Some foods obviously aren’t part of a clean, healthy diet: soda and fast food burgers, for example. Nobody orders a supersize batch of French fries because it’s good for them.
However, clean eating isn’t always as simple as avoiding foods like those. Sometimes food companies trick us by placing “healthy” labels on unhealthy foods. Here are 9 foods that aren’t as healthy as they seem to be:
1. Anything labeled “low-fat” or “ fat-free”
For a long time, the government has been telling us that fat is bad. In response, food companies have developed fat-free versions of many products. Unfortunately, when you take out the fat, you take out the flavor. To make fat-free foods taste good, these companies often add whopping amounts of sugar, which can cause obesity and associated conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
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2. “Healthy” cereals
Everyone knows that cereals marketed to children—the ones with cartoon characters and superheroes on the box— are high in sugar. What about cereals for adults— cereals that are supposed to help you lose weight and lower your cholesterol?
Yes, those cereals do have fiber, which can help reduce your cholesterol levels. However, they can contain about as much sugar as cereals made for children.
Skip the breakfast cereal. Start your day with a low-sugar, protein-rich breakfast like a vegetable omelet, instead.
3. Processed, flavored yogurt
Yogurt is often marketed as great for digestion. In fact, fermented foods like yogurt do have many health benefits. However, the flavored yogurts you find in the store are about as healthy as candy. They contain high levels of sugar, sometimes in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, and can have artificial flavors and colors.
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For a healthy, clean treat, buy plain yogurt and add fresh fruit.
4. Protein bars and energy bars
You can often find protein bars and energy bars in health food stores. That doesn’t mean these bars are healthy. Surprisingly, they can have almost as much sugar as chocolate bars. Get your protein from lean meats or from protein-rich vegetables like chickpeas. To increase your energy levels, exercise and make sure you’re getting all your essential nutrients.
5. Dried fruit
Fruit, full of vitamins and minerals, is essential for your diet. You might think this means a bag of dried apricots is as healthy as a bunch of grapes. It isn’t.
Dried fruit contain much more sugar than fresh fruit. When fruit is dried, the naturally occurring sugars that it contains become more concentrated. In addition, food companies often add sugar to dried fruit to make it taste even sweeter.
Often, sulfur dioxide is added to dried fruit as a preservative. In some people, sulfur dioxide can cause skin rash, hives, low blood pressure, abdominal pain, diarrhea and life-threatening asthmatic or allergic reactions.
6. Bottled water with added nutrients
Why drink plain water when you can drink water with vitamins or beneficial herbs like ginseng? The labels suggest that you’re better off spending money on these flavored drinks than on free tap water.
In fact, these drinks can contain high levels of sugar or unhealthy artificial sweeteners, and be almost as bad for you as soda. Save your money and your health. Drink plain water and get your vitamins from a healthy diet with any necessary supplements.
7. Prepared smoothies
A smoothie is a delicious, healthy way to get the vitamins and minerals found in fruits and vegetables—provided you make it yourself. Buy a smoothie that comes in a bottle and you’re likely to be buying an unhealthy drink full of sugar, or even high-fructose corn syrup.
8. Diet frozen dinners
True to their advertising claims, these are indeed low in calories.
However, they often contain high levels of salt, which increase your risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease, and they may not have many nutrients. If you want to lose weight, eat unprocessed foods that are nutrient rich, so they make you feel satiated.
9. Foods labeled “gluten-free”
Some people do need to avoid gluten. It can cause them serious health problems. However, foods with a gluten-free label are often processed junk foods with artificial colors, artificial flavors and large quantities of sugar.
You can cut out gluten by replacing bread and pasta with rice and potatoes, or by switching to a low-carb diet that doesn’t including any of these starches. Whatever you do, don’t replace a gluten-rich diet with a junk food diet.
Always check the ingredients
It doesn’t matter if you shop at the supermarket or in a health food store. It doesn’t matter if it says “Good for You” on the front of the box. The only way to tell if a food is healthy is by checking the ingredients. The more you know about the foods you eat, the healthier you’ll be.