Apr. 13. 2018
Written By:
McKel (Hill) Kooienga
McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

McKel Hill Kooienga, MS, RDN, LDN

Founder of Nutrition Stripped and the Mindful Nutrition Method™

If there’s one food trend we’re on board with, it’s that kale, beets, 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 these kinds of foods may not deserve the health halo we grant them. And while there are no such things as “good” or “bad” food, here’s a roundup of foods that you may think are promoting long-term health but could have lots of added sugars, sodium, oils, etc.

Check out the list to also see how to easily make homemade alternatives that can save you money, time, and improve your health for the long-term.

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 contain sweetened fruit (i.e. fruit with a simple syrup) and top it with granola which is typically high in sugar, and honey. The sugar quickly adds up.

It’s no wonder your stomach may be grumbling an hour later. The spike in blood glucose ultimately leads to a sugar crash, which may leave you feeling a little lethargic or low in energy yet reaching for more quick treats.

Swap in: Instead, try for unsweetened full-fat yogurts such as organic dairy, coconut, or almond yogurt and top with some fresh fruit and a sprinkle of homemade granola (or chia seeds for a fiber boost). 

2. Granola and Protein Bars

On the surface, many granola and energy bars look like they’re a great healthy snack on the go. 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 contain 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, may contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and heart disease if eaten as part of your daily routine. 

Try to find a bar option with a brief list of wholesome ingredients you could pick from your kitchen, like unsweetened dried fruit, eggs, whole nuts, dates, whole seeds, and coconut oil.

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. 

Many store-bought nut and soy milk are often high in added sugars and have carrageenan, a food additive from red seaweed used to emulsify or thicken the 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 milk instead. Check out how to make your own nut milk at home 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. Otherwise, trail mix is an amazing healthy snack! 

Plus, many trail mixes contain omega-6-rich polyunsaturated oils which have been heated at high temperatures resulting in oxidation of the fat, like sunflower, safflower and grapeseed oil. Some store-bought trail mixes also have candy-coated chocolates, which, depending on how many are included, may also cause a blood sugar spike and dip.

To get the true benefit of a high-protein, high-fiber snack, try building your own! It’s more affordable, and you can pick and choose ingredients you enjoy such as almonds, hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds, goji berries, unsweetened coconut flakes, Brazil nuts, etc.

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 may be rich in saturated fats from sour cream, cream cheese, mayo, and other cheeses without additional nutrients.

Remember, fat isn’t bad! But choosing whole foods that contain healthy fats and extra nutrients like vitamins and minerals could be an easy swap.

 As a healthier alternative, try hummus, other bean-based dips, basil pesto, cashew kimchi dip, sweet onion dip, and cashew cheese. I like to add minced garlic and nutritional yeast to get that savory, Parmesan-like flavor in my cashew cheese

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, salami, etc., are often loaded with sodium, nitrates, saturated fat and fillers. Not to mention the animal production side of things isn’t the best for our health or the wellbeing of animals through factory farming.

A better option is to stick to organic and/or humanely raised animal proteins, like chicken, turkey breast, or eggs. Also, try out plant-based proteins like 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 the fiber from both the fruits and vegetables—one of the most nutritious parts of veggies and fruits—so they won’t fill you up or contribute to the full factor.

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 these tips here for creating low-sugar green smoothies.
Swap in: The Stripped Green Smoothie

8. Ready-Made Bottled Smoothies and Protein Shakes

Some of these pre-made drinks have about the same amount of sugar and artificial sweeteners you can find in diet sodas, slushies, and milkshakes.

But not all protein shakes are this way, there are plenty of protein powders you can make a protein shake from so easily and affordably at home. Just pick your favorite plant-based protein mix a milk of your choice, and you’re good to go. If you need help, check out this guide to protein powders.

Try this 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

Low-fat dressings aren’t the best option for our salads. Low-fat dressings often replace the fat with added sugar, salt, high-fructose corn syrup, and more.

Also, many of the nutrients found in salads are fat-soluble vitamins such as vitamin A, K, E, D (if you have some eggs on your salad), which all require fat to be best absorbed in your body. Again, fat is good!

Using fresh herbs, spices, and raw 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. Also, when in doubt, try making your own from home if you own a dehydrator!
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 the best option. In fact, many gluten-free, organic snacks and vegan desserts are filled with just as many empty calories as their counterparts. 

Often, reaching for a whole fruit or vegetable like carrots or apples can make sure just as great of a snack on the go! Add in a handful of nuts or a protein shake or hard boiled egg, and you have a good mix of fiber, carbohydrates, protein, and healthy fats.

For a more nutritious gluten-free and vegan-friendly snack, try veggie crudites 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. Otherwise, if the label has limited to no added sugar, this can be a great option for you. 

Try adding 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

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.

Making homemade veggie burgers is also fun and you can make a large batch, freeze half, and keep the rest for the week ahead of you. It’s a great way to utilize those leftovers in the fridge and vegetables you’ve been meaning to get around to.
Swap in: Blissed Out Black Bean Burger

14. Froyo

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 not enough probiotics to be considered a probiotic-rich food. And when you top it off with cookie dough, chocolate candies and sprinkles, there’s quite a bit of sugar there.

I recommend opting for the full-fat version because it will keep you satisfied longer. Try making your 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 do opt for these, try organic and reduced sodium. 

If you take a peek at the label, you’ll most likely find added sodium and items you could find in your own kitchen to make that meal! Try batch cooking where you can prep large portions of soups and smoothie bowls and freeze them to enjoy them throughout the week.
Swap in: Curry Cashew Cauliflower Soup

16. Pasta

Pasta can be made from many things nowadays, such as gluten-free pasta made from brown rice, quinoa, and chickpeas. 

Try to find a pasta that’s high in protein and fiber, look for brands with five grams of protein and seven grams of fiber per serving. Added bonus if you’re looking to squeeze more vegetables into your diet, you can make veggie noodles out of spaghetti squash and zucchini.

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? 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!