A lot of people out there have a lot of opinions on what foods are considered healthy. Nutritionists are constantly weighing in and recommending ways we maintain a balanced diet for optimum quality of life. They chime in so often, in fact, that we're left with an overload of information and no idea how to wade through it all and figure out which is best for us. It gets even harder when we walk into a grocery store or look at a restaurant menu, and we're slammed with all these choices that are made to look super healthy.
Thankfully, many wellness myths have been debunked lately, helping us separate the truth from the crap. For instance, we know by now that pre-made smoothes and protein shakes aren't nearly what they've been cracked up to be. Also, not all dark chocolate is created equally. But this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are a lot of other foods out there that may seem harmless or are marketed as healthy, but eating them in large amounts is only stopping you from achieving a solid, robust diet.
You might be surprised at some of what you see below. You might be devastated, like I was. Keep in mind, though, that everything in moderation is OK. It might just take a little tweaking to get just the right balance.
Here are eleven foods you never knew were bad for you.
1. Trail Mix
It's easy to get fooled by trail mix. You might think it's a good idea to grab a handful of it before or after your workout, but you're actually consuming a lot of extras your body definitely doesn't need. For starters, it's likely that the bag has been packed with refined sugars, whether it's included in the chocolate bits or dried fruit. Then, there's the pile of salt they toss in there to satisfy your taste buds. Finally, the nuts are almost always roasted — or, worse, deep fried — which means you're getting significantly less nutrition than you would from the raw option.
The Healthier Option: Put together your own little trail mix instead, using raw, healthy stuff. If that sounds like too much effort, just be conscious about which bag you're purchasing. There are good options out there; all you have to do is keep an eye on the ingredient list.
2. Fat Free Yogurt
They're marketed as the perfect midday snack, especially when paired with granola or some fruit flavoring. But science has proven that the fat removed from these foods such as yogurts is not bad for you at all — in fact, your body needs this fat to function properly.
The other problem with these processed, fat-free yogurts is that they've lost the nutrition that comes with the good saturated fats, and because a lot of the taste has escaped with these fats, they overcompensate by adding refined sugars. You could be consuming an extra 15 grams of sugar in that fat-free Greek yogurt.
The Healthier Option: It's better to go all-natural and reach for full-fat, no-added-sugar products.
3. Flavored Soy & Almond Milk
Substituting regular milk for something else can be a brilliant move for a lot of different reasons. However, you might be sabotaging your attempt at getting healthier if you're choosing the wrong alternatives. If the soy or almond milk you're picking up out of the fridge at the supermarket is flavored, it's most likely packing incredible amounts of unwanted sugar, contributing to its yummy vanilla taste. It may cause you to crash later in the day, and it could even mess with your digestion.
The Healthier Option: Unsweetened almond or soy milk.
4. Reduced Fat Peanut Butter
Remember how taking out the fat in yogurt equals adding sugars that your body definitely doesn't need in order to make it taste better? The same happens with peanut butter. Just because it's high in fat doesn't mean it's bad for you; on the contrary, all that monosaturated fat makes your heart strong and could assist you in losing weight, if that's what you're going for. The second the fat gets processed out, you lose all those benefits and instead get slammed with nasty preservatives and processed ingredients that do you way more harm than fats ever could.
The Healthier Option: The good, full-fat stuff.
5. Store-Bought Salad Dressings
Do you look at the ingredient list on the bottles of salad dressing you buy? If not, make it a habit. If you can't recognize the ingredients, and you see that it's packed with preservatives and chemicals, put it back on the shelf and move on.
The Healthier Option: You can make a lovely dressing at home with the simplest of ingredients — olive oil, balsamic vinegar, a splash of honey — that won't rob your salad of its healthy qualities.
6. Pre-Made Salads
You think you're making a great decision to order a salad at a restaurant for lunch. Not so fast. What they put in it to taste great (and ensure people come back to order it again) is most likely high-calorie, over-processed ingredients that will make you feel sluggish for the rest of the day. There could also be lots of dairy, mayo-like products in the dressing, along with loads of unhealthy toppers, like croutons and sugary dried fruit.
The Healthier Option: Put together your own salad, pack it, and bring it into the office. If you're on a rush, though, and in the mood for some greens, go to a place that makes it fresh right in front of you. You have control over what goes into the bowl — and into your body.
7. Protein & Nutrition Bars
While this isn't true for all of them, many bars have unnecessary amounts of fat and calories, as well as added sugars that aren't doing you any favors in the long run. Sometimes, the numbers look exactly the same as if you were reaching for a candy bar.
The Healthier Option: A good rule to live by? The less ingredients and the more natural they are, the better. Take Larabars, for example. They're solely made with nuts and fruit, without all the additives, and they taste better than most, in my opinion.
What's better than a bowl of crunchy, sweet granola topped with ice-cold milk? A lot, apparently. We like to think it's the best way to start our mornings, but experts say that granola is loaded with sugars and preservatives to make it taste so yummy. In most of the options out there, there is very little nutritional value that makes it worth it for you to scoff down in the a.m.
The Healthier Option: If you're a granola devotee, try to look for a healthier option, one with lots of fiber and natural ingredients, and little added sugar. Or better yet, make your own!
9. Dried Fruits & Veggies
You guessed it: those dried cranberries you like to munch on are jam-packed with refined sugars. This rings true for almost all dried fruits, so take a look at the labels and make sure you know what you're getting your hands into. Dried veggies aren't much better. A lot of the vitamins and nutrients have been zapped during the drying process, and instead we're left with loads of salt and maybe some other hidden ingredients our bodies don't need.
The Healthier Option: Fresh fruit and vegetables.
10. Gluten-Free Pasta
It feels good to whip up some gluten-free spinach fusilli pasta on a weeknight, like you're a real health connoisseur. Unfortunately, you might have picked up a bag of preservative-filled pasta; in an attempt to replace the gluten and maintain the hearty taste, manufacturers will place unknown ingredients into your noodles.
The Healthier Option: If you're not gluten intolerant, you're better off reaching for the whole-wheat pasta. If you need to eat gluten free, look for a less-processed gluten-free version of pasta.
11. Veggie Burgers
This one caused me the most grief. Usually, there is far too much sodium, over-processed soy, and refined oils in veggie burgers, all things that shouldn't be in your body in excess amounts. If you're a vegetarian or vegan who eats several of these a week, reassess which ones you're buying.
The Healthier Option: Look at the ingredient list and try to pick the one with the most natural stuff and the least salt, because when done right, veggie burgers really can be good for you — especially if you make your own.