Misconceptions about which foods are “healthy” and which foods aren’t often originate in the barrage of advertising most of us are subject to in this technology-oriented age.
Capitalizing on the current buzz in nutritional trends is an integral part of tending that bottom line for food corporations, but it can be confusing for consumers.
These 11 foods are presented as healthy choices, but if you’re eating them without knowing these facts, you may be sabotaging your desire for strength and wellness.
1. Whole Wheat Bread
Most of the bread labeled “whole wheat” is made with grains that have been pulverized into a fine flour that will raise blood sugar levels just as fast as bread made with white flour. In fact, the glycemic index (GI) of many whole wheat breads is similar to white breads. (1)
The darker appearance of breads marketed as whole wheat sometimes comes from added colorants (2), and remember that “whole grains” lose their wholeness when they’ve been over-processed.
Even if you’re getting the real deal, keep in mind that the wheat available today has lower nutritional value than it did in about a half-century ago, when some of the good properties were sacrificed through gene manipulation designed to increase crop yields. (3)
2. Agave Nectar
Since everyone knows sugar is bad, the market has been flooded with alternative sweeteners. Billed as a “natural” sweetener, agave nectar is a popular choice, but it’s even worse than sugar.
The fructose content of agave nectar is about 85%, much higher than sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
Agave nectar rates lower on the GI scale than sugar and doesn’t spike blood sugar levels in the same way sugar does; that’s because the liver processes fructose, and overloading this vital organ by ingesting foods high in fructose content can lead to serious metabolic disorders. (4)
The natural qualities of agave nectar are destroyed in processing, and while “nectar” makes it sound attractive, it’s really a syrup.
3. Organic and Vegan Junk Foods
Just because a processed food is made with organic ingredients doesn’t mean it’s good for you.
For example, organic raw cane sugar hits the bloodstream with the same punch as white table sugar, and it delivers the same nutritional value: zip.
Vegan foods designed to replace the animal-based counterparts are similar. If you have any doubts, check the ingredient label on a package of vegan bacon.
4. Commercial Salad Dressings
Many people depend on commercially prepared salad dressings to get down their quota of vegetables, which are incredibly healthy but often bland, especially when eaten raw.
Most salad dressings on supermarket shelves are made with ingredients that will cancel out the benefits of your vegetables.
Common ingredients include trans fats, sugar, chemical additives, and processed vegetable oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, which most of us already eat far too much of.
You’re better off using your own healthy ingredients to make a dressing at home, even if it’s just a simple olive oil and vinegar drizzle.
Another sweetener marketed as “natural” and “healthy,” brown rice syrup is made from cooked rice that’s been exposed to enzymes to break down the starch into simple sugars.
It’s pure glucose and will spike blood sugar in a flash. (5)
All the nutrients contained in rice are lost in processing, so it’s full of empty calories, just like table sugar.
Recent analyses of brown rice syrup pulled off grocery shelves indicates a small percentage products are contaminated with arsenic. (6)
Skip the brown rice syrup and check into other alternative sweeteners with actual health benefits, like xylitol, stevia and erythritol.
6. Sweet Drinks Like Fruit Juice and Sports Drinks
Many commercial fruit juices are loaded with chemicals and flavorings that have nothing to do with fruit.
Even if you’re a careful label-reader and believe fruit juice must be healthy since it comes from fruit, keep in mind the sugar content of fruit juice is comparable to any sugar-sweetened drink. (7)
When the fiber is removed from fruit, it speeds up the assimilation process, jacking up blood sugar.
While sports drinks usually contain a bit less sugar and the focus is on maintaining electrolyte balance through adding salts lost through perspiration, they were developed for athletes.
While everyone who works out with any enthusiasm is likely to break a sweat and perhaps sustain it for a while, most people are better off drinking water.
7. Packaged Low-Carb Foods
Numerous studies over the last decade confirm that following a low-carb diet is a great way to improve overall health and lose weight. (8, 9)
Marketing packaged junk foods labeled “low-carb” is an excellent route to higher profits for manufacturers.
While indulging in the occasional low-carb junk food treat won’t set you back when you’re adhering to a low-carb diet, all you have to do is read the label to see that these products are usually loaded with chemicals and artificial ingredients.
8. Processed Foods Labeled “Fat Free” and “Low Fat”
The myth that saturated fat is bad for you has been thoroughly disproven by science in recent years, but food manufacturers are still cleaning up on products tailored to appeal to misled consumers.
Added sugar is the most common strategy used to compensate for the missing fat that made the food taste good in the first place.
Saturated fat won’t damage your health, but eating excessive amounts of sugar will really mess up your metabolism. (10, 11)
While there may be some exceptions, most low fat and fat free foods are heavy on sugar content.
When people believed saturated fat caused heart disease, food manufacturers were quick to offer margarine as a substitute, with products often labeled “heart healthy.”
Margarine was originally loaded with trans fats; while that’s changed in modern times, the replacement is highly processed vegetable oil laced with chemicals to make it taste and look like real butter.
Data from the Framingham Heart Study confirms that margarine-eaters are more likely to die of heart disease than those who eat butter. (12)
10. Gluten-Free Junk Foods
A full third of Americans reported they were trying to avoid gluten in 2013. (13)
Many people find gluten in the diet causes a variety of health issues (14), and the demand for gluten-free products continues to grow.
The replacement ingredients in these foods may be gluten-free, but they’re also often devoid of nutrients, and the refined starches will spike blood sugar in exactly the same manner as products containing wheat.
Choosing foods that are naturally free of gluten is a better idea.
11. Vegetable Oils
Studies have shown that eating vegetable oils like grapeseed and canola can reduce blood cholesterol levels in the short term (15), but it’s important to remember high cholesterol isn’t a disease, it’s a risk factor.
If you’ve been following advice to include highly processed vegetable and seed oils in your diet, you should know several controlled trials show these products raise the risk of being diagnosed with cancer and developing heart disease. (16, 17, 18)
Dropping the numbers on a single risk factor like cholesterol levels may not be worth the price. Stick with butter, olive oil and coconut oil.
Summary: There are many products besides the ones covered here that are promoted as “healthy” even though they’re not. Your bottom line is more important than net profits of giant corporations; know what you’re buying and how it will affect your body so you can make informed food choices.