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You would think that determining whether a food is healthy for you or not would be pretty straight forward right? Well, often it’s not because the way foods are grown, but rather the way they are manufactured, stored, or preserved. Further, the way foods (including beverages) are presented to us through packaging and marketing, creates a minefield of options so, we trust that many food and beverage choices are full of nutrients, when in fact they are quite the opposite. So what foods are the biggest offenders and how can you be confident your healthy food isn’t junk food in disguise?
We suggest you avoid these ten foods that are marketed as “healthy”:
1. Low-fat and commercial peanut butters
Just because a food is low-fat doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Foods like peanut butter should have fat in them, so when that fat is taken out, it’s actually just being
replaced with sugar. Some commercial peanut butters are also manufactured with
cheap oils and trans fats which is the bad type of fat that can raise your cholesterol
and cause health complications.
Healthy alternative: Buy a natural peanut butter that has mono-unsaturated fat which
is a good type of fat that can help lower your cholesterol
2. Yoghurt and fruit/muesli infused yoghurts
Sadly, most yoghurts are made for taste, not for nutrition, and the majority of
yoghurts on your supermarket shelves today are highly sweetened for taste making
them a low protein, high carbohydrate snack.
Natural Greek Yoghurt is the better choice so try and avoid all types of flavoured
yoghurts or yoghurts that have fruit or muesli added, as this just adds more sugars
Healthy alternative: Try reaching for some fresh fruit instead of this sugar-filled snack
or buy Greek Yoghurt with no flavouring or additives.
3. Low-fat or fat-free salad dressing
A fresh salad is always a healthy option however, if you add a commercial low-fat or
fat-free dressing, you could be ruining your body’s ability to absorb nutrients from
your salad ingredients. For taste, manufacturers’ add cheap oils and sugar to
produce these dressings.
Healthy alternative: Instead of skipping the dressing, try one with an olive oil base to
get the most out of your salad.
4. Processed meat
Lean red and white meats are still a good source of protein, B vitamins and minerals such as
iron and zinc and if you enjoy meat based protein, aim for the grass fed or hormone free
Processed meat such as bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salami, corned beef, beef jerky and
ham as well as canned meat and meat-based sauces, should all be removed from your daily
diet. To extend the product shelf life or change the true taste of the meat, they have
undergone many stages of processing such as curing, smoking, or adding salt or
Eating a vegetarian diet can be a great option for many people, but if you do go
vegetarian avoid replacing meat with artificial alternatives as these man made
products usually high in salt as well, and adds to the risk of elevated blood pressure.
If you enjoy meat, aim for fresh, grass-fed meat from your local farmer or butcher.
Healthy alternative: Vegetarian or not, add protein into your diet like eggs, lentils,
beans or nuts.
5. Fast food smoothies
Smoothies are marketed to be healthy so they’re a great choice – yes?
We’ll no actually. When you pick one up from a fast food restaurant, you’re not
always making as great a choice as you may think. “The fruits and plant based
vegetables that go into fast food smoothies are high in sugar (if fruit) and they are
often in storage for a very long time (fruits and veggies) resulting in a breakdown of
nutritional value for your cells.
Healthy alternative: If you’re craving a smoothie, make your own at home with quality
products and aim for more plant/veggie based smoothies opposed to 100% fruit
based as fruit still converts to sugars. If mixing a number of ingredients together to
create a flavoursome smoothie, choose 1 fruit and the make up the remaining
products with veggies or plant products.
6. Muesli, Granola and most Breakfast Cereals
Now here are foods that most people in the western world start their day with. It’s
simple and quick to consume, and much of the marketing around these products tell
us they are also good for our health.
Your morning muesli, granola and many cereals however, are highly processed, and
although they provide a good source of carbohydrates and some fibre, too many are
high in sugars and salt.
It’s very important to read your nutritional information panel on the side of the box or
located on the bag and be aware of how many grams are stipulated in the
recommended serve size. Sometimes, the recommended serve size is just 1⁄4 cup,
and sitting down to a breakfast of this size would be extraordinary. So if you are
doubling or four times-ing the serve size, you need to multiply the sugar, salt and
carbs two or four times as well.
Healthy alternative: Stick to a muesli, granola or cereal that has healthy nuts, seeds
and is low in sugar, or buy a gluten free alternative. My tip: Aim to mix the healthier
choice muesli/granola or cereal with 100% bran which will fill your tummy and serve
your gut well.
7. Dried Fruit
Again, we know fruit to be good for us so why is dried fruit on the list here?
When fruit undergoes the drying process, the water is removed which results in
concentrated sugars. But because some fruits become too tart to eat when dried,
you will find the manufacturer will most probably add sugar or fruit juices for a more
It doesn’t stop there however. For long term shelf storage, dried fruit is typically
covered in preservatives, which may cause horrible digestive and respiratory
Polyunsaturated oils such as vegetable and sunflower oil are also added to most
dried fruit to stop it sticking together. These bad oils are unstable and can easily turn
Dried fruits are a true product to avoid.
Healthy alternative: Pick up a fresh piece of fruit. It will be more satisfying
8. Frozen diet meals
Diet meals from the frozen section of your supermarket can definitely solve the
problem of what to cook for dinner after a busy day. The portion is probably smaller
than you would serve up if you made the meal at home – right?
Many frozen dinners are loaded with poor fats, sodium, and preservatives. The nutritional
value is very low creating the need to reach for high-calorie snacks later on in the
evening because you’re still hungry.
Healthy alternative: Instead of eating a frozen meal, try prepping larger portions of
healthy protein and greens that can be frozen and saved for reheating later on.
9. Pretzels and potato chips
These items are belly fillers. “More-ish” and often eaten unconsciously. They are so
light and small, and before you know it, you have had enough to fill your belly, and
always eaten in between meals, so the extra feed is not necessary.
Pretzels and chips are refined carbohydrates and they don’t serve your body any
proteins or good fat.
Healthy alternative: If you’re looking for a healthier snack, replace the snack with raw
nuts and seeds.
10. Store Bought Nut/Muesli Bars and Slices
Not unlike the cereals mentioned in Point No.6, these snack bars are definitely best
left on the supermarket shelf.
Marketers have cleverly disguised these products to appear healthy with company
names and packaging that suggest the product ingredients are from the earth, they
are raw, unprocessed, unbleached, nutritionally balanced, and so much more.
These products are usually very high in sugars, carbohydrates, preservatives,
additives, gums, emulsifiers and syrups.
Healthy alternative: Try getting your fibre from more natural sources like beans or
brown rice, or if looking for a “filler”, make yourself a protein shake with good quality
protein whey powder.