You're dining out with friends, or maybe taking a trip to a topnotch supermarket. You know that chocolate lava cake, boxes of candy, and deep-fried fish with tartar sauce aren't healthy choices, so you look over the menu or through the aisles for something a little healthier. Along with the clearly unhealthy options, you'll find a bunch of other foods that have eye-catching packaging, each appearing healthier than the next.
The health food industry in America often sets us up for failure. To be completely honest, we've reached a point at which most Americans have nutrition horribly twisted, reaching for foods whose marketing campaigns have successfully duped us in terms of their quality and healthiness.
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A package that suggests its contents are healthy or a small "low-calorie" symbol next to a menu item is no guarantee. So how can you be sure that the food you've chosen to spend your hard-earned money on is as nutritious as it's supposed to be?
We're here to help. We've decided that it was high time to update our 2012 list of 20 "Healthy" Foods That Are Actually Unhealthy (And Fixes). While some of the foods in the following slideshow were considered unhealthy in 2012 are still considered so in 2016, others are more recent additions, including trendy health foods. Many of these foods appeared on our list of 27 Foods Doctors Won't Eat and Why, while others came from Jennifer Leah Gottlieb, certified personal trainer and weight-loss specialist of The National Academy of Sports Medicine, in her feature on The Daily Meal, These 5 'Healthy' Foods Are Hindering Your Weight-Loss Goals. With that in mind, you can consider the following slideshow a comprehensive roundup of unhealthy "health" foods as told by doctors, registered dietitians, personal trainers, and other healthy eating specialists.
Many of America's best coffee shops offer something healthy. Thinking of health, a whole-grain option may seem to be the best course of action. If you think that ordering a bran muffin is safe because it's made with bran, think again. This doesn't mean it's healthy, says Laura Cipullo, RD, CDE. Bran muffins are usually made from a processed mix and then moistened up with butter and sugar. Instead, opt for one of these 16 delicious homemade muffin recipes, allowing you to control what goes into your body at breakfast.
Coconut water converts hail its hydrating powers, but L.V. Anderson at Slate reports that "coconut water's ostensible health benefits have been repeatedly disproven." It costs more, it's an acquired taste, and it isn't likely to be much better for you than regular tap water. Consider putting a lemon in your water for a cheaper, healthier hydration option.
"It is super easy to be fooled by a big bag of dried fruit," says Jennifer Leah Gottlieb, certified personal trainer and weight-loss specialist of The National Academy of Sports Medicine. "It's just fruit, which is healthy right? Not exactly! To make the dried fruit taste better, look prettier, and preserve better, companies add chemicals and sugar to this once healthy option. Believe it or not, one cup of fresh cranberries contains four grams of sugar while one cup of dried cranberries contains a whopping 70 grams! These dried little guys also contain more calories. About ¼ cup of raisins [a snack deemed healthy by the Supreme Court] can contain four times the calories in a ¼ cup of real grapes. To mass produce dried fruit, companies add chemicals such as sulfur dioxide and acrylamide, which studies have shown can cause stomach pains, asthma attacks, and nerve damage. Ditch the dried stuff and opt for the fresh fruit instead!"
Dr. Michael Hall, MD, MSc, PA, DABFM, head of Hall Longevity Clinic in Miami Beach, warns against the presence of GMOs in the production of soybeans, stating that "almost 90 percent of all soy is GMO and has been genetically altered to the point that eating [soybeans or other soy-based products] may actually cause the good gut bacteria to die and cause a very rare form of malnutrition. It is very important for overall health that normal gut flora is processed and assists the body [in] absorb[ing] micronutrients like trace elements and minerals properly." While soy may not lead to impeccable micronutrient absorption, these foods are great for nutrient retention.
Egg White Omelettes
"As I've been writing, lecturing, and teaching about for years, dietary cholesterol and egg yolks have never been the real issue," says Dr. Michael S. Fenster, MD, FACC, FSCA&I, PEMBA, a faculty member at The University of Montana College of Health Professions and Biomedical Sciences. "The new 2015 dietary guidelines finally acknowledged this by eliminating any limits on dietary cholesterol consumption. Yet we are still continually surrounded by the 'healthy option' egg white omelette. Not only is it completely unnecessary, it is calumny and slander to the wonderful flavor, texture, and sublime satisfaction that a perfectly executed omelette can deliver. You might as well just put whatever you would load up your egg white omelette with inside [of a] Styrofoam container and eat that."
Tricia Williams, chef-nutritionist and founder of Food Matters NYC, says you're better off making fish at home. She says that in her time in the restaurant industry, she has observed that lots of kitchens brush their fish with melted butter. Additionally, many doctors have started to avoid fish altogether. We've got the details on why one doctor has stopped eating tilapia and two more question all kinds of fish. To stay healthy, choosing fish from a sustainable, organic company and making it at home is the way to go.
"Large companies have done a fantastic job tricking us into believing that granola is healthy. The truth is, this innocent-looking snack is just a bad guy in a pretty costume," says Jennifer Leah Gottlieb, certified personal trainer and weight-loss specialist of The National Academy of Sports Medicine. "That bowl of granola you are pouring yourself for breakfast contains more sugar than a cupcake. Yes, most granola does contain nutritious ingredients like fiber, zinc, iron, and vitamin B. However, all of that good stuff gets canceled out when only one cup of store-bought granola has approximately 25 grams of sugar! When it comes to weight-loss, and overall health, sugar is one of the worst things you can put into your body. This little demon can cause insulin resistance, which is believed to be a leading driver of many diseases including metabolic syndrome, obesity, cardiovascular disease, and type II diabetes. You can get all of the same nutrients with less sugar by opting for a bowl of oatmeal with some berries instead."
"Now let's talk about those bottled green juices that are all the rage right now," says Gottlieb. "Most people think they are being super healthy by adding that cool-looking bottle of green juice into their daily routine. Hate to ruin it for you, but one popular bottled juice has 270 calories, 63 grams of carbs and 53 grams of sugar! That is more sugar than five Krispy Cream doughnuts! If you want to get benefits from juicing, stick to bottled juices that contain vegetables only, or invest in a juicer and make your own. By drinking juice fresh from the juicer or simply eating raw veggies, you'll reap the benefits of all those healthy enzymes and antioxidants minus the sugar demon."
Grilled Chicken Sandwich
Cipullo, points out that what seems like a heart-healthy choice at the sandwich counter is often tainted by fatty toppings like cheese and bacon and served with French fries. Instead, make it at home, cut out the bacon, and serve with some grilled vegetables on the side. If you're struggling to keep grilled chicken interesting, try one of our 11 Quick and Healthy Grilled Chicken Recipes.
Linguine and Clams
Here's another dish that's better made at home. Nicole Ring, RD, says that while linguine and clams in a white wine broth may seem like a healthy, light entrée choice, the portion sizes are often enough for two or three people to share. Unfortunately, cricket flour pasta isn't a thing yet, and all-purpose flour is the base of most pastas. That white pasta adds unnecessary calories that may leave you feeling hungry a short while later, and in many sauces, heavy oil is used to sauté veggies, but then butter is used for the finish.
Instead, make this at home using whole-wheat pasta and cut out the butter, using just enough heart-healthy olive oil to coat the pasta lightly. Use chopped fresh herbs and garlic to make the dish light yet flavorful. Looking for a gluten-free option? Try one of our 10 Great Pasta Recipes for Lovers of Gluten-Free Pasta.