We all know that Cheetos aren’t good for you and Snapple is not a superfood. But what about the many foods that we think are “healthy” or “all-natural” choices—but just aren’t? We’re talking your everyday snacks, like fruit-bottom yogurt and popcorn.
It’s so easy to be misled in the grocery store, warn health evangelist Frank Lipman, MD, andEleven Eleven health coach, Jenny Sansouci. “Terms like ‘natural’ and ‘healthy’ aren’t regulated—they’re marketing copy,” the pair explains. “So they can refer to an item that’s full of sugar, chemicals, and preservatives.” Eek!
Here are 10 red-flag foods that might be hiding in your kitchen right now. —Jennifer Kass and Melisse Gelula
Most agave is highly processed, says Dr. Lipman. “As a result, the bottled version doesn’t remotely resemble the agave plant,” he continues. Agave is also high in fructose. “High fructose sweeteners of any kind can cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, insulin resistance, and obesity,” says Lipman. Instead, try coconut sugar, which is less processed and contains a scant 9 percent fructose.
2. Gluten-free sweets
“Gluten free” doesn’t necessarily mean healthy. Many gluten-free products are still high in refined sugar, and are often made with high-glycemic grains like corn, rice, and potato starch, Dr. Lipman cautions. Your best bet is to make your own gluten-free baked goods with high-nutrient flours, like almond or coconut, using natural sweeteners, such as raw honey or pure maple syrup.
3. Boxed cereals and granola
Cereal and granola are often just boxes of sugar disguised as health foods, says Dr. Lipman. Which means they can give you a sugar spike and crash, instead of keeping you properly nourished. “You’re better off making your own muesli using gluten-free oats, nuts, seeds, and fresh berries,” he says.
4. Popcorn (or non-organic corn)
The vast majority of corn in America is genetically modified, says Dr. Lipman. Plus, microwave popcorn bags are lined with chemicals, and the butter is totally artificial, he warns. Upgrade by using organic popcorn kernels. You can pop ‘em on your stove with coconut oil and sea salt, or in an air popper.
5. Soy milk
Soy is one of the largest genetically modified crops. And while organic soy milk is a better choice, it’s still “highly processed, a common allergen, and hard to digest for many people,” says Dr. Lipman. Organic almond milk or unsweetened coconut milk are better options.
6. Enhanced Water
Watch out! “Many of these are essentially sugar water, regardless of how many vitamins they pack in,” says Dr. Lipman. Keep things simple: Plain or sparkling water with a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime is best.
7. Low-fat crackers
“Most crackers on the market are high in refined oils, sugar, salt, and gluten,” says Dr. Lipman. “The low-fat versions are even worse, because they have to add sugars and chemicals to make up for the taste of the fat.” Read ingredient labels thoroughly, or use whole foods to make equally crunchy (but way-better-for-you) snacks, like kale chips.
8. Whole wheat bread
“In addition to being packed with gluten, whole wheat bread is often sweetened with high fructose corn syrup, just like white bread,” says Dr. Lipman. “Take a look at the ingredient list on your supermarket bread, and you’ll likely be surprised at how long it is!” If you want a bread sans processed sugar (and chemicals), try making your own—or go for Ezekiel.
9. Pasteurized fruit juices
The cartons and bottles of juice sold in the supermarket and served in restaurants contain tons of sugar. (We’ve spied up to 48 grams per 16 oz. in some!) Plus, pasteurization removes most of the beneficial nutrients, says Dr. Lipman. A better option? Go to a juice bar for a raw, cold-pressed option or make your own green juice or smoothie from scratch.
10. Fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt
Many fruit-added yogurts are full of sugar or corn syrup, meaning you can ingest 30 grams (that’s a day’s worth of sugar) even before your 9:00 a.m. meeting. While organic yogurt is definitely better in terms of dairy quality, it’s important to choose an unsweetened version and add your own berries, advises Dr. Lipman. (Goat and sheep’s milk yogurts are often easier for people to digest than cow’s milk, he adds.) Sugar and dairy can also cause acne, studies show, as well as a host of other health issues.