As a nutrition specialist, I encounter so many women who work out and attempt to eat right, yet many are actually eating "fake" health foods that are bad for them. How does this happen? Due to false advertisement by the food industry, foods that are terrible for your waistline are being marketed as health foods. How do you avoid this trap? By reading ingredient labels top to bottom and by being a little detective and choosing whole, clean foods without labels, like fruits and vegetables. Most processed foods that have a long list of ingredients or words you can’t pronounce are going to be the worst offenders of all, however, even some foods can appear to be healthy actually aren't. Read on to find my top 8 "fake" health foods that are bad for weight loss, and you in general. Give them a second thought before you toss them in your cart and waste your money.
1. Flavored Yogurt
That new tasty flavor of Greek yogurt you may have just bought is a great example of healthy foods that are bad and terrible for your weight loss. Most major brands in the yogurt industry are popping up with new flavors left and right and consumers are caving in to this false advertisement now faster than ever. Flavored yogurts, even if naturally flavored with real fruits and fruit juices, are loaded with sugar. Yogurt should be bought plain, whether you buy Greek yogurt or regular yogurt. Yogurt should always be bought hormone-free, preferably organic to avoid pesticides, and should be 0% or 2% fat content. Sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit or a little stevia to save on calories and processed sugar. Most often, if you read the label you will find sugar, whether refined or from evaporated cane syrup, fruit juice or artificial sweeteners used as ingredients in flavored yogurts. Put the flavored yogurts away and get creative with the plain stuff.
2. Frozen Diet Meals
This is one of the most commonly marketed fake health foods in the diet industry. Frozen diet meals that often accompany commercial diet programs lead consumers to think they are aiding their weight loss by buying and consuming them. This could not be more of a problem. For starters, frozen diet meals or frozen meals in general, are loaded with artificial ingredients, plus so many preservatives! This means they are crazy high in sodium, which leads to high blood pressure, heart issues and diabetes. I have scoured frozen meals everywhere and have never seen one besides a few, pricey organic ones that are even worth buying. I realize that these meals are convenient, but it would be much better to prep all your meals and freeze them yourself once a week. You would not only save money, but risk getting serious health issues and weight gain from these foods. If a frozen meal has over 250mg of sodium, put it back. The calories in frozen meals are not even worth eating, they don’t taste as good as fresh food, and they are terrible for your weight loss, regardless of what the package tells you. If you buy frozen food, let it be simple frozen fruits and vegetables in their natural form without processed sauces, seasonings and additives.
3. Protein Bars
This one is a tough one to admit for me, because I used to be addicted to protein bars. I now know how full of junk these bars are. Most all have artificial sweeteners, high levels of sodium which are most often in the form of MSG under another name, harmful fats, processed soy, and many even have tons of sugar. Even the low-carb bars are full of unhealthy ingredients. I strongly suggest making your own energy bars at home with protein powder if you want a convenient protein bar. If you need a quick snack on the go high in protein, try a handful of almonds with some Greek yogurt (plain) instead. Add some fresh berries and you have yourself a delicious and fresh high-protein snack. If you do wish to buy nutrition bars, pick ones that are either organic and have no added sugar, or one made with just fruit and nuts or seeds.
4. Turkey Burgers
Many fast food chains are now offering turkey burgers as a health option. Please don’t be fooled by this marketing strategy. Turkey burgers that are processed for the fast food industry are not only high in fat, with as many as 850 calories in some burgers per patty, but they are also extremely high in salt and other preservatives. Lean turkey meat is pricey, and fast food industries know this, so they use the higher fat, less expensive meat instead. Don’t eat turkey burgers unless you buy them yourself at the store and pick at least 90% lean meat.
5. 100 Calorie Snack Packs
I used to be fooled by the gimmick of those 100 calorie snack packs. With all the neat flavor options, who wouldn't be tempted to buy into this marketing strategy? No wonder I couldn't just eat one pack of these fake health foods. They were not only filled with addictive ingredients and artificial preservatives, but they were also not filling. You can’t get full on 100 calories of fake ingredients or processed food. Your body is smarter than that. Give it 100 calories of real food from fresh fruit and veggies instead.
Who doesn't love granola? Granola is sweet, crunchy, chewy and salty all at the same time. That’s always a win-win combo in my book, however I quit buying granola years ago for a few different reasons. First, I could never eat just one portion of it. Granola’s typical serving size is ¼ cup. For ¼ cup, which isn't enough to feed me and most people I know, you’re getting a very high amount of fat, carbs and sugar, without much food. Granola is often made with sugary ingredients, fatty oils, and on top of that, it has high-calorie ingredients like nuts and dried fruit. When all of those factors are taken into account, you have a food that’s extremely high in calories for not much of a serving size. I suggest substituting 1/4 cup salt-free trail mix instead. You’ll still get the fruit and nuts part of the granola, but without all of the oils, grains and sugars added to make granola. I like a raw salt-free trailmix made with almonds, walnuts, pecans, pumpkin seeds, brazil nuts and sunflower seeds tossed with gogi berries and raisins. It is delicious and more filling than granola, plus it is ten times healthier.
7. Fat Free Salad Dressing
Please ladies, quit buying bottled salad dressings! Read the ingredients list on one or two of those things. Is it a mile long? I thought so. The ridiculous amount of preservatives in bottled salad dressings is enough to irk me, but even more so are those fat-free dressings. Fat-free dressing is often loaded with sugar to make up for the lack of taste that occurs when food manufacturers take the fat out of the dressing. For starters, let’s get something straight: all fat doesn't make us fat. Sugar, unhealthy fats and processed foods do. The right fats are extremely nutritious and can actually aid in weight loss. Try making your own dressing using healthy fats instead. To do this, use one of my favorite fats from flaxseed oil or olive oil. Combine 1/3 cup oil plus 1/3 cup raw apple cider vinegar, 2 tbsp. of Dijon or regular mustard, a squeeze of one lemon and cracked black pepper. Mix all this up and tell me if you ever want to go back to the bottled, fat-free fake stuff again. It keeps in the fridge 2 weeks and tastes amazing.
8. Healthy Cereals
I don’t believe in boxed cereal altogether. I’ve read the ingredients on every box out there and come to one conclusion: cereal is a waste of money and nutritional calories. For one, who can just eat one bowl of cereal? Not me! There’s nothing better than a bowl with some milk especially before bed, right? I used to eat cereal on a regular basis. All the ones labeled as “smart,” “diet-friendly,” “whole-grain,” or “low-calorie,” whatever. They never satisfied me and always left me hungry. Until I realized how processed they were and had tons of nasty ingredients; only then did I realize they were a true waste of calories and money. Cereal does not make you healthy or thin. Fresh fruit, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats make you thin and healthy for life. Quit buying boxed cereal and make a smoothie instead. Or you might try some oatmeal and quinoa at home steamed up nice and toasty with chopped nuts and a little vanilla almond milk! Add some fruit, stevia or flaxseed and your other favorite add-ins. Even a little almond butter or coconut butter is great on homemade cereals. I don’t miss boxed cereal at all anymore and this comes from a girl who used to keep a box in her backpack!
Next time you go to the store, watch out for the top 8 fake health foods that are bad for your heart and your waistline. They are nothing more than money-makers in disguise. The sad part is, many companies with actual healthy products are now making more of these fake-healthy foods to watch out for. Anytime something has a lot of flavor to it and it isn't real food, it likely means it is highly processed and your body can’t extract much nutrition from it. Learning to avoid these unhealthy marketing strategies is the best thing you’ll ever do for your weight, skin, and overall health. What fake healthy foods have you spotted in stores?