Foods That Americans Think Are Healthy But Nutritionists Disagree

Food manufacturers love to tout the health-giving benefits of their products. How can consumers sort out which of these claims are true and which are bogus? We've got some answers for you!

June 7, 2017
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Sushi, granola, gluten free muffins…we often think that we’re eating healthfully when we consume these, but unfortunately we may be doing more harm than good.

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Sure we know that apples, brown rice, and lean meats are good for us and that chocolate chip cookies, fried dough, and milkshakes are bad for us—but sometimes we get a little confused and end up choosing the wrong things for a healthy body. 

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It’s not really our fault, though. There is so much misinformation, marketing hype, and conflicting content that it’s no wonder we’re confused.

Worried that you may be making the wrong choices? Let us help! Here are the most common foods that we choose for their healthy nutritional content but are actually bad for us.

Energy/Protein Bars

The marketing companies do a great job of boasting about the supposed benefits of energy and protein bars, but take a closer look at the nutrition labels and you’ll see that many of these products resemble candy bars and other unhealthy foods.

Many of these bars contain an exorbitant amount of sugar (as much as candy), fat (as much as a cheeseburger), and sodium (a full day’s worth!)

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To make matters worse, manufacturers want the bars to taste great and last a long time, so they use artificial flavorings and processed ingredients to aid in that. It’s important to note that not all bars are created equal, so be sure to compare ingredients when you’re choosing the right one for you.

Instant Oatmeal

Your doctor says that oatmeal is good for you! It lowers cholesterol, it’s low in fat, and keeps your energy up all day. So why wouldn’t instant oatmeal be just as good as the regular kind? The answer is: because of the processing. The flavored, single-serving oatmeal packets options are packed with sugar (which adds too many unnecessary calories) and artificial flavors and colors.

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Additionally the oats in instant oatmeal are processed to make them cook faster, so much of their fiber is stripped. This means you no longer benefit from traditional oatmeal’s blood sugar–stabilizing abilities.

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Love oatmeal? It’s best to stick with the traditional kind (it only takes 5 minutes longer to cook) and add your own ingredients like fruit, honey, or spices. Got 20 minutes on your hands? Steel-cut oats are the best for you because they have a lower glycemic index.

Bran Muffins

You hear the word “bran” and you automatically think to yourself, “Bran is so boring and tasteless…any food that contains it must be healthy!” On its own, bran is a power food. It contains lots of fiber, protein and vitamins—and is also a super low-glycemic food. The problem with bran is that nobody really likes the taste of it on its own, so they add things to make it more appealing.

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Take bran muffins as an example. The store-bought varieties are typically overfilled with sodium, sugar, and fat to make them moist and yummy. Don’t believe us? Let’s do a comparison.

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A honey bran raisin muffin from Dunkin’ Donuts has 40 grams of sugar, 410 milligrams of sodium, and 120 calories. A chocolate frosted cake donut has 20 grams of sugar, 340 milligrams of sodium, and 170 calories. Which would you prefer?

Wraps

The tortillas used for wraps are thinner than bread and buns, and they’re made out of vegetables like spinach and sun-dried tomato so they’ve got to be a nutritious lunch option, right? Unfortunately, they’re not. Most restaurants pack the wrap fixings into a 12-inch tortilla, which can have up to twice the amount of calories as plain bread.

Furthermore, the vegetable ingredients in the tortilla aren’t as plentiful as you think—most companies try to make them look like they contain vegetables by adding coloring and flavoring.

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Additionally, less nutritious ingredients can be hidden within the wrap, making it an even worse choice than you might think. Things like bacon, blue cheese, and creamy dressings covertly increase the calories and fat content of the entire meal.

Dried Fruit

Dried fruit seems nutritious and benign because it’s fruit. But what appears to be an innocent snack is actually quite unhealthy. Dried fruit manufacturers use chemicals like sulfur dioxide to preserve freshness and add sugar to sweeten the fruit even more.

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Cranberries and pineapple are among the worst offenders, with nutritional contents looking more like candy than fruit.

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks sound good on paper (or on the label) but the truth is they’re much more like a sugary fruit punch drink than sports replenishment aid. They claim to refuel the body with electrolytes and micronutrients, but natural foods such as coconut water and bananas do a much better job—with fewer calories, less sugar, and no artificial additives.

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Interestingly, a study published in the Journal of Obesity found that people who drink one or more sports drinks daily gained more weight over a three-year span than those who didn’t.

Skim/Low-fat Milk

“Whole milk has too much fat! Drink skim milk for your health!” Although skim milk has less fat than whole milk, during processing unfortunately some essential vitamins (along with texture and flavor) get stripped away too.

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To compensate for this, the dairy industry fortifies the milk with synthetic vitamins and calcium, but this is a case of too little too late. When it comes to dairy products, the less processed product is best.

Margarine

“Butter is bad and margarine is good!” was the cry of doctors and healthcare advocates in the 1960s. Margarine is made from vegetable oil (not animal fat) and has less saturated fat than butter, so it seemed to be a good substitute.

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However, the processing of margarine ultimately makes it a less healthful product. During the process, vegetable oil is extracted from corn, soybeans, or safflower seeds; steamed to remove impurities (vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants are removed as well); hydrogenated into a semi-solid state; emulsified to remove lumps; bleached to brighten it; steamed again to remove odors; and finally synthetic vitamins and artificial colors are added.

Still thinking that it’s better for you than butter?

Fruit Juice

We want fruit juice to be good for us, because what’s better than slurping a whole day’s supply of fruits and vegetables in a single glass? Alas, that’s not how it works.

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When juice is made, fruit is processed so that all of the healthy fiber in the flesh is removed along with the vitamins and nutrients from the skin. What you’re left with is basically a glass of sugar water that often gets even more sugar to improve the taste.

Flavored Yogurt

Even though yogurt packs a healthy dose of calcium, vitamin D, and probiotics, conventional yogurt is normally laden with sugar—with most brands containing as much as 15 grams per 6 ounce serving!

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This sugar, without fiber and ample protein, skyrockets your blood sugar levels, leaving you hungry and irritable after an hour. Want to enjoy yogurt in a healthy way? Opt for plain Greek yogurt and add your own fruits, nuts, and honey.

Canned Soup

Soup heals the heart and the soul, right? Homemade soup may do that well, but easy-to-eat and easy-to-make canned soup is a completely different beast.

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Manufacturers load canned soup with sodium (some have as much as 400 milligrams per cup) and often store the soup in cans that are lined with BPA plastic (which some research shows could affect the functioning of your body).

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Want to enjoy a healthy cup of soup? It’s better to set aside time to make a big batch at home and freeze some for later use.

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