Walk down the aisle of any grocery store and you’ll see hundreds of items that tout some type of health claim. There’s gluten free, fat free, low calorie, all natural and many, many more. Even some of the brand names lead you to believe that you are making a healthier choice when you are actually not. Let’s take a look at some of these so-called healthy foods and why they aren’t really as healthy as they claim to be.
1. Veggie burgers. I’m a huge fan of meatless meals. Like I mentioned in this article, there are many benefits to going meatless a day or two each week. So veggie burgers should be a good alternative for a meatless meal, right? Well, maybe. Homemade veggie burgers like these are easy to make and you know what ingredients they contain. While there are some decent options available pre-made, it is very important to read the label and make sure there are actually veggies in it. Sounds kind of ridiculous to read a label on a veggie burger to make sure there are veggies in it, doesn’t it? Look at this label from a leading brand of veggie burgers:
This is one you might want to avoid since there aren’t actually any vegetables in it. Opt instead for either making your own veggie burgers or look for real vegetables on the ingredient list.
2. Energy bars. Energy bars were originally developed for athletes as a source of fuel for workouts but they quickly became a grab and go snack for athletes and non-athletes alike. The problem is that many of them are loaded with sugar and basically amount to the equivalent of a candy bar. Take a look at the ingredients in this “healthy” energy bar. Notice how many different types of sugar there are in these – sugar, honey, brown sugar syrup, and high fructose corn syrup. How much sugar do you really need?
For a healthier option, try making your own! Two of my favorites are these Protein Energy Bites and Coconut Energy Bars. Both only contain a couple of real food ingredients and will help you naturally sustain your energy level without the unnecessary sugar and processed ingredients.
3. Smoothies. Smoothies can be very good for you but just as easily sabotage your healthy eating efforts. By avoiding sugary ingredients like ice cream and fruit juice blends that can really add to the sugar and calorie count, you can add in some almond milk and lots of real fruits and veggies. You’ll avoid the sugar crash and get a good dose of vitamins and nutrients. Sticking to ingredients like real fruits and vegetables that don’t have nutrition labels, you’ll make yourself a delicious healthy smoothie that will fuel your body.
4. Low fat or fat free. Fat gets a bad rap among the diet community. But the truth is that there are different fats – some are good for you and some are not. Fat gives food some of its flavor so when it’s removed, something has to be added to make it taste appealing. Many times it’s sugar that gets added or some other processed filler. These foods are usually also high in sodium as well so that they are actually edible. You can get a healthy amount of natural fats from foods such as nuts, fish, and avocado and not have to worry about excessive amounts of fat.
5. Fruit juices. Fruit juices seem like a good, natural choice to drink but many fruit juices are not much healthier than drinking a soda. In fact, calling them “fruit” at all is a stretch. Most contain only a minimal amount of actual fruit juice and are loaded with other ingredients that are not natural or healthy at all. A better option is to eat your fruit and drink water instead. Just look at the ingredient list from this particular “fruit” juice. It only contains 20% juice and juice is only the third ingredient listed. Wouldn’t you think fruit juice should be the first ingredient?
6. Gluten free. There’s lots of buzz these days about the dangers of gluten. While for those with Celiac disease, this is true, for most people, gluten is not the evil ingredient that it’s made out to be. However, many of the gluten free products available now still are not healthy choices and contain lots of chemicals and preservatives. Opting instead for natural unprocessed foods will help you avoid gluten as well as get the nutrients your body needs. Here is an example of a gluten free dessert mix. There doesn’t appear to be anything of any nutritive value in here at all.
7. Agave. Agave is often promoted as a healthy alternative to sugar. Although agave comes directly from the agave plant, it goes through extensive processing and eventually becomes the equivalent of high fructose corn syrup. You’ll still get the blood sugar spikes from agave rather than the natural sustained energy from other, less processed sweeteners. Healthier options are natural sources of sugar such as pure maple syrup or honey.
It is important to remember that food manufacturers do not have your best interests at heart. While there are some healthy foods out there, always read the nutrition label or choose foods like fruits and vegetables that don’t have nutrition labels. The marketing machines at food companies are experts at knowing how to appeal to consumers and know all the right things to say, but knowing how to evaluate these claims will help you become a healthier, educated consumer.