Years ago, people paid far less attention to the nutritional value of what they put into their bodies. Doctors even used to prescribe cigarettes to some patients! Nowadays we’re much more attuned to what helps our bodies function like well-oiled machines, and what bogs them down like overweight freight trains.
However, there are plenty of companies that work hard to masquerade unhealthy food as nutritious treats. It’s tough to decipher which ones are the culprits at first, but let this list help guide you the next time you’re perusing the supermarket aisles.
Low-fat milk: It can seem tempting to purchase milk without all the fat content, but in reality, milk without the fat is also missing essential vitamins. The synthetic substitutes in low-fat and skim options don’t have the same benefits.
Energy bars: Everyone wants more energy, so what’s the problem with buying a few bars to help get you through those afternoon slumps at work? Sure, they might have substantial protein, but most also have as much sugar as candy bars.
Diet sodas: The artificial sweeteners pumped into every batch of diet soda are worse than normal sugar. Your body is fooled into thinking you’re eating real food, which raises insulin levels and stores the sweeteners as fat.
Flavored instant oatmeal: Those big tubs of instant oatmeal might not taste as good as the individual packets, but each packet contains tons of sugar and unnecessary calories. Use the plain stuff and add your own ingredients for flavoring instead.
Bran muffins: The word “bran” makes you think everything about these muffins are healthy, but that’s not the truth. Sugar and salt are added to store-bought muffins to spruce up the bland flavor, so if you want one without feeling guilty, bake them at home.
Packaged turkey: This meat is a great source of lean protein when you roast one yourself, but when it comes to the pre-sliced and packaged versions in stores, it’s a sodium-filled nightmare. Sure, it’s convenient, but avoid it when possible.
Wraps: Many people opt to get a wrap instead of a sandwich because it’s less bread. It all depends on what’s wrapped inside, though. If you’re packing salty meats and extra servings of condiments, they’re not healthier at all.
Pretzels: While bags of pretzels tout themselves as “fat free” much of the time, the white flour in them converts to sugar in the body, which spikes blood sugar, causing an increased appetite. So, think twice before cracking open that bag of Utz’s.
Sports drinks: Every commercial advertising sports drinks makes you think you need them to perform well during physical activity. However, they’re comprised of sugar, water, and artificial flavoring. If you want electrolytes, drink coconut water or eat bananas instead.
Agave nectar: People tend to overindulge in this stuff because that almighty word “natural” is attached to it. Even though it’s used as a substitute for other sweeteners, it’s still high in corn syrup, and that’s something your body doesn’t need.
Yogurt-covered snacks: Even though you might think the substance covering that fruit is yogurt, many times it’s just sugar and fat. So, what can you do to ensure yogurt-covered goodies are healthy? Top them with plain Greek yogurt instead.
Margarine: People trying to avoid butter like to choose this option, but it’s so fake it’s scary. The oil used is steamed, which removes vitamins, then it’s hydrogenated, emulsified, and bleached before synthetic additives are pumped into it. Yikes.
Dried fruit: How could ingesting fruit of any kind be unhealthy? Well, because sulfur dioxide is used to preserve freshness and extra sugar is added to enhance taste. The “fruit” you think you’re consuming is more akin to candy if anything.
Fruit juices: Here’s that pesky word “fruit” again fooling people into thinking what they’re consuming is perfectly healthy. These drinks are packed with sugar, and during the juicing process most of the essential vitamins and nutrients are lost.
Flavored yogurt: This is another example of plain Greek yogurt as an alternative. The flavored stuff is packed full of sugar, and that’s exactly the opposite of what you want when trying to watch your figure.
Pita chips: Although it’s easy to assume chips made from pita are healthier than potatoes, they’re not. The enriched wheat or white flour they’re made with lacks nutritional value, and studies linked refined grains and starches to heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.
Granola: There are so many great uses for granola: cereal, yogurt, and trail mix. It’s even good by itself. However, even though it seems perfectly fine to munch down, plenty of sugar and oil is added to most brands.
Fruit salad: Why just eat one piece of fruit when you can eat several in one bowl? Well, the reason is because many times the fruit is packaged in a sweetened syrup chock-full of sugar, which completely eliminates the perks of real fruit.
Canned soup: When you’re too lazy to make dinner, canned soup seems like a great option. But, the salt levels in each can is horrifying, so you’re better off taking the time to make your own and portion it out throughout the week.
Costco rotisserie chicken: At only five bucks, it can be hard to walk past the rotisserie chicken display at Costco and not indulge. However, these processed birds are often coated in high amounts of sugar and salt. Sticking with organic chicken will eliminate this concern as well as adding some more color to your diet.
Turmeric: This bright colored spice has been used as a medicinal and nutritional spice for centuries because it contains a compound called curcumin, which helps stop your heart from getting enlarged — It also goes great with chicken! And the good news is, there is plenty more healthy food options where that came from.
Seaweed: Don’t eat it straight out of the ocean or off your dog’s head, but do enjoy some properly prepared seaweed. It’s a rich source of iodine and can help prevent your blood from clotting and your arteries from hardening.
Carrots: Snowmen love them, and so should you. Carrots are filled with vitamins A, K, and C and their own antioxidant called carotenoids. Carrots prevent heart disease and also improve your vision! Best of all, you can also just snack on them raw. Yum!
Beets: These have a unique ability to lower the levels of homocysteine in your blood, which can help reduce the risk of heart disease and strengthen your organs. They taste great with a little goat cheese!
Pomegranates: This fruit may look a little funny on the inside, and eating them takes some getting used to, but they’re bursting with vitamins and antioxidants that help prevent strokes, diabetes, and even Alzheimers!
Coffee: When you skip the double shot decaf pumpkin spice frappe-cappu with extra whipped cream, coffee is pretty healthy for you — in moderation. It can reduce your chances of heart failure and heart disease. Too much of it, though, can raise your blood pressure.
Broccoli: Yes, most of us hated having to eat broccoli when we were young, but it’s actually very beneficial to your health! It can reduce cholesterol, and it contains sulforaphane, which balances your blood sugar levels.
Chocolate: Believe it or not, chocolate is good for you, but it all depends on how you consume it! The darker the chocolate, the better, because milk and sugar — which you’ll find plenty of in lighter chocolates — aren’t great for your body.
Red wine: Surprise, surprise! This type of alcohol isn’t all bad for you! Red vino can reduce built-up cholesterol and keep your blood vessels flexible, which will reduce blood clots. However, the limit is one glass a day.
Lentils: These little beans are a wonderful option for vegetarians and gluten-free folks alike. They’re packed with protein but are low in calories, plus they taste great in salads and lentil soup!
Chia seeds: While they used to be sold as the fur for pet-shaped planters, nutritionists have since found a better use for chia seeds: juices, bowls, salads, you name it! They are an incredible source of fiber, antioxidants, omega-3s, and protein.
Grapefruit: You either love or hate this bitter fruit, but it’s definitely good for you. Grapefruits are loaded with fiber and potassium, as well as heart-happy things like lycopene and choline. Plus when you’re done eating, you can use the peel to make a helmet for your cat.
Asparagus: Eat some asparagus for vitamins A, C, E, and K, and many other minerals to promote regular digestion and decrease your risk of diabetes.
Almonds: Like all other nuts, almonds contain protein, but on top of that, they also contain a long list of nutrients that improve memory and intelligence and reduce your risk of diabetes. If you combine these with some very dark chocolate, you’ll have a party in your mouth and get double health benefits.
Garlic: Get ready to stink! Garlic is not only flavorful but it also helps lower plaque levels in your arteries to keep them from getting clogged. There are even garlic supplements you can buy. We should warn you though, this is not for vampires.
Blueberries: They’re a fun size, and they taste great in almost every sweet dish, but what most people don’t know is that blueberries lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of cancer.
Quinoa: It’s alright if you don’t know how to pronounce it, just make sure to eat some once in a while! It has more than twice as much fiber as you’ll find in other grains, and it also contains protein, minerals, and essential amino acids. Just swap it in for rice and pasta, and you’ll be doing yourself a favor.
Avocados: There’s a good reason why people love ’em so much. Avocados add a nice, smooth, cool texture to rough foods like toast, salads, rice dishes, tacos, and of course as guac on some chips. They are filled with monounsaturated fats, a good kind of fat that helps hearts grow even stronger.
Oranges: Of course they’re juicy, sweet, and refreshing, but oranges are so much more. They contain a fiber that absorbs cholesterol as well as potassium, which neutralizes proteins that could potentially cause heart failure.
Cranberries: The main problem with cranberries is that they are very rare, so most foods and drinks that claim to contain cranberries are actually just cranberry flavored. However, when you find the real stuff, you can enjoy their antioxidants.
Chickpeas: These can be eaten raw, boiled, pan-fried, mashed, and turned into some delicious hummus dip. They contain fiber, potassium, and vitamins C and B-6, and some protein. They’re incredibly healthy AND versatile!
Green tea: What’s the tea? Much like broccoli, green tea can lower your cholesterol, and its antioxidants cleanse your body of unwanted chemicals. With a little honey mixed in, it can also be great on a sore throat.
Apples: Unless your evil stepmother witch queen has poisoned them, you should totally eat more apples! Like green tea, there are plenty of flavors to choose from, all loaded with vitamins, antioxidants and a little caffeine. Don’t you want to keep that doctor away?
Oats: Get your spoon out and prepare to eat some oatmeal! It’s a filling, energizing breakfast full of fiber. Try to steer clear of those super sugary oatmeals, though, and add different fruits — or even just a touch of honey — instead.
Kale: Surely you’ve heard all the rage about kale, as it can be found in nearly every salad, smoothie, and pasta or rice dishes nowadays — and for good reason: it’s loaded with fiber, antioxidants, and (the good) omega-3 fatty acids. It’s a solid leafy green that helps prevent heart disease, so go ahead and jump on the kale train.
Eggplant: The only time some people consume eggplant is in an eggplant parm, and we’re sorry to say loads of cheese, bread crust, and marinara sauce in that won’t save you — but other eggplant dishes will. Enjoy the vitamins, minerals, and flavonoids (metabolites that help cell-signaling pathways and antioxidant effects).
Salmon: Don’t go crazy with eating fish, since you could get mercury poisoning or high cholesterol, but a balanced amount of fish, especially salmon, is excellent for your health. It’s packed with good omega-3 fatty acids, which can fight off blood clots, heart disease, and even dementia.
Olive oil: Remember that some oils and fats are good for you! Extra-virgin is a healthier alternative to cooking with butter or animal fat, and it will help balance your blood sugar and reduce harmful cholesterol.
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Spinach: Popeye had it absolutely right — spinach is good for you and can make you strong since it’s packed with iron and vitamin K. You still need to exercise to be strong and healthy, but spinach will give you stronger bones, fewer blood clots, and lower the risk of heart disease.
Chicken: You don’t NEED this in your diet, so don’t worry if you’re vegetarian, but for meat-eaters, chicken is one of the healthiest ways to go. It’s a lean protein that matches well with almost every dish, so it’s easy to eat. Just skip the Costco rotisserie variety.