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Don’t Be Fooled: 6 “Health Foods” That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise

By April 6, 2020July 22nd, 2021Nutrition Well-being Wellness
A woman checks the label on an item at the supermarket

We are lucky to live during a time when there’s an abundance of information available about the food we eat. The tricky thing is, sometimes there’s almost too much information available, so it can be hard to decide what’s healthy and what isn’t.

You’ll see dozens of products in the grocery store aisles that lead you to believe they’re healthy. The problem is, a lot of the food that is marketed to us as “healthy” is actually just junk food packaged with misleading claims.

6 Foods that May Seem Healthy but Aren’t

  1. Low-fat/fat-free food. For decades, high consumption of saturated fat was linked to heart disease. Although this is now a hotly debated theory, food manufacturers spent years removing fat from foods. To make up for the lack of taste, manufacturers started replacing the fat with added sugars and artificial sweeteners. So, when you see a “low-fat” or “fat-free” label, it usually means the food is loaded with sugar or artificial sweeteners. And the problem with sugar is that it can lead to high blood pressure, diabetes and, ironically, heart disease.
  2. Diet juices and sodas. You may think you’re making a healthy choice by switching from regular soda or juice to diet, but the truth is you’re just moving from one unhealthy drink to another. In addition to being devoid of any nutritional value, diet drinks are also laden with artificial sweeteners and chemicals. There have also been studies linking diet drinks to weight gain, diabetes, heart attack, and stroke.
  3. Protein/cereal/granola bars. Many protein, cereal, and granola bars are just glorified candy bars. In fact, if you compare food labels, you’ll discover many of these bars contain as much sugar as a candy bar with a few extra grams of protein or fiber thrown in. If you’re looking for protein or fiber, stick with whole foods like eggs, meat, beans, chicken, fish, or whole fruit.
  4. Flavored yogurts. While yogurt can be a wonderful source of protein and calcium, flavored yogurts or yogurt with fruit at the bottom are loaded with more sugar than the recommended daily limit. If you want yogurt, choose Greek or Nordic yogurts that are higher in protein and have less sugar. You could also try unsweetened yogurt with some fresh fruit, cinnamon, or maple syrup mixed in.
  5. Margarine. Margarine is another one of those “health” foods marketed as a healthier alternative to butter (which is high in saturated fat). The problem with margarine is many brands are loaded with dangerous trans fats that can be worse for you than the saturated fat in butter.
  6. Some vegetarian/vegan products. The words “vegetarian” and “vegan” are often associated with the image of good health — nutritious food full of vegetables and healthy vitamins and minerals. This is the perfect example of the halo effect — a phenomenon where consumers overestimate the healthy qualities of a particular food due to a single claim of it being “low fat” (which many people take to mean “low calorie”).Sadly, some vegetarian /vegan foods are just as processed and unhealthy as foods that use animal products. In fact, many vegetarian/vegan products are made with processed soy and don’t contain any vegetables. Just because it says “vegetarian” or “vegan” doesn’t mean it’s healthy.

Bottom line? If the packaging on a food product claims that it’s healthy, there’s a good chance it isn’t. Real healthy foods are whole, single ingredient foods that don’t need to make health claims.

Your best bet is to ignore health claims on the packaging and read nutrition labels. And remember, there are resources available if you need help determining what certain ingredients actually are.


Sarah Bishop

I’m a writer and bookworm who loves learning and writing about the latest health and wellness topics. Like a true Gemini, I’m a walking dichotomy. I like kale, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts, but I also like ice cream, fried chicken, and cheese. So, I’m always fighting the good fight. As the mom of two little girls, I strive to model healthy habits that my daughters will carry with them for life.