've ever felt bloated after eating regular pasta, you're not alone as it can contribute to weight gain and obesity if you eat too much of this carb-rich food.

In place of regular pasta, choose whole grain pasta, quinoa, peas, beans, or other legumes, as these foods are higher in protein and fiber than traditional pasta.

Pair your favorite fiber-rich starch with a non-starchy vegetable and protein food (such as chicken, turkey, shrimp, fish, eggs, tofu, or lean steak) during meals.

Discover the truth about carbs in this video.

 

7. Spaghetti Sauce

While spaghetti sauce is a good source of vitamin A and vitamin C, it's not always the healthiest option.

Many types of tomato-based sauces contain added sugar as an ingredient to enhance flavor.

When choosing a tomato sauce to make pasta, casseroles, chili, or lasagna, opt for sauces without added sugar on the ingredient list or choose those containing fewer than 5 grams of total sugar per serving.

Consider replacing tomato sauce with olive oil and your favorite herbs.

8. Granola Bars

Granola bars might seem like a nutritious between-meal snack, but many types of granola bars are loaded with added sugar.

Granola itself is a nutritious choice as it's rich in fiber, vitamins, and minerals.

Choose granola bars with no or minimal added sugar over traditional granola bars.

Better yet, choose a whole foods bar or protein-rich bar containing less than 5 grams of added sugar per serving.

Say goodbye to unexpected sugar and indecipherable ingredients with these recipes for homemade protein bars!

9. Some Canned Fruits

Generally speaking, it's best to choose fresh fruits over canned fruits whenever possible.

Many canned fruits are packed in syrup and don't contain the skin of the fruit, which is loaded with essential nutrients.

If you do opt for canned fruits, chose fruits packed in 100% fruit juice or water rather than syrup.

10. Juice Drinks

Unless a juice nutrition label states it's 100% fruit juice, chances are the juice drink you're consuming contains at least some added sugar.

Juice is rich in natural sugar and doesn't require added sugar to taste delicious.

Whenever possible, choose fresh fruit in place of juice because fruit contains fiber that juice often lacks.

If you do opt for juice instead of fruit, make sure the juice label says “100% juice” and be on the lookout for added sugar on the ingredient list.

Learn about eating fruit for weight loss and the best fruits for losing weight.

 

11. Sweet Tea

While traditional tea often contains 5 calories (or less) per serving, sweet tea is usually a significant source of added sugar and empty calories.

For example, just one cup of sweet tea might contain over 20 grams of added sugar.

Sweet tea can also stain your teeth.

Instead of choosing sugar-sweetened or artificially sweetened tea, pick traditional tea or flavor your tea with lemon.

Alternatives for sweet tea include traditional tea over ice or iced tea mixed with coconut milk and your favorite spices.

12. Flavored Coffee Drinks

It's perfectly fine to include coffee in a healthy meal plan.

In fact, caffeine in coffee can give your metabolism a boost and keep energy levels high during exercise or when you're at work.

However, many flavored coffee drinks contain added sugar as an ingredient.

Check the ingredient label on your favorite flavored coffee drink.

Or, make your own homemade iced coffee, or prepare iced coffee mixed with low-fat milk or plant milk plus cinnamon, nutmeg, or pumpkin pie spice.

Find out what the 6 healthiest drinks are and what you should drink more of in the future!

 

13. Many Condiments

Many condiments contain added sugar, adding unnecessary empty calories to your daily meal plan.

Examples of common condiments with added sugar include ketchup, barbecue sauce, many types of salad dressings, jams, jellies, and syrups.

Instead of using condiments containing added sugar, consider salsa, mustard (avoid honey mustard), nut butter without added sugar, hummus, or avocado oil mayonnaise instead.

14. Certain Meats

Meat is a good source of protein, iron, zinc, B vitamins, and other essential nutrients.

However, not all meats are healthy for you.

Meats classified as healthy foods that aren't healthy include fatty cuts of red meat, processed meats (bacon, ham, deli meats, hot dogs, sausage, etc.), and fried meats.

The American Cancer Society reports that processed meats are linked with cancer and eating large amounts of red meat increases your risk of developing certain types of cancer.

Choose organic, lean cuts of grass-fed beef or chicken, turkey, duck, fish, seafood, or eggs instead.

Tired of throwing the same stuff on the grill? Try these healthy meats for grilling that go beyond burgers and dogs!

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15. Some Breakfast Cereals

Whole-grain breakfast cereals are packed with fiber, vitamins, and minerals, and can give you a boost of much-needed energy when you wake up.

However, added sugar lurks in many breakfast cereals, even those you least expect.

When picking a breakfast cereal that's truly healthy, look at its nutrition label.

Choose cereals containing at least 3 grams of fiber and 5 grams (or less) of added sugar per serving.

16. Energy and Sports Drinks

Energy and sports drinks might give you a quick boost of energy, but these drinks often contain a large amount of added sugar paired with artificial flavors and colors.

Opt for sports drinks with reduced sugar instead, or dilute sugary sports drinks with water.

If you're training hard for longer than an hour and need quick extra energy from simple carbohydrates, sports drinks come in handy.

But don't drink them all the time, especially when you're not working out, to minimize your added sugar intake and maintain a healthy weight.

Need a boost? Try these supplements for energy and focus.

 

17. Canned Baked Beans

Beans are healthy because they're loaded with protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals, but many types of canned baked beans contain added sugar — particularly brown sugar — as an ingredient.

To reap the health and nutritional benefits associated with beans without the added sugar, choose beans or other legumes packed in water and season them with salt, pepper, or any other favorite seasoning.

18. Red Wine

Because of the antioxidant content of red wine, it's often classified as a healthy beverage — especially when compared with other types of alcoholic drinks.

While the antioxidants in red wine, sourced from grape skins, do offer some heart-healthy benefits, alcohol is associated with developing mouth, throat, voice box, colon, rectum, esophagus, and liver cancers.

Alcohol contains 7 calories per gram, which can contribute to undesirable weight gain over time if you drink it in excess.

Consuming excessive amounts of wine or other alcoholic drinks can boost your risk of high blood pressure, stroke, heart failure, liver and pancreas problems, violence, accidents, and even suicide.

If you do drink red wine or other alcoholic drinks socially, do so in moderation.

This means limit alcohol to 1-2 drinks (or less) per day in men.

Watch this video to learn how alcohol affects your weight.

 

19. Some Protein Bars

While protein bars can boost satiety between meals, help you eat fewer calories overall, and build muscle mass, many bars marketed as protein bars are loaded with added sugar and other additives.

Choose protein bars wisely by opting for those containing 5 grams of added sugar or less in each serving.

Or, consider making your own nutritious homemade protein bars at home for you and your family!

20. Certain Protein Shakes

Protein shakes can aid in weight loss when used in place of meals, or help you build muscle after strenuous workouts.

However, use caution when choosing ready-to-drink protein shakes or protein powders to make homemade protein shake recipes.

Always read the nutrition information on your favorite protein shake labels to ensure you're not consuming more added sugar than what's healthy.

Aim to consume fewer than 5 grams of added sugar with each serving of a protein shake, and avoid adding honey or other ingredients containing added sugar to homemade shakes.

In this video, we will help you sort the myths from the facts to find out your recommended protein intake depending on your goals.

 

Ways to Choose Truly Healthy Foods

The trick to avoiding healthy foods that aren't healthy is to pick whole, minimally processed foods that aren't loaded with added sugar, empty calories, sodium, or animal fats.

Steer clear of sugary drinks, sweets, other added sugars, fried foods, and fast foods when you can.

Choose fresh, organic foods and limit prepackaged foods as much as possible.

If you do opt for pre-packaged foods, always assess the nutrition labels before you buy them.

Focus on the saturated fat, sodium, calorie, total sugar, and added sugar content of your favorite foods.

A number of 0 grams of added sugar is an optimal goal.

In general, the more unsaturated fat, protein, or fiber a food has, the healthier it is.

Control your total calorie intake, especially if your goal is weight loss.

Fit Father Project 30X (FF30X) meal plans can help you achieve the muscular, lean physique you desire quickly and efficiently.

Aim to reduce your current intake by 500 to 1,000 calories daily to drop about 1-2 pounds per week.

The Fit Father Project offers motivational health coaching support, nutritious recipes, weekly newsletters, and more to significantly improve your chance of success.

Now that you can distinguish between healthy foods that aren't healthy and truly nutritious foods, sign up for Fit Father Project to perfect your meal plan and exercise regimen.

Try our FREE meal plan and workout to get started today!

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Erin Coleman B.S. - Nutritional Science, R.D., L.D.

Writer at The Fit Father Project

Erin Coleman is a registered and licensed dietitian with over 15 years of freelance writing experience.

She graduated with her Bachelor of Science degree in nutritional science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and completed her dietetic internship at Viterbo University in La Crosse, Wisconsin.

Prior to beginning her career in medical content writing, Erin worked as Health Educator for the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Internal Medicine.

Her published work appears on hundreds of health and fitness websites, and she’s currently working on publishing her first book! Erin is a wife, and a Mom to two beautiful children.

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*Please know that weight loss results & health changes/improvements vary from individual to individual; you may not achieve similar results. Always consult with your doctor before making health decisions. This is not medical advice – simply very well-researched info on healthy foods that aren't healthy.

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