MealEnders Blog

Avoiding Fake Health Foods

 Misleading Foods that Seem Healthy but Aren’t

By Lauren Kaufman
July 09, 2018

Fake Health Foods

The first step to healthy eating is selecting nutritious foods. This task can be overwhelming and confusing considering the thousands of products available at the grocery store. Foods that seem healthy may actually be chock full of sugar and calories, making it extremely difficult to determine which foods will help you meet your weight loss goals. Here we take a closer look at fake health foods and provide tips to help you make choices suited to your goals.

Breakfast Foods – Instant Oatmeal and Yogurt

Instant oatmeal and yogurt are popular breakfast items because of their ease and comforting texture.

Instant oatmeal appears healthy due to its whole grain composition. However, most brands are packed with sugar, containing about 10g per serving, while Quaker Real Medleys (Oatmeal Apple Walnut) comes in at an over-the-top 22 grams; That’s more sugar than a Hershey bar with almonds!

Yogurt is known as a healthy snack or meal component because of its high protein and probiotic content. And it’s true – the protein in yogurt can help us stay full longer and its bacteria contributes to a healthy gut.  However, like instant oatmeal, many yogurts on the shelf are misleading foods, loaded with calories and sugar, especially those that have fruit at the bottom. Take Yoplait strawberry yogurt, for example, which contains 150 calories, 18 grams of sugar, and only 6 grams of protein. That’s a 3:1 ratio of sugar to protein!

But there are better options. Choosing plain or lower sugar varieties for both instant oatmeal and yogurt will make your breakfast lower in a calories and help you better jump start your day.

Quaker’s Lower Sugar product line contains 50% less sugar than the original instant oatmeal. You can also make healthier overnight oats at home! Check out some recipes here.

The best yogurt for your morning meal would be a Greek variety, which contains the most protein of all yogurt types. All yogurts will contain some natural milk sugar, but to keep the added sugar in check, look for brands that carry less sugar–no more than 10 grams per 8 oz serving. Also look for nonfat or 2% varieties, which will cut calories without cutting the protein that will keep you full. Some popular Greek yogurt brands to choose from include Chobani and Siggi’s.  Better, yet, if you have a few minutes, buy plain lowfat yogurt and add your own fresh fruit to it, such as berries that are low in sugar and high in antioxidant value. You can even increase the health quotient with some chia seeds and slivered almonds.

Snack Bars – Granola Bars and Protein Bars

Like instant oatmeal and yogurt, granola bars and protein bars are breakfast and snack staples due to their convenience and tastiness.

Many believe that granola bars are healthy because they contain whole grains, fruit and nuts, three very important components of a healthy diet. Yet, granola bars are not made from these three ingredients alone. In fact, most products contain at least 8 grams of sugar per bar; Walmart’s Great Value Chewy Granola Bars (Fruit and Nut Trail Mix) comes in at whopping 16g of sugar. That’s the same amount of sugar as two Kellogg’s Rice Krispies Treats!

Protein bars may seem like the perfect post-workout snack, but similar to granola bars, many contain just as much or more sugar than a candy bar. One Clif Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch bar contains 20g of sugar, about as much as a Kit Kat bar. The bar also contains 260 calories, beating the Kit Kat bar by 50 calories.

Bar lovers, you’re not completely out of luck. There are brands that make healthier, great tasting bars with less sugar and calories. All varieties of Kind Bars contain less than 5 grams of sugar and are a good source of fiber. RX bars are another healthy option; Full of protein and minimal ingredients, these bars also contain no added sugar. If you’re feeling creative, try making your own bars instead! Check out some granola bar recipes here and some protein bar recipes here.  

If you’re looking for other high protein, convenient snack options, choose nut packets, like Emerald Nuts Natural Almonds 100 calorie pack, or a cheese snack, like BabyBel Original. Both contain far fewer calories and sugar than traditional granola or protein bars. Another great choice is one one cup of greek yogurt (see above for the best options).   

Diet Foods – “Fat-Free”, “Certified-Paleo” and “Gluten-Free” Foods

“Fat-free,” “Paleo Diet” and “Gluten-Free” are labels we commonly see while grocery shopping. It may be tempting to throw these fake health foods in the cart, with the assumption that they are better for us than their non-diet versions. However, these labels are often misleading, as the diet versions contain as many calories as their normal counterparts.

Many “fat-free” packaged foods, defined by the FDA as containing less that 0.5 grams of total fat per serving, that are not dairy (e.g. milk or yogurt), actually contain the same amount of calories, or very close to it, as the full-fat versions; Foods labeled “fat-free” tend to contain more sugar and additives, hiking up calories regardless of the reduced fat.

The “certified paleo” label is regulated by a private organization known as the Paleo Foundation as opposed to the FDA. This is the only regulated paleo label currently on the market. Other labels that claim Paleo friendly but do not display this specific label are not regulated whatsoever, meaning you cannot rely on the product’s claims. A “certified paleo” food must be grain free, legume free, dairy free, and free of artificial coloring and preservatives. Even with this label, a packaged food is a still a processed food, containing loads of calories. Take “certified paleo” Vixen Kitchen Vegan Coffee Gelato for example; the product contains 230 calories and 17g of sugar for ⅔ cup. In comparison Edy’s Slow Churned Coffee Ice cream contains 130 calories and an equal 17g of sugar for ⅔ of cup, and is equally free of artificial colors or flavors. Clearly, “certified paleo” doesn’t always mean healthier, low-calorie or better for you.

When we hear gluten, we think of simple carbohydrates like bread and pasta. However, gluten is actually a protein that is found in wheat, rye and barley. Per the FDA, labeled “gluten-free” foods can be either an inherently gluten-free food (a food that does not contain any gluten-containing ingredients) or a food that contains an ingredient in which the gluten proteins have been removed and do not exceed 20 parts per million. The label is meant to keep individuals with gluten sensitivities or celiac disease safe from food-related reactions. Likewise, a gluten-free diet is meant for individuals with these conditions and not to promote weight loss. There is no evidence that a gluten-free diet or that consuming gluten-free products is healthier for individuals without these conditions. In fact, gluten-free breads, pastas and cookies are often higher in fat and/or sugar to compensate for any flavor or texture changes associated with the removal of gluten. A diet that consists of a large amount of these products can contribute to excess calorie intake and unintended weight gain.

Don’t be fooled by “fat-free,” “certified paleo,” “gluten-free”  or any other diet labeling, as these foods are quite comparable to their average counterpart. If you crave a food item that may not be the most nutritious choice, choose the non-diet version and limit your portion size. MealEnders can help you practice restraint so that you can keep working toward your healthy eating goals!

Condiments – Salad Dressings

Most think of fresh salads, full of nutritious fruits, veggies and proteins, as the healthiest meal they can eat. Salads can be balanced meals, providing complex carbs, protein and fat in appropriate proportions. But, most people don’t consider the health impact of their salad toppings.

Salad dressing, the flavor booster of the meal, often contains loads of sodium, fat and calories, transforming that balanced meal into a weight loss buster. Avoid creamy dressings, like French, Ranch and Creamy Italian, and opt for vinaigrettes instead. Balsamic vinegar and oil is always a great option if it’s available to you. If you’re home, try making your dressing instead! This way you can control exactly what’s in it. Check out some recipes here.

And don’t forget about portion size. You can have too much of a good thing. Make sure to stick to 1 to 2 tablespoons of dressing, regardless of which one you choose.

Also beware of other add-ons like sugary dried cranberries or candied nuts, and fat-laden tortilla chips/bowls, crunchy fried noodles, and croutons.

Alternative Sweeteners – Honey, Agave, and Brown Rice Syrup

Using alternative sweeteners, like honey, agave and brown rice syrups, in place of white sugar has grown in popularity over the past few years in relation to health and weight loss. However, these substitutions are much more expensive than the regular stuff and actually contain more calories and sugar per serving. One teaspoon of white sugar contains 4g of sugar and 16 calories.  One teaspoon of honey contains 5.7g and 23 calories. Agave nectar contains 4.7g and 19 calories per teaspoon.. Brown rice syrup contains 4.2g of sugar and 18 calories per teaspoon. And, brown sugar, despite its more “natural” color, is actually just white sugar with added molasses. The added molasses ups the sweetness level slightly beyond that of white sugar totaling 4.5g and 17 calories per teaspoon. So, while some of these may have their merits (e.g., the presence of beneficial vitamins and minerals in honey), they are no better than sugar with regard to weight management. In addition, some have potential negative health effects despite their more natural, healthy image.  For example, agave nectar surpasses table sugar in fructose content–fructose is a simple sugar that has been linked to metabolic disorders, despite inconsistent evidence.

Using these fake health foods as sweeteners often will have the same effects on your body and goals as consuming plain old white sugar. Research has shown that the more sweet foods we eat, the more sweet foods we crave. Our taste buds become conditioned to the taste, requiring more and more sugar to detect sweetness. Decreasing your sugar consumption can retrain your taste buds, allowing you to consume less sugar while still experiencing a sweet taste. Try slowly decreasing your added sugar intake, whether that means adding less brown sugar to your morning oatmeal or less honey to your tea. At first, you’ll notice the difference, but over time, your taste buds will recalibrate, meaning you can consume less calories and sugar and still feel satisfied.

Beverages – Kombucha, Non-Dairy Milks and Flavored Seltzers

Probiotic-rich Kombucha, flavored seltzers, and non-dairy milks are trendy beverage alternatives to sugary sodas, juices and dairy milk. Despite their appeal, some versions of these drinks can also contain undesirable ingredients that are best to avoid.

Kombucha is a probiotic tea, full of naturally occurring live active cultures and antioxidants. As a rich source of probiotics and beneficial nutrients, kombucha is thought to aid the body’s ability  to detoxify, improve digestion, stimulate the immune system, prevent arthritis and cancer, reduce cholesterol and increase energy. All of these fantastic benefits may be true for authentic kombucha brands (those that are produced with a SCOBY culture), but due to the drink’s popularity, imposters have also emerged. Take Kevita sparkling probiotic drink, for example. These drinks are not made by brewing tea with a SCOBY culture. Instead, the probiotic cultures are added after the tea is brewed. Some flavors are also high in sugar, with the lemon ginger drink containing 18g per bottle. Instead, opt for Kevita’s Master Brew Kombucha, a true kombucha drink. It’s still important to limit your portion size and intake, however, as one bottle still contains about 16g of sugar.

Flavored seltzers are admired for their lower calorie and sugar content. Yet, many flavored seltzers, like Sparkling Ice, are artificially sweetened with sucralose and contain artificial coloring, fruit juice concentrate and preservatives. Other healthier flavored seltzers (i.e. La Croix and Canada Dry Sparkling Water) contain “natural flavors.” “Natural flavors” are defined by the FDA as the natural essence or oils from a variety of spices, fruits, vegetables and other plants and foods, meaning the term covers a broad spectrum of ingredients. When consuming “natural flavors,” you’ll never know exactly what you’re getting. This can be a particular issue in individuals with food allergies. A compound included in the “natural flavors” category may trigger an allergy, causing an unwanted reaction. Instead of purchasing bottled flavored seltzer, buy plain sparkling water (or make your own with a soda maker) and add a squeeze of citrus, a splash of juice, or, better yet, infuse the water with some fresh fruit.

Alternative milks, like cashew and almond milk, are praised for their non-dairy, vegan content. However, these drinks can have more fat and added sugar, but less protein. than their dairy counterparts. One cup of Almond Breeze Original milk has 2.5g fat with only 1g protein while a cup of Horizon Fat-Free milk contains 0g fat and 8g protein. The diary milk naturally does contain more sugar than does the plant-based–12g compared to 7g. However, the sugar found in dairy milk is natural lactose, while that found in the plant-based version is added glucose sugar. If you experience lactose-intolerance, follow a vegan diet, or prefer the taste of plant-based milk, choose a variety that is unsweetened, to avoid added sugar intake. Add a protein-rich food to your meal to make up for the lost protein in the milk too, as the protein normally found in dairy helps to keep you full and satisfied.

Grocery shopping and choosing the right foods to meet your goals can be tricky. By taking the time to check labels for calorie, sugar and protein content–especially for these particularly misleading foods–you can avoid food traps that can derail you!



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It can be difficult to select healthy foods that will lead you to weight loss success. Mealenders can help to end cravings so you can avoid temptation, even from misleading foods, with no drugs or stimulants.

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