The Truth About 5 Foods That Are Not Actually That Healthy

grocery shopping labels

When it comes to navigating the proverbial waters of nutrition, it’s easy to get lost in an abundant ocean of conflicting information. From probiotics to protein recommendations, marketed (and often mixed) messages bombard our brains. It’s easy to get confused. What’s good for us? What’s not? And what is a conscientious consumer to do? You can start by taking an extra helping of nutrition knowledge.

Salads (Sometimes)

Salads have become a staple in many fitness-focused meal plans. And with the recent push for better health, you’ll find them featured on virtually every fast food and restaurant menu in existence. It’s easy to assume we’re making a healthier choice when the foundation of this meal is comprised of lettuce, but it’s important to consider all components of this culinary classic.

Take the Crispy Chicken Tender Salad for example. It begins with a bed of romaine, but then they pile fried chicken (among other ingredients) on top. Add a Midwestern-sized portion of ranch dressing and we’ve got ourselves a meal that contains roughly 1,450 calories and 96 grams of total fat. We’re better off eating a Big Mac at that point. Opt for dark, leafy greens (more nutritional value), vinaigrettes (on the side), lean proteins (e.g. egg, black beans, turkey), healthy fats (e.g. olives, avocado), and don’t be afraid to pile on a variety of vegetables.

Breakfast Bars

We get it—making breakfast takes time. Granola, fiber, and protein breakfast bars are convenient for a quick snack or makeshift meal, but they’re not all they seem. First off, these little guys are typically loaded with sugar, which is not a great way to start off the day and can cause afternoon crashes, irritability, and weight gain. And while some boast of fiber, protein, vitamins, and other good-for-you nutrients, they’re usually added after the fact (read: not naturally occurring). If you’re looking to grab something quick before heading to the grind, grab a handful of nuts or a boiled egg with a piece of fruit.

Fruit Juice

Perhaps the only thing worse than eating a hidden dose of sugar first thing in the morning is drinking it. Here’s the deal with fruit juices: most of them contain added sugar. Even if your juice is 100% pure, your body processes natural sugar and added sugar similarly. And because fiber has been stripped from the equation, the sugar surges into your bloodstream immediately, putting stress on your pancreas. Sure, fruit juice contains a good number of vitamins—but so does fruit, which is definitely a better choice.

Calorie-Controlled Packaged Foods

Portion control can be a key factor in managing calorie balance, thus sparking an uptick in 100-calorie pack items. If you’ve ever partaken in these mini-sized snacks, you may find they’ve left you unsatisfied, and unsurprisingly so—many of these are comprised of empty carbohydrates and air (yep, you read that right). If you’re hungry and looking for an afternoon nosh, carbs are just fine—but you’ll feel fuller and avoid the crash by pairing them with protein and healthy fat. Try an old favorite: celery with peanut butter and raisins.

Sugar-Free Anything

Sugar-free foods have expanded rapidly in the marketplace. At first, these lower-calorie creations seem too good to be true—and that’s because they are. To mimic sweetness, manufacturers add sugar alcohols instead of actual sugar, which yields a lower caloric content. The problem is, the body processes sugar alcohols differently than actual sugar. Part of the digestion process happens when chemicals released in the stomach tell your brain it’s satisfied. When your brain thinks it’s consuming sugar, the craving for sweetness continues until it’s had sugar—but sugar alcohol is not sugar. Some studies have even showed that people who consume several diet drinks in a day actually ended up consuming more calories than those who didn’t. Bottom line: If you’re looking for a fix, go for the real thing (even better if it’s naturally-occurring, like fruit).

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Debbie spends her time at the Anytime Fitness corporate office writing and designing web content for the brand’s fabulous franchisees and staff. She has a B.S. in Dietetics, has been NASM certified in personal training, and specializes in weight loss. Her outlook on health and wellness is driven by her own 120-pound weight loss: she is a realist who doesn’t believe in diets, believes strongly in chocolate, and maintaining a healthy, sustainable balance in life. She takes a passionate interest in mental health, positive body image, and self-love. She’s an avid creator of music and mother of cats. She also can’t keep plants alive.