In this post, we take a look at the top 18 worst “health” foods and why they’re not actually a healthy choice. We’ll also cover much better options to choose instead of these unhealthy health foods.
Healthy living can seem hard sometimes.
I get that, and to be honest, it used to be a struggle for me, too. But one of the ways I was able to make my clean-eating lifestyle work was to focus on eating wholesome, fresh foods. Foods that came from the produce and butcher section as opposed to the freezer aisle, that I made from scratch, and that had few ingredients.
You see, when a food is called healthy but contains tons of additives and ingredients that you can’t even pronounce, then it is not healthy at all. By a long shot.
Added sugars, hydrogenated oils, trans fats, and artificial colors – these are all things that are included in the make-up of your favorite foods. You know, foods that are marketed as good for you.
Replacing these everyday grocery items with nutritious, additive-free choices is the way to lose weight (if that’s your goal), eat clean, and feel great.
Read on to learn about the top 18 WORST fake healthy foods and see what you can do for food choices instead. And then, you will see that healthy living isn’t so tough after all!
THE TOP 18 WORST FAKE HEALTHY FOODS
1. YOGURT FLAVORED RAISINS
This one is a real trickster. I mean, raisins are good for you and so is yogurt. So, who wouldn’t think that yogurt covered raisins aren’t one of the healthy sweet treats we can enjoy? However, the label states that these yummy tidbits are covered in a yogurt flavored coating. And, this coating consists of sugar, hydrogenated palm kernel oil, and more!
Instead, take raisins, toss them in Greek yogurt and freeze. These are the best yogurt covered raisins ever – guaranteed.
2. VEGGIE CHIPS
Chips made from vegetables. Sounds healthy, right? Veggie Stix, as an example, are thought of as a good-for-you replacement for chips. They are made from vegetables after all, right? When we think vegetables, we expect fiber and all kinds of good stuff. Take a look at the label on a bag of Veggie Stix. You won’t find any fiber there at all. What you will find is a ton of sodium and an awful lot of starch and oil.
Often, we buy muffins at the store, thinking that they are a wholesome way to start the day. In fact, they are one of the top fake healthy foods on the grocery store shelf. Described as whole wheat, reduced-fat, or gluten-free, these muffins are not the hearty and wholesome food we may think. Gluten-free muffins, for example, can be prepared with refined flour and tons of butter. Sometimes, the first ingredient on the label is sugar, folks! Yes, sugar!
Don’t buy packaged muffins. Make your muffins at home, and then you can be reassured that only the best ingredients go in them.
4. TRAIL MIX
Perfect as a take-along snack for a hike or just to enjoy on the go, trail mix is a popular combination of nuts, dried fruit and wait… candy? Yep, you may not realize it, but often the number one ingredient in trail mix is sugar-coated chocolate pieces. Artificial colors also make the list since that is what is coating the candy.
Look for healthier versions or throw together a batch at home by using raw nuts, high-quality dark cacao chunks, and dried fruit without added sugar.
5. FRUIT SMOOTHIES
A delicious drink of fruit blended into a smoothie sounds so tempting, doesn’t it? Refreshing and full of nutrients, right? Well, if you are purchasing a pre-made bottled smoothie from the grocery store, then no. These fruity mixes are typically loaded with sugar, to the tune of over 50 grams per serving. Yes, you read that right! On top of that, there is no fiber to be found.
If you are craving the sweet taste of fruit, have an orange or a bowl of strawberries. If it’s a smoothie you are looking for, whip one up with fruit and almond milk at home using your blender.
6. DRIED FRUIT
I love dried fruit. It’s sweet and full of goodness. But, if you are buying your dried fruit from the grocery store shelf, be careful. What you may be buying is a fake healthy food – packaged fruit loaded with added sugars. Over 40 grams per serving in a package of commercially prepared dried fruit is not unheard of!
Fresh fruit is the obvious better choice, but to be fair, dried fruit provides lots of fiber. Just be careful about the quantities and choose “no-added-sugar” varieties or dry your own in the oven.
7. FAT-FREE COOKIES & SNACKS
I think Fig Newton’s made the list of snacks considered a health food because they contain figs! Let’s get real though, friends. Packaged cookies of any kind are far from nutritional. But let’s take a look anyway at fat-free Fig Newtons. Some people will be fooled into thinking that fat-free is the best option when shopping for this cookie, when in fact, it’s really not. The fat is replaced with sugar and just so much of it! Nine grams of the 13g of sugar are added sugars.
Instead, choose to eat a fig on its own. They contain potassium, calcium, iron, and vitamins. If you are craving a cookie, grab a quick fix like my chocolate chip peanut butter edible cookie dough bites!
We all think of applesauce as one of the healthiest alternatives out there for a sweet snack because it’s fruit, right? For a fact, applesauce can be one of the top fake healthy foods in your cupboard if you are not careful. I mean, apples are already sweet enough, but many packaged applesauce brands are full of added sugars like high fructose corn syrup. That’s right – read the label and you will see that listed right after apples is sugar, and a high quantity at that.
As an alternative to packaged applesauce, make your own, without the need for additional sweetening. Another yummy substitute is healthy cinnamon apples.
9. ENERGY BARS
When we choose to eat an energy or protein bar, it’s because we are looking for a quick boost. You can get that when you take a nutritional break to enjoy a bar made with unrefined flours and sweeteners like raw honey. But when you eat a fake healthy food like a store-bought energy bar, the only things you are consuming are super sweet and processed brown rice syrup, cane syrup, cane sugar, and a fair amount of carbs.
As always, homemade is ideal. Make a bar that suits your clean-eating lifestyle. Choose a recipe without refined ingredients like these energy balls that give you a boost without an energy crash an hour later.
10. PEANUT BUTTER
Peanut butter, and all nut butters actually, are a great item to include in your daily diet. However, it’s essential to buy peanut butter that is just that – peanuts. There is no need for unnecessary ingredients like palm oil, sugar, or molasses. You may think that throwing peanut butter in your grocery cart is a good thing, and it can be if you check the label.
For wholesome, creamy goodness, buy peanut butter that has no added ingredients. A clean and pure nut butter is the way to go.
11. INSTANT OATMEAL
Oatmeal is delicious, I’ll admit. There are so many ways to enjoy it, and I love adding nutritious toppings as an extra way to boost the goodness. But, instant oatmeal is a different story. If you look at the flavored varieties, the first ingredient is oats and the second, sugar. Right off, that tells you that it’s a fake healthy food. Blueberry flavored pieces doesn’t sound quite right either, does it?
A homemade oatmeal breakfast is so much better for you. And if you are often in a rush in the mornings, start the day off right with breakfast that’s ready to enjoy. I’m talking about overnight oats, quick to make, just a few healthy ingredients, and goodness that satisfies your nutritional needs.
12. FRUIT SNACKS
Fruit snacks are marketed as a way of giving your kids (or yourself!) a serving of fruit when in a pinch or on the go. Considered convenient, easy to transport and good for you, fruit snacks are just another fake healthy food and really not much better than candy. They contain corn syrup and sugar as top ingredients, not to mention the food coloring that goes into making them pretty and attractive to kids.
Instead of these sugary, chewy treats, the smartest move is to just enjoy the real thing. Real fruit tastes better and ticks all the nutritional boxes, whereas fruit snacks don’t provide any nutrition.
13. SALAD DRESSING
Salad is heavenly, isn’t it? Crunchy, fresh vegetables, crisp lettuce or flavorful greens like arugula and tasty dressing to top it all off. Talking about it makes me want to go have a salad right now! But what if I tell you that your favorite salad dressing is nothing more than just another fake healthy food? Dressings bought off the grocery store shelf are pretty high in sodium and contain virtually no nutrition. Along with sodium, you’ll find carbs and sugar, and that’s about it. Not a vitamin to be seen.
The best dressing I can recommend comes straight from your kitchen. Homemade Ranch Dressing made with super-good-for-you Greek yogurt is one of my favorites.
14. SPORTS DRINKS
Sports + drinks = nutrition in a bottle, right? Nope. Drinks marketed as ways to boost your energy stores for working out or participating in sports contain electrolytes, I’ll agree. But that’s about as fas as it goes. The sugar, sodium, carbs, and artificial dyes make the grade for confirming sports drinks as fake healthy food.
What to drink instead? Well, water is always the best choice for rehydration. You can also replace energy drinks with coconut water, which is low in both sodium and carbs, but rich in potassium.
15. FLAVORED YOGURT
Yogurt is considered one of the best foods for you because of the probiotics it contains and its effects on your digestive system. The gut and intestines do benefit from healthy bacteria for sure, but what about the other ingredients in flavored yogurt? High amounts of sugar or artificial sweeteners far outweigh the benefits of protein that yogurt provides.
Instead, indulge in a delicious serving of plain Greek yogurt. If you need a little flavor to get you going, consider cinnamon. Or, mix a serving of fresh pineapple, blueberries, or raspberries in the yogurt for a sweet or tart bonus.
While couscous does have some nutrients in it, this processed grain product isn’t the healthiest option out there. Comprised of semolina flour or durum wheat, couscous is easy to make and quickly prepared. Although couscous has selenium and plant-protein, other nutrients found in the dish are minimal. For example, fiber and potassium are present but not as much as in other foods (like potassium in bananas and fiber in oats). Couscous does have a lot of carbs and in pre-packaged, flavored form, you’ll find a lot of sodium.
As healthier alternatives, choose unflavored couscous, quinoa or brown rice. All have fiber and none of the fake flavorings.
17. FRUIT JUICE
Juice, even brands that are fresh-pressed or squeezed, is loaded with tons of sugar and carbs. The all-important fiber is missing, and that’s just a shame! In fact, when processed into juice, a piece of fruit like an orange or an apple changes from something good to eat into a fake healthy food. Did you know, to get the same amount of fiber found in one apple (skin on, of course!), you have to drink 8 cups of juice? Now, that’s a lot of sugar.
The one and only option is to skip the juice altogether and eat a piece of fruit, a nice juicy orange or crisp apple. And pair it up with a glass of water!
18. DIET SOFT DRINKS
While a diet soft drink is not my idea of a healthy food at all, some people will choose it as an alternative to a regular soda. The common logic is that diet drinks can help you cut back on sugar, or enable you to lose weight. It’s a statement that has no merit. To be honest, diet drinks are so bad for you! Artificial sweeteners like saccharin, sucralose, and aspartame are pretty controversial sugar replacements, and there is not a single nutrient to be found.
Instead, to quench your thirst make a big batch of infused water to keep in your fridge. Then you’ll have a clean-eating alternative ready and waiting at a moment’s notice!
HIDDEN SUGARS TO LOOK OUT FOR
Did you know that sugar really has no reason to be in our diet? Sure, we’ve got natural sugars found in foods, but those are sweeteners as nature intended. It’s the added sugars, marketed to be healthy, that you have to watch out for. Some of them are:
- Brown rice syrup
- High fructose corn syrup
- Cane sugar
- Invert sugar
HEALTHY SUBSTITUTIONS FOR SUGAR
Packaged foods are full of hidden sugars, added to make the food more palatable and having you come back for more. Instead of buying snack foods at the store, try making your own at home. Recipes like gluten-free chocolate muffins or easy 7 Layer Paleo Bars are much better choices. Homemade snacks can be made with these sugar substitutes:
- Raw honey
- Pure maple syrup
- Coconut sugar
WHY NOT BUY FAT-FREE?
Fat-free food contains more sugar than the full-fat version. No kidding! Manufacturers fool you into thinking that you are making the best choice, but in reality, you are switching one bad ingredient for another. I’ll explain that further when you read about the fake healthy food, low-fat cookies.
HOW TO READ NUTRITION LABELS
When reading a nutrition label, look at the serving size first. That gives you the guidelines as to how many servings are in the container. As well, you’ll know that the label describes one of those servings. So, if you eat two servings, for instance, you are eating twice the sodium, sugar, or trans fats listed on the label.
Look at all of the ingredients when analyzing the label. For example, saturated and trans fats raise LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, so be sure to keep consumption of those additives to under 65 grams per day. Stick to omega-3 fats, and you’ll be a lot better off.
And remember, if you steer clear of fake healthy foods, a lot of this calculating and guesswork isn’t necessary.
INGREDIENTS/MARKETING TO AVOID WHEN EATING HEALTHY
One of the top marketing ploys that make you think you are making a nutritional choice when you are not, is found in the fake healthy food category. It’s easy to be led astray. After all, we’re all looking to eat better and live a healthy lifestyle. Here are a few tricksters:
- Flavorings are often chemicals combined to produce “flavors”, they are not actual flavoring of food. For instance, artificial flavors are chemical mixtures made with synthetic ingredients.
- 99% fat-free typically means the food item is now very high in sugar.
- Trans fat-free food often contains hydrogenated fat, so be aware of the replacement.
- Cholesterol-free is often a marketing ploy because chances are, the food does not contain cholesterol anyway.
- No added sugar may tempt you into a purchase, but most likely, the item is already high in sugar. Take fruit juice, for example. Why drink a cup of pure sugar when it is much better for you to consume a lower amount of sugar and the bonus of added fiber by eating a piece of fruit.
MORE GUIDES TO HEALTHY LIVING
If you want to read more on how to maintain a clean-eating and healthy lifestyle, we’ve got you covered!
- Does Intermittent Fasting Work For Weight Loss? Beginner’s Guide to Intermittent Fasting
- 15 Weight Loss Hacks That Actually Work!
- How to Portion Control for Weight Loss (Without Starving!)
- How to Quit Sugar: The 7 Steps I took to Finally Quit Sugar and How You Can, Too!
This post contains affiliate links for products I regularly use and highly recommend.