Eating healthy is not necessarily the same thing as eating health food. In fact, a lot of what you’d classify as “health food” is actually less healthy than the regular alternatives. Protein bars, for example, are often loaded with artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols–not exactly a healthy choice.
The best way to tell the difference? Look at the ingredients list. Most things labeled “health food” are created in a lab or are a blend of ingredients that experts in nutrition consider healthy.
When you see those words on the ingredient list, it’s pretty clear what you’re getting. But there are some health foods that are not actually all that healthy. Our health-food gamut includes everything from dried fruit to sugar-free soda–in other words, everything from the seemingly healthy to the downright unhealthy. Take a look at some of the most misleading health food options out there, and get to know their not-so-healthy side.
Low Fat Food
When you hear “low fat,” you think that means healthy. But when it comes to food, “no fat” doesn’t necessarily translate into “healthy.” A lot of low-fat snacks are also high in sugar, which actually has negative repercussions on your body.
The problem starts with those calories, which are often hidden in foods like chips and chocolate. (More on that later.) The fact is that a lot of these “low fat” foods may not actually be all that low in fat.
When you take a look at the nutrition facts panel for a bag of Doritos, for example, you’ll see the words “reduced-fat” and “light” all over the label. This is because food manufacturers can legally claim “reduced-fat” if the fat amounts in a product are less than an established standard. In practice, though, that’s often not the case.
The problem with “low fat” foods is that they often have a lot of calories, which can lead to obesity and other health issues over time. Low-fat chips are still high in carbohydrates and starch, which are the things that really inflame our body and contribute to all sorts of problems.
The biggest problem is that the vast majority of these foods are processed. The reality is that you just can’t make a “low-fat” version of chips or chocolate without adding some weird ingredients. The fact of the matter is that if you want to eat healthy, you’ll have to give up a lot of those low-fat snacks and artificial sweeteners.
Believe it or not, dried fruit isn’t actually all that good for you. The problem is that a lot of people think of fruit as being inherently healthy, but this isn’t always the case. Dried fruit often has just as many calories and sugar as a candy bar.
Dried apricots, for example, are often preserved with sulfur dioxide, which has been linked to a variety of health problems, including headaches, irritability, and nausea. Need another reason to stay away from dried fruit? It’s also the product of a lot of added sugar.
When you see “fruit leather” on the ingredient list, you know it’s not fruit. Again, when you see ingredients like sugar alcohols (which are basically artificial sweeteners) or high fructose corn syrup, it’s safe to assume that what you’re buying isn’t exactly healthy food.
The best way to get healthy fruit is to eat it fresh. The problem with dried fruit is that it has all the calories from the original fruit, plus a lot more sugar that’s added during processing. If you have no other choice but to eat dried fruit, make sure to check the ingredients list and keep an eye on the overall nutritional value.
Grains are a complex topic these days. You have whole grain, refined grain, gluten-free, etc. But the fact is that “whole grain” and “healthy” aren’t necessarily synonymous. A lot of stores sell “whole wheat” bread, but a lot of these loaves are actually filled with high fructose corn syrup and a bunch of other ingredients you wouldn’t otherwise expect to see in bread.
When a “whole grain” product is on the shelf, it’s usually a good idea to take a look at the ingredients list. It might say “whole grain” or “100% whole wheat,” but if you see high fructose corn syrup or anything else that sounds less than healthy, it’s best to keep walking.
The best way to stay healthy is to eat natural whole grains like brown rice, oats, whole wheat flour, oatmeal, and quinoa. You can also make your own bread or muffins from scratch. That way, you know exactly what’s in everything you eat.
Making the right choices about the food you eat can be difficult without good information. While the nutritional panels on food contain great information, it’s important to understand that nutritional claims like “low fat” or “”sugar-free aren’t synonymous with healthy. The more you learn, the happier and healthier you will become.