You know how to eat healthy. You cook at home often. You stick to the outer aisles of the supermarket where the fruits, vegetables, and lean meats hang out. But even the healthiest among us can be led down the garden path straight to foods that promise nature’s bounty, but deliver heaps of sugar, high calorie counts, and little nutritional value. Read on to discover 11 foods that seem far more healthful than they really are.
You know these foods. Their packages contain words like “antioxidant” and “probiotic.” They feature pictures of bunnies and pastoral farms at sunrise. Be mindful that cute critters and words like “chia” do not guarantee a wholesome product. Get ready for a heaping serving of truth…
1. Almond Milk
Almonds are incredibly healthy for you, so it’s easy to assume the liquid version would overflow with goodness. In reality, the almond content of store-bought almond milk is extremely low. A recent false advertising lawsuit alleges there is a mere 2 percent of the tree nut in Almond Breeze from Blue Diamond. “Almond milk is mostly water whether it’s store bought or homemade,” says nutritionist Sharon Palmer, RDN, author of Plant-Powered for Life. “It’s a wonderful dairy alternative,” Palmer says. “But keep in mind it doesn’t have a lot of almonds – or nutrients – in it.”
Healthier option: An actual handful of this superfood fave.
2. Pumpkin Spice Lattes
Starbucks made waves when they announced this year’s PSL would contain actual pumpkin. The change comes after Vani Hari, an influential and controversial food blogger known as the “Food Babe,” targeted PSL for completely lacking its namesake and for containing caramel color. Now, the caramel color is out and real pumpkin is in. But don’t expect to get a serving of vegetables from this wildly popular autumn beverage. Pumpkin puree makes its entrance late in the ingredients list. And at 380 calories and 50 grams of sugar for a 16 oz. serving, it’s best to call the PSL what it is – dessert.
Healthier option: Make one of the many low-sugar PSL hacks at home. To save you the Google, here’s one from Dani Spies of Clean & Delicious: Homemade Pumpkin Spice Latte
3. Sports and Vitamin Drinks
Advertisements for sports drinks show well-muscled, sweaty athletes gulping them down. And Coca-Cola’s Glacéau Vitaminwater bottles boldly list healthy-sounding brews of antioxidants, electrolytes, and vitamins, while relegating their high sugar content to the nutrition label. But for the average, active kid or adult, colored sugar water is not the healthiest mode of delivery for electrolytes, vitamins or glucose. Last year, Coca-Cola settled a lawsuit claiming deceptive labeling, agreeing to include the drink’s calorie count and the statement, “See nutrition facts for more detail,” on the front of the bottle.
Healthier option: Water and a wide variety of fruits and vegetables.
4. Protein and Energy Bars
These grab-and-go wonders have always seemed like healthy between meal options. Unfortunately, some of them contain the calories and sugar content of a candy bar. There are healthy choices, but the plethora of bars on the market can be overwhelming. Spend a few extra minutes reading the labels and you’ll find a few wholesome bars you can grab on the fly. Look for real, whole ingredients, and avoid added sugar and trans-fats.
Healthier option: Bake your own energy bars with oats, dates, and almond butter.
5. Spinach Wraps, Spinach Pasta and Veggie Chips
Don’t be fooled by their leafy-green hues, these products are simply white pasta, flour tortillas, and potato crisps with a splash of spinach juice.
Healthier option: Whole wheat pasta tossed with olive oil, garlic, and as much spinach as you like.
6. Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Peanut butter contains a healthy ratio of saturated and monounsaturated fat similar to that found in olive oil. And that fat provides peanut butter’s satisfying taste and texture. Makers of reduced fat peanut butter make up for the loss of flavor with extra sugar, salt, and food additives.
Healthier option: For your next PB&J use a natural full-fat peanut butter with no added sugars.
7. Organic Snack Foods
People automatically assume cheese crackers, gummy candies, and brownie mixes labeled “organic” are healthier options than their non-organic counterparts. They may be better for the environment, but they are not better for you. “Organic junk foods are still junk foods,” Palmer says. “You’re better off spending your organic food dollars where it really matters: produce, meat, milk.”
Healthier option: Make whole wheat cheddar crackers at home with organic ingredients for a crunchy snack that delivers fiber and nutrients.
8. Bran Muffins
A bran muffin and a chocolate chip muffin sit next to each other on the shelf at the coffee shop. Which is the healthier choice? Neither – they are both cake. Don’t let the bran name fool you. Even though it will have a smidge of fiber, this muffin is high in calories and loaded with sugar.
Healthier option: Bake your own bran muffins, cut back on the sugar, and make them smaller than a softball.
9. Multigrain Bread
Are 12-grain breads automatically better than 7-grain breads? Should the grains be ancient or sprouted? Amaranth or Quinoa? The truth is, bread made mostly from refined white flour can be labeled “multigrain” if there are small amounts of other grains in the mix. Check the ingredient list to make sure whole wheat or whole grain flour is the first ingredient to ensure a nutrient and fiber rich loaf.
Healthier option: Bake your own whole wheat bread.
10. Yogurt Covered Almonds, Pretzels, and Raisins
Yogurt is so deeply linked to thoughts of healthy eating that even yogurt covered almonds, pretzels, and raisins get swept up in that creamy current. But these snacks are simply covered in a candy shell made with yogurt – and those healthy live and active probiotic cultures didn’t survive the candying process.
Healthier option: Sprinkle crushed almonds, pretzels, and a few raisins over plain Greek yogurt.
11. Breakfast Cereal
The classic unhealthy food in wholesome food packaging has seen a decline in sales over the past few years. However, cold breakfast cereal still sells briskly and those looking to eat healthy should read labels closely. Many cereals have unrealistic serving sizes, contain minimal whole grains, and are loaded with sugar. If you’re starting your day with dessert, it’s best to do so consciously.
Healthier option: Steel cut oats with fruit