Let me preface this post by saying: “I eat these foods.” Yes, it is true, I do eat about 50% of the foods listed. Especially peanuts, Smartfood, and some of the carbohydrate foods listed at the bottom. Despite calling them all out as unhealthy foods, they aren’t all technically that bad for you, it’s just good to examine the nutritional details and figure out where we can make the best decisions.
If you take this list literally, it will just aggravate you, so take it with a grain of salt… or maybe a grain of whole wheat.
There are many terms that are misleading in the food advertising industry today. Think of how many times you see healthy phrases plastered all over food containers. Don’t allow yourself to be swayed by these words of trickery, none of these catchphrases mean ‘healthy food’ inherently – you have to read the labels.
Let’s take a look at some of the most common attempts to convince consumers a food is healthy when perhaps it’s really not.
Examples of “Healthy Food” Words on Product Labels
- Low Fat
- No Added Sugar
We are supposed to believe that each of these categories makes food healthier. In reality, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
Here is what those “healthy food” phrases actually translate to…
- Fat-free, but full of sugar and chemicals.
- Reduced fat, but increased carbohydrates.
- Low fat, but high glycemic index.
- Sugar-free, but artificial everything else.
- No added sugar… because the all-natural version has enough sugar to give you type II diabetes anyway.
- “Diet” food, but it causes cancer in lab rats so don’t drink/eat too much of it.
Consider the logic that food manufacturers would have us believe: fat-free is good for you; jelly beans, jolly ranchers, and cotton candy are fat-free; therefore all those sugary candies are good for you. Makes sense? Think about it.
In fact, a study at John Hopkins University recently determined a link between high blood sugar and heart disease. This means high glycemic foods, such as the candy I just mentioned as well as many similar products, are inherently unhealthy.
Let’s examine some examples of unhealthy foods that are supposed to be healthy, but will secretly kill you faster than the Terminator (not the Arnold character in any of the sequels).
1. Diet Soda
Why is it good? A sugar-free version of the popular carbonated beverage that you can drink on the go.
Why is it bad? OK, so soda is horrible for you, but take out the sugar and add in carcinogenic artificial sweeteners, combined with the artificial flavors and colors that are in all sodas, and you have a recipe for a tumor in a can.
Then of course you’ve got the caffeine factor, which is linked to hyperactivity and high blood pressure and can mess with your blood sugar. Unfortunately, caffeine is an oh-so-good pre-workout, morning, brunch, lunch, and afternoon supplement.
Instead choose: filtered water and the occasional glass of milk
2. “Sushi” – The White Rice and Imitation Crab Meat Variety
Why is it good? Seaweed contains essential nutrients such as selenium, calcium, iodine, and omega-3 fats. Sushi is nearly always wrapped in seaweed.
Why is it bad? The ‘California Role’ and similar foods don’t deserve to be called sushi. They are just small, compact, high glycemic, high calorie, carbohydrate nuggets. There’s not even much protein in these things. Eat 3-4 of them and you’ve had your serving for the day.
Aside from that, imitation crab meat isn’t even good for you. It is mostly just a crab-flavored processed tofu-like substance fortified with sugar. It isn’t tofu, it’s actually a bunch of processed white fish, but it tastes like tofu. Blah!
Instead choose: In order to get some healthy carbs, some high-quality protein, and the benefits of omega-3 fats, choose real sushi made with salmon or tuna. To make it even healthier, order sashimi instead of white rice.
Why is it good? Peanuts contain healthy fats that contribute to the reduction in triglycerides, which are known to promote cardiovascular disease. In addition to monosaturated fatty acids, peanuts also contain magnesium, vitamin E, arginine, fiber, copper, and folate all of which help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Why is it bad? Aside from being high in fat and calories, peanuts also are loaded with omega-6 fats that distort the omega-3 to omega-6 ratio. This ratio says that your intake of each omega-fatty acid should be 1:1. The reason why this ratio is recommended is a topic for a whole other article.
All we need to know is that the American diet is typically from 20:1 to 50:1 in favor of omega-6, so any effort to reverse this trend is important for combating over 10 different common diseases including Alzheimer’s, rheumatoid arthritis, and diabetes. Peanuts are often contaminated with a carcinogenic mold called aflatoxin, and they are also one of the most pesticide-contaminated crops.
Instead choose: almonds or all-natural organic peanut butter, but pour off the top layer of peanut oil and replace it with olive oil if the resulting peanut brick is too stiff. Olive oil is very low in omega-6 fats.
But honestly, if you want the peanuts you should just eat them in moderation. Despite being considered by some to be one of the unhealthy foods, they’re not that bad for you diet-wise if you stick to a measured serving or two.
4. Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Why is it good? All peanut butter provides a heart-healthy substantial quantity of monounsaturated fat.
Why is it bad? Most commercial peanut butter is made with the same type of sugar that cake frosting is made with. Reducing the fat makes it even worse because even MORE nasty sugar is added less healthy fats are available. I’d rather just eat the extra calories.
Instead choose: As with peanuts, choose almonds or all-natural organic peanut butter instead. Just remember to pour off the top layer of peanut oil and replace it with olive oil if the resulting peanut brick is too stiff. Olive oil is very low in omega-6 fats.
I personally, after switching to all-natural, can no longer stomach commercial peanut butter. It tastes like sweetened lard to me now so I’d rather barf than eat it at all.
5. Corn Oil
Why is it good? It contains omega-6 fatty acids, which are unsaturated fats that don’t raise cholesterol. Sweet.
Why is it bad? In the true spirit of peanuts, corn oil has 60 times more omega-6s than omega-3s. Omega-6 fatty acids increase inflammation, which boosts your risk of cancer, arthritis, and obesity. This is why we prefer a balanced ratio of omega-3s, which are found in walnuts, fish, and flaxseed.
Instead choose: Canola or Olive oils, which have a far better ratio of omega-6s to omega-3s. In my humble opinion, I choose extra virgin olive oil instead over all of the other alternatives, since canola and other oils have some less important issues of their own.
6. Fat-Free or Reduced Fat Salad Dressing
Why is it good? Less fat means fewer calories. Plus that salad dressing fat is lard just like mayo and Crisco. Sick.
Why is it bad? Firstly because when fat comes out, sugar goes in. Either that or artificial flavors and sweeteners combine to make this another of the unhealthy foods you might not have known about.
Secondly, since many vegetables are fat-soluble, removing the fat from the dressing means fewer salad nutrients will be absorbed into your body. This was confirmed by a study at Ohio State University wherein a higher fat salad dressing resulted in an increased uptake of the antioxidants lutein and beta-carotene.
Instead choose: A salad dressing made with olive oil, or just use olive oil and vinegar as your salad dressing. If you try it you might like it.
7. Soy-Based Anything
Why is it good? It’s not. But in the spirit of argument: vegetarians and vegans eat the stuff so they can get protein in their diets. Yay (::sarcasm:: Plus the stuff is apparently low in fat and an alternative to whey for the lactose intolerant.
Why is it bad? Straight up, soy is thought to be linked to increased estrogen in males and increased breast cancer in women. The estrogenic effects are sometimes said to merely be the presence of the phytoestrogens and estrogen-mimicking compounds found in soy.
Because of these estrogenic compounds, infants, in particular, can be adversely affected in many negative ways from exposure to soy, including premature development in girls, and underdevelopment in boys.
Soy also promotes hypothyroidism, thyroid cancer, and infertility just to name a few additional disorders. Phytic acid, trypsin inhibitors, toxic lysinoalanine, and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines are all highly present in soy products.
Some people are allergic to soy protein. I think, for the most part, all the details support the fact that soy is generally one of the unhealthy foods.
Instead choose: any high-protein whole food such as brown rice, goat’s milk, coconut milk, almond milk, whole grains, nuts, seaweeds, seeds, beans, and lentils.
If you must have a protein powder, choose any of a variety of protein powders available on the market today, including whey and egg protein. I used to use Optimum Nutrition protein powder but now I mostly only use Muscle Milk.
As a side note, goat’s milk is considered one of the healthiest foods on the planet today, so give it a try.
8. Yogurt Cups, Especially With Fruit at the Bottom
Why is it good? Individually, fruit and yogurt are two of the healthiest food choices at the grocery store.
Why is it bad? Manufacturers load these products up with corn syrup, which effectively doubles the amount of sugar. All the better to entice kids to ask you to buy this crap.
Instead choose: Activia yogurt, which contains additional live active cultures to help your digestive system. Choose the Light version if you wish, but it is sweetened with sucralose (Splenda). (I opt for the light version.)
I enjoy Splenda quite often, but we have yet to know if there are significant long-term effects of its use. After all, there are a few theories that suggest that consuming sucralose is like consuming very small amounts of chlorinated pesticides. There are at this time no conclusive tests that sucralose has any long-term negative side effects.
9-11. Fruit Juice, Dried Fruit, and Fruit Cocktail
Why is it good? Well because fruit is good for you. It has a ton of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants; not to mention fiber.
Why is it bad? Fruit juice and fruit cocktail normally have sugar added. Some fruit cocktails come in a thick sugary syrup, and there’s more sugar in a glass of fruit juice than in a candy bar and as much as in a glass of soda (grape juice has about 40g of sugar in one serving). You get no fiber from fruit juice, and the stuff usually has preservatives added to it.
Dried fruit is similarly bad because it is also loaded with sugar, although not with added sugar. Think of it this way: take any fruit, which is naturally loaded with sugar, remove all the moisture thus shrinking it down to a fraction of its normal size, then sell it by the bucket load to consumers who don’t understand that this little tiny piece of fruit still has nearly all the calories and sugar of the original fruit!
Can anyone say “portion control”? What about a “blood sugar coma”? How about unhealthy foods?
Instead choose: to eat the whole fruit including the skin if possible, but limit it to one serving of fruit per meal/snack to avoid insulin spikes. If you must have a fruit cocktail, choose one that comes packed in its own juices instead of syrup.
12. Smartfood (Cheesy Popcorn)
Why is it good? Because cheesy popcorn is oh so tasty.
Why is it bad? Because you are really just eating the popcorn equivalent of potato chips. Seriously, compare total calories and you will find that you are not saving much on the calorie front by eating Smartfood instead of chips.
Instead choose: get some spray butter, pop some plain popcorn, spray a light coat of spray butter on the popped corn, sprinkle various spices on the corn (but go easy on the salts), and shake it up in a bag. Now you have a low-fat tasty treat.
Smartfood isn’t as bad as a candy bar or a Twinkie though, so go ahead and splurge every so often.
13. Beans Packed in Sugary Syrups Such as Boston Baked Beans
Why is it good? Baked beans are good for you because these types of beans are loaded with fiber
Why is it bad? The sugary syrup, just as much as in a can of soda, is just going to spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. This is never good for preventing heart disease or type II onset diabetes.
Instead choose: Red kidney beans. These unhealthy foods are packed with protein and fiber and can be mixed with any sort of salad or pasta. Sometimes I enjoy kidney beans straight out of the can; no cooking, just wash and chow.
There are also several other kinds of high protein, high fiber beans, but they typically have to be cooked first. I say this because I tend to be lazy about cooking and I know you do too. Try cooking up some nice black beans; high in protein and fiber, and low in everything bad.
14-20. Granola, White Pasta, Pasta Salad, English Muffins, Bagels, Croutons, and Pretzels
Why is it good? Granola has some fiber, pasta salad has some vegetables, croutons make our salad crunchy, English muffins are one step up from bagels, and pretzels are a quick low-fat snack.
Why is it bad? One word: carbohydrates. All of these unhealthy foods are made with corn syrup and/or processed white flour. These foods will spike your blood sugar faster than Bruce Lee could have kicked you in the face. You also won’t get much nutrition in the way of protein, fiber, vitamins, or minerals from any of these foods.
Instead choose: 100% whole grain or whole wheat pasta and English muffins for increased fiber and protein. Egg salad because, like it or not, eggs are good for you and are high in protein. Almond slices are high in omega-3 fats and are crunchy like croutons. Substitute healthy nuts for white starches whenever you can and you too can receive a 30% less chance of heart disease.
Clearly, there are many alternatives to sneaky consumer unhealthy foods. Fruits and vegetables remain a key ingredient in a healthy diet, and now you can look for tricky catchphrases when purchasing ‘health foods’. Drink plenty of water, get plenty of sleep, and eat wholesome low-sugar, healthy-fat foods; I bet you will end up doing OK as a result.