4 "Healthy" Foods That Are Actually Bad for You, According to a Nutritionist
These snacks are better left on the grocery store shelf.
Finding nutritious foods at the grocery store is more complicated than ever. Unfortunately, just because a product has a health claim on its label—like low-fat, high-protein, gluten-free, plant-based, or vegan—that doesn't necessarily mean it's good for you. According to a Jan. 2021 review published in Globalization and Health, an increasing number of companies use clever wording on their product labels and in their marketing to appeal to health-conscious consumers.
The good news, though, is that making healthier choices doesn't have to be complicated. All it takes is knowing what to look for and carefully reading labels and ingredients before buying. Read on to find out which four "healthy" foods a nutritionist says you should keep out of your grocery cart for better health.
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Whether you're enjoying a ball game or having a BBQ, chips make an easy and fun snack. But it's no secret that chips aren't winning any healthy food awards anytime soon. For example, a 2014 study found that high consumption of potato chips during childhood can cause oxidative damage that spikes your risk of chronic diseases (like cancer) in adulthood. That's why many people trying to eat healthier will choose vegetable chip alternatives. Unfortunately, veggie chips aren't as healthy as they claim.
"Veggie chips may seem like a healthier alternative to traditional potato chips, but most are high in fat, calories, and sodium," says Trista Best, RD, a registered dietitian with Balance One Supplements. "For a better alternative to traditional potato chips, opt for those made without added oil or salt, and preferably baked, which reduces the empty calories from fat."
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"Yogurt can be a healthy food, but flavored yogurts tend to be higher in added sugar," Best explains. "This primarily comes from the fruit-on-the-bottom options, which are largely made with artificial flavors and a small amount of fruit in syrup. A healthier option would be to purchase plain yogurt and sweeten it yourself with fruit or honey."
A 2019 study published in Current Developments in Nutrition noted that flavored yogurts contained on average nearly twice the amount of sugar compared to their unflavored counterparts. Added sugars are associated with increased risk factors for several chronic health conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, cognitive decline, and cancer.
Foods labeled "gluten-free" aren't necessarily good for you. "Gluten-free products can be healthy, but many are full of empty calories from added sugar, fat, and refined carbohydrates," cautions Best. "These products are necessary for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease, but the absence of gluten doesn't automatically make them healthy."
For optimal health, it's important to read food labels and ingredient lists to choose minimally-processed products made with little or no added sugar, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
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Granola bars are often touted as a healthy snack for busy people on-the-go and parents packing lunches for school-age children. However, many granola bars are loaded with added sugar, calories, and artificial ingredients, according to the experts at Healthline.
"Few granola or protein bars are made with your health in mind," says Best. "They're often high in added sugar, fat, and calories while being low in important nutrients like fiber, whole grains, and protein. Instead, look for bars made with as few ingredients as possible, whole grains, little or no added sugar, and high in fiber and protein."