It’s beyond disappointing to discover that some of the “health” foods we buy are actually bad for us. No one likes to spin their wheels; and yet, many of us are spending our hard-earned time and money making healthy food choices that aren’t getting us anywhere.
This is a mistake none of us wants to make, which is why it’s important to get familiar with the common junk foods masquerading as health foods.
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Here are five important ones to know:
Granola has long been marketed as a health food. And at first glance, it seems legit. (It’s made with oats, dried fruit, and nuts, right?)
Unfortunately, research has also shown that oats commonly contain unhealthy levels of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup, which has been added to California’s list of chemicals known to the state to cause cancer. And with the combination of dried fruit and added sources of sugar like honey, maple syrup, and coconut sugar, granola can be a sugar bomb.
But it’s not all bad news. If you stick to organic products that have no added sugar—or make your own easy granola at home!—you can still enjoy your morning yogurt and granola parfait.
2. Salad (with Dressing)
When you think of healthy meal choices, a salad is probably the first image that comes to mind. And most salads are, indeed, healthy. That said, you really want to watch out for the dressing you’re using, which can seriously sabotage the health of your meal. Salad dressings are a huge hidden source of sugar and less-than-healthy oils like soybean oil, corn oil, and canola oil.
Want to keep it simple and make sure you’re not topping your healthy meal with something unhealthy? Next time you’re at the salad bar, ask for olive oil, a lemon squeeze, and salt and pepper. If you’re eating at home, opt for homemade dressings—try one of these fresh and easy salad dressing recipes—instead of store-bought ones. They taste better and you’ll know exactly what’s going in them.
3. Sparkling Water
Pellegrino lovers, don’t panic. Not all sparking water falls under the “unhealthy” category. What you want to watch out for on the ingredients list of these products is the term “natural flavors,” which is found in many fan-favorite flavored sparkling water drinks.
So what are natural flavors, exactly? No one is really sure. The FDA does define the term, but there are loopholes in the definition that really blur the line between natural and artificial flavors. According to the Environmental Working Group, a review paper found that artificial and natural flavorings can be unspecified mixtures of as many as 100 flavoring substances and solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives.
So basically, the term “natural flavor” doesn’t mean much at all; and it definitely doesn’t mean the product is healthy or free from artificial flavors.
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To make sure you know exactly what’s in the beverage you’re drinking, buy from brands that are transparent about the flavoring agents they use. For example, Spindrift sparkling waters are made with a touch of real squeezed fruit.
4. Greek Yogurt
“But it’s high in protein!” a chorus of Greek yogurt lovers cries out. Admittedly, Greek yogurt is high in protein—with about 19 grams of protein per serving—and also contains good bacteria that can be beneficial for the gastrointestinal tract.
But if you’re eating cow’s milk yogurt regularly, hormones are a concern. Studies have shown that the presence of hormones in dairy products has the potential to disrupt the endocrine system and unfortunately, yogurt is one of the most common sources of dairy in the United States. If you’re buying yogurt, look for products made from cows that were not treated with hormones or buy yogurt made from plant-based ingredients like almonds, oats, and cashews.
According to the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, a five-ounce container of yogurt can also contain up to 25 grams of sugar—and most of that sugar is coming from added sweeteners. When you’re in the yogurt aisle, follow their advice and “if you see sugar or other forms of sugar among the top four ingredients in the Ingredients list, consider choosing a lower sugar yogurt or use plain yogurt with your own addition of fresh fruit or a drizzle of honey.”
5. Red Wine
A quick internet search will reveal thousands of articles claiming that red wine is “healthy.” And while it does contain antioxidants like resveratrol, it’s far from a health food that you should consume with abandon. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies on resveratrol are mixed. “Some research shows that resveratrol could be linked to a lower risk of inflammation and blood clotting, which can lower your risk of heart disease. But other studies found no benefits from resveratrol in preventing heart disease,” they wrote. Plus, red wine contains a lot of sugar and of course, it contains alcohol, which can have extremely toxic effects.
Yes, studies have suggested that one or two drinks a day can benefit your health, but just as many have shown that no amount of alcohol is good for your health and that even one drink a day can increase your risk of certain diseases, such as breast cancer.
Finding foods that are actually healthy can feel like looking for a needle in a haystack. But they do exist! The key is to become a discerning ingredients list reader and find brands that are going above and beyond to stick to real, simple ingredients.
Header image by Chowhound