Nowadays so many foods come with health claims attached that it’s hard to keep track of which ones are actually good for you. With every diet trend hitting the market, a new brand of “miracle cookie” comes out promising to make you healthier. Next time you take a trip down the grocery aisle, beware of these five healthy impostors.
1. Packaged Juices
Over the past few years, juicing has become a major health craze. While it’s an easy way to up your intake of fruits and veggies, you won’t get the same benefits as you would if you ate whole fruits and veggies.
This is because when fruits and veggies are juiced, the solid bits (fiber) are thrown away. And yet fiber provides the most health benefits — from lowering cholesterol and boosting your immune system to managing your weight.
Another big drawback of juices is that the vitamins and minerals are not absorbed as well as if they were in whole foods. What’s typically left is sugar, and lots of it.
For example, a 15 oz bottle of Naked Juice Green Machine has 53 grams of sugar. That’s the equivalent of 13 teaspoons of table sugar.
Rule of thumb: Choose smoothies instead of juices. Smoothies include the entire fruit and vegetable, which means there’s more fiber. Pick smoothies that are heavy on veggies and lighter on fruit.
2. Anything “Low-Fat,” “Fat-Free” or “Light”
Remember the “fat-free” craze of the ’90s? As it turns out, fat-free doesn’t always mean healthy.
When fat gets taken out of a food, something takes its place to keep it tasting good. Typically, the reduced-fat versions of processed foods have more sugar, salt and other additives to retain the products’ flavor and texture as much as possible.
The only exception to this rule is dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese. Since they’re high in not-so-healthy saturated fats, they’re better consumed in low-fat or non-fat versions.
Rule of thumb: Other than dairy, pick the full-fat version and enjoy in moderation.
3. Flavored Yogurt
Plain yogurt is nutritious. It’s a high-quality source of protein that can easily get dressed up to make a healthy breakfast or snack.
Meanwhile, the flavored versions have fruits and artificial flavors, which come with a hefty dose of added sugars.
Check this out: a plain, 6 oz Fage Greek yogurt has 7 grams of natural sugar. The raspberry flavor adds 9 g of sugar (more than 2 teaspoons).
Rule of thumb: Pick the plain, unflavored yogurt and add your own fruit or nut toppings.
4. Multi-Grain Bread
Whole-grain bread is considered healthier than white bread because it has more fiber. In order for bread to qualify as whole grain, it has to be made with 100% whole wheat flour.
The term “multi-grain” can mislead the consumer into thinking that it’s just as healthy as whole wheat. But be aware that multi-grain (sometimes called 7-grain or other derivatives) is made with a mix of whole-wheat flour and white flour.
Rule of thumb: Choose the breads that say, “Made with 100% whole-wheat flour.”
5. Granola Bars
Some granola bars are healthy, while others aren’t any better than a chocolate bar. Some of them contain as many calories, carbs and protein as a full meal, and yet they’re a lot less filling. If you eat a not-so-healthy one as a snack between meals, you’re essentially eating an extra plate of food during the day.
Rule of thumb: Look for a bar made with whole food ingredients like almonds and oats. Scan the label to make sure the granola bar has more protein than sugar. And aim for the highest amount of fiber as possible.
This post was originally published on July 11, 2014. It was last updated on September 8, 2016.