If there’s one fit food trend I’m on board with, it’s that kale, beetroot and quinoa are making their way onto more American plates.
As “health foods” continue to sweep the shelves and aisles of grocery stores, it’s important to look beyond the label. Just because food products have “organic,” “low-fat,” “all-natural,” and “fiber-rich” smacked onto them, it doesn’t mean they get the nutritionist stamp of approval. Most of the time, a lot of the foods we eat don’t deserve the wellness halo we grant them. That’s why today, I’m rounding up the worst offenders and providing healthy, homemade alternatives that are much better for you.
16 Healthy Foods That Aren’t Really That Healthy
1. Yogurt Parfaits
When you’re at a cafe, yogurt parfaits might seem like the healthiest choice among the donuts and pastries. But most parfaits pile on sweetened fruit and load up with granola and honey. The sugar quickly adds up! It’s no wonder your stomach is grumbling for more an hour later. The huge spike in blood glucose ultimately leads to a sugar crash, and you’re left feeling hangry. Instead, go for unsweetened coconut or almond yogurt and top with some fresh fruit and a light sprinkle of homemade granola. You’ll still get a sweet fix without going overboard.
Swap in: Banana Yogurt
2. Granola and Protein Bars
On the surface, many granola and energy bars look like they’re the perfect healthy snack. They have chunks of fruit, nuts, rolled oats and maybe even some dark chocolate. What’s not to love, right? But when you flip their labels over to read the ingredient list, you quickly realize many of them are littered with artificial colors and flavors, high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils. Many highly processed foods, like diet soda, cookies, and cakes, have high-fructose corn syrup. High-fructose corn syrup, like all added sugars, contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Your best choice is to find one with a brief list of wholesome ingredients, like unsweetened dried fruit, whole nuts, dates and coconut oil.
Swap in: Chewy Coconut & Fruit Bars
3. Sweetened Soy and Nut Milk
We all know that dairy and I don’t get along hence why I live a dairy-free lifestyle and all NS recipes are — which also allows flexibility for you if you do enjoy dairy, just add it in. While I was in nutrition school, I figured out that dairy was one of the culprits for my digestive issues, migraines, and a host of other health problems I was going through and that’s why I’ve turned to using plant-based milks instead. The problem with many store-bought nut and soy milks is that they’re often also high in sugar and have carrageenan, a food additive from red seaweed used to emulsify or thicken milk. While it might sound harmless, carrageenan has been shown to increase the risk of stomach ulcers and glucose intolerance. So I recommend many of clients get the unsweetened, carrageenan-free nut milks instead. But you all know that I’ma big fan of making my own at home, using my guide.
Swap in: Nut Milk Three Ways: Strawberry Almond, Vanilla Cashew, and Cocoa Brazil
4. Trail Mix
I know what you’re thinking — nuts can’t be all that bad for you! But it’s not the nuts themselves that are unhealthy in trail mixes. The flavorings that they’re coated with raise their sugar and sodium content to sky-high levels. Plus, some trail mixes come with crackers and pretzels that have refined grains. Not to mention, many trail mixes use oxidizing omega-6-rich polyunsaturated oils, like sunflower, safflower and grapeseed oil. And if they’ve got candy-coated chocolates, then we’re talking an even bigger blood-sugar-spiking crash. To get the true benefit of a high-protein, high-fiber snack, I suggests building your own. For my trail mixes, I like to combine almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, unsweetened coconut flakes, and Brazil nuts and season them with my favorite spices and herbs.
Swap in: Spicy Sweet Nut & Seed Mix
5. Veggie Spreads and Dips
Just because that chip dip has hints of green, it doesn’t mean you can bank on it for your veggie count of the day. While spinach and artichoke dips and cucumber spreads seem like they’re your best option on the cocktail platter, they’re often packed with saturated fats from sour cream, cream cheese, mayo and other cheeses. Some store-bought varieties also include artificial flavors and colors and preservatives. As a healthier alternative, go for hummus, other bean-based dips, and cashew cheese. I like to add minced garlic and nutritional yeast to get that savory, Parmesan-like flavor in my cashew cheese.
Swap in: Creamy Sweet Onion Dip
6. Deli Meats
If you think ordering a turkey club sandwich is a better choice than a chicken parm, then this might surprise you. Most deli meats, like turkey, roast beef, bologna, salamic, etc., are often laced with sodium, nitrates, saturated fat and fillers. A better option is to stick to lean proteins, like chicken, turkey breast, eggs, thinly sliced tofu or tempeh and canned tuna or salmon. Top with your favorite veggies and add some hummus or cashew cheese for flavor. Another tip if you’re trying to increase your vegetable servings at lunch-time, try a salad or a lettuce wrap.
Swap in: Open-Faced Sprout Sandwich
7. Fruit and Veggie Juices
Those cold-pressed juices you see at the grocery store may contain plenty of health-boosting veggies, but if they’re loaded up with fruit, then it spikes up the sugar content. Juices also strip fiber—one of the most nutritious parts of veggies and fruits—so they won’t fill you up. The average store-bought smoothie or juice has upwards 30 grams of sugar in one serving—that’s about 7.5 teaspoons of sugar. Smoothies are a much healthier choice because they keep the fiber intact to help curb hunger. Follow my tips here for creating low-sugar green smoothies.
Swap in: The Stripped Green Smoothie
8. Ready-Made Bottled Smoothies and Protein Shakes
You’re getting more than just post-workout gains—and not the good kind—from protein shakes and bottled smoothies. These pre-made drinks have about the same amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners you can find in diet sodas, slushies, and milkshakes. Try my low-sugar smoothie tricks to help you cut back, including adding a pinch of blood-sugar stabilizing cinnamon to your drink.
Swap in: Cinnamon Tahini Protein Smoothie
9. Low-Fat Salad Dressing
Beware of low-fat salad dressings! Sugar, salt, high-fructose corn syrup and other highly processed ingredients make up for the fat that’s missing in low-fat dressings. Plus, they’re not as filling and let’s be real: They don’t taste very good. Using fresh herbs, spices and anti-inflammatory ingredients, like apple cider vinegar and olive oil, you can dress up your greens. I promise you’ll never want to go store-bought again! Check out some of my favorite salad dressing recipes.
Swap in: Creamy Turmeric Dressing
10. Vegetable Chips
Unfortunately, you’re only getting a touch of sweet potatoes, beets or parsnips in veggie chips. Most brands use veggie powders to give the chips a vibrant color. The majority of what you’re eating is potato starch and corn flour. They might also be salted heavily and fried to imitate the same flavor of real potato chips. A pro tip when buying veggie chips: Make sure the vegetables are listed first on the ingredient list. Chances are the brand uses actual veggies instead of potatoes.
Swap in: Chocolate Cocoa Kale Chips
11. Vegan, Gluten-Free or Organic snacks
Once and for all, just because a food is gluten-free, vegan or organic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s healthy. In fact, many gluten-free, organic snacks and vegan desserts are filled with just as many empty calories as their wheat and dairy counterparts. For a more nutritious gluten-free and vegan-friendly snack, try veggie crudite with hummus or a homemade energy bar, using gluten-free oats.
Swap in: On-the-Go Superfood Protein Balls
12. High-Fiber Cereals
Incorporating more whole grains into your diet is always a good thing, but high-fiber cereals are infamous for being a sneaky source of sugar. The same goes for flavored oatmeals. To help you tame you sweet cravings, add a drizzle of maple syrup or honey to your overnight oats. You can also prepare your own cold cereal, using quinoa, rolled oats, a variety of nuts and seeds and brown rice.
Swap in: Cinnamon Puffed Rice Cereal
13. Veggie Burgers
If low-calorie, fiber-rich and nutrient-dense is what you’re after, you’re not going to get it in a veggie burger. Most commercial veggie burgers have highly processed soy and preservatives. A better choice is to look for veggie burgers with whole foods, like beans, whole grains, and seeds.
Swap in: Blissed Out Black Bean Burger
A cup of froyo has gut-friendly bacteria, so why not indulge? The problem is froyo—even the plain kind—can have as much sugar as regular ice cream. And when you top it off with cookie dough, chocolate candies and sprinkles, you’ve got the ultimate sugar bomb. Because ice cream is an indulgence, I recommend opting for the full-fat version because it will keep you satisfied longer. I enjoy making my own ice cream as well by blending together frozen bananas, full-fat coconut milk, vanilla and maple syrup. Together, they create a creamy, silky texture.
Swap in: Black Sesame Coconut Ice Cream
15. Frozen Convenience Foods
Diet foods are low in calories, but they’re also low in vitamins and actual nutrients. Not to mention, they have high levels of sodium, harmful preservatives and fillers. If you take a peek at the label, you’ll find a long list of ingredients that don’t sound like they belong on your plate. As you know, I’m a big fan of batch cooking. I like to prep large portions of soups and smoothie bowls and freeze them, so I can enjoy them throughout the week.
Swap in: Curry Cashew Cauliflower Soup
16. Gluten-Free Pasta
Whether you love fettuccine or macaroni, there’s nothing more comforting like a bowl of pasta. I personally enjoy gluten-free pasta because gluten and I don’t get along. Some gluten-free pastas I like have brown rice, quinoa, and chickpeas. But I also like making veggie noodles out of spaghetti squash and zucchini. But some pasta brands use more potato starch and corn flour in their noodles than actual quinoa or brown rice. As always, check the label to see if quinoa, chickpeas and brown rice are the primary ingredients. You also want to find pasta that’s high in protein and fiber: Look for brands with five grams of protein and seven grams of fiber per serving. Skip sugary pasta sauces, too, and prepare your own pesto and tomato sauces at home. I like loading my dish with plenty of fresh veggies and a hemp seed crumble that tastes just like Parmesan.
Swap in: Beet Marinara with Brown Rice Pasta
Do you have other healthy swaps for these not-so-healthy foods? Tell me in the comments below! If you make any of the recipes, be sure to share your thoughts about how they compare to their counterparts. Tag us on social at #nutritionstripped @nutritionstripped. Hope you all have a great weekend!