Top 20 Popular Foods People Think Are Healthy, but Really Are Not

By Claire Conway on November 11, 2023

Eating healthy can be tricky business. We’re constantly bombarded with messages about superfoods and diet fads that claim to optimize wellness. However, some foods that are marketed as “healthy” options can actually be quite the opposite. From processed cereals to trendy coconut oil, many foods that seem healthy are not.

You may be surprised to find some of your go-to “health” foods on this list.

Sports Drinks

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Sports drinks are often high in added sugars and can be unnecessary unless you are engaging in intense exercise for long periods. The recommendation is adults and children should only have sports drinks during extended and heavy exercise that lasts longer than an hour. Water should be the beverage of choice for hydration before, during, and after physical activity lasting less than one hour.

Dried Fruit

Healthy Food: Mix From Dried Fruits In Bowl, Old Wooden Background, Selective Focus
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Some people can go nuts for dried fruit! Pick options that don’t have any added sugars. Most raisin varieties are free from added sugar.

Bottled Green Juice

Green Kale Smoothie Overhead View, In A Glass With Straw On An Aged Wood Background
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Remember the bit about fruit juices being sugary concoctions? Bottled green juice is no different since it can be high in sugar and low in fiber when made mainly of fruit. Instead, opt for a smoothie with kale, or other greens, along with whole fruit.

Agave Nectar

Wholesome And Delicious Raw Blue Agave.
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Agave nectar is often marketed as a healthy alternative, so many have complained of falling prey to it. While it is lower glycemic, unless you are diabetic, then you don’t need to consider this. Sugar is sugar. Whether that comes from agave nectar, maple syrup or cane sugar– it’s all the same.

Fruit Juice 

Juicing Cold Pressed Vegetable Juices For A Detox Diet. Dieting By Cleansing Your Body From Toxins With Raw Organic Fruits And Vegetables Juice Made Fresh And Delivered In Bottles.
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This might be a shocker for some, but fruit juice often has as much sugar as a soda. The difference is that the sugar in fruit juice is naturally containing, while it’s added in soda. In that way– the two are not the same. Whole fruit contains added fiber, which is removed during the juicing process. Because of this– it’s recommended to consume only small amounts of 100% fruit juice, no more than 4 ounces a day.

Frozen Yogurt

Teenage Girls Eating Frozen Soft Serve Yogurt.
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Frozen yogurt sounds like a healthier option than ice cream, but to make up for the low-fat taste, it often has as much, if not more, added sugar. Occasional ice-cream can be part of a healthy diet, so enjoy the real thing if that’s what you want. Or, consider frozen yogurt made with real fruit. This copy-cat Pinkberry frozen yogurt is a healthy option.

Granola Bars 

Close Up Of Vegan Granola Bars
Photo Credit: Delish Knowledge.

You might be surprised that your go-to “healthy” granola bars are nothing but sugar bombs in disguise. As someone mentioned, not all granola bars are created equal. Some contain as much added sugar as a cookie. Look for options with less than 5-6 g of added sugar per bar.

Here’s a healthy granola bar recipe you can actually feel good about eating.

Energy Bars

Athletic Woman Eating A Protein Bar. Closeup Face Of Young Sporty Woman Resting While Biting A Nutritive Bar. Fitness Beautiful Woman Eating A Energy Snack Outdoor.
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Like granola bars, energy bars can be high in sugar and calories and may not be as filling as whole foods. If you consume energy bars as quick fuel for workouts, dried fruit, like dates, may be just as effective without the expensive.

Smoothies

Woman Blending Spinach, Berries, Bananas And Almond Milk To Make A Healthy Green Smoothie
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Smoothies can either be a nutritious meal, or not– it really depends on what’s in them. Opt for using whole fruit, either fresh or frozen, along with unsweetened milk or water for the liquid. Additions, like plain protein powder, chia seeds, hemp seeds, nut butter and plain yogurt can all be good additions. Skip smoothies that use a ‘fruit base’, which is often just sweetened fruit with juice.

This healing cranberry smoothie is made from only whole fruit, and no added sugar.

Flavored Yogurt 

Fresh Delicious Yogurt Made From Milk With Berry Flavor, Yogurt With Fresh Berries And Jam
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Flavored or sweetened yogurts can be high in sugar and low in protein. Some fruit yogurts contain as much added sugar as a scoop of ice cream. Instead, opt for plain yogurt, either regular or greek, and add your own fruit.

Trail Mix 

Raw Organic Homemade Trail Mix With Nuts And Fruits
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Trail mix can be misleading for many. Opt for options that include nuts, unsweetened dried fruit and dark chocolate chips. If you prefer the ones with M&Ms or other chocolate candy, you can increase the ratio of healthy nuts by adding in more walnuts, almonds or pecans to the bag.

Gluten-Free Snacks

Display Of Assorted Gluten Free Cupcakes Sitting On Display Table
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Gluten-free does not always mean healthy. Replacing one type of starch with another will not automatically make it fit, especially as gluten-free products often use rice over wheat which is lower in both protein and fiber. If you’re interested in healthy snacks, here are 14 Healthy Packaged Snacks approved by Dietitians.

Multigrain Bread

No Knead Instant Pot Bread
Photo Credit: Delish Knowledge.

Like gluten-free variations, note that multigrain is only healthy if made with whole grains and does not contain added sugars. Look for 100% whole-wheat flour as the first ingredient, and it’s OK if other types of flours show up as long as whole-wheat flour is the first or second ingredient.
This no-knead bread is made with whole grains and uses the Instant Pot to proof quickly.

Sushi Rolls

Sushi
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Sushi rolls can be a favorite for many– and a simple roll with rice, fish, and avocado or cucumber can be a healthy choice. However, some sushi is deep fried, with added mayo or cream cheese which can be deceiving.

Veggie Chips

Organic Tomatoes, Spinach, Potatoes Baked Veggie Straw For Food Background
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Veggie chips are just potato chips with added veggie powder for color. Fine if you enjoy the taste of them, but not if you think they are a better choice than potato chips. Instead, enjoy a handful of whatever chips you actually enjoy. Eating what you want instead of perceived ‘healthier-for-you’ alternatives is better in the long run. You are more likely to overconsume the considered healthy choices than if you just ate what you were actually craving.

Veggie Burgers

Shutterstock 575219881
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Most, but not all, veggie burgers are a healthier option than beef-based ones. Even the more processed burgers are a better choice as they are lower in saturated fat and cholesterol-free. The only downside is that some of these options are higher in sodium, something to consider if you eat them daily.

These healthy walnut burgers are delicious– and made with whole foods.

Cereal

Variety Of Cold Cereals, Quick Breakfast For Kids Overhead Shot
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Many of us are guilty of considering cereals a viable breakfast option. However, cereals are high in sugar and low in fiber and protein. Best options include a lightly sweetened grain cereal, like Cheerios. If you only like the sweetened options, try a trick called fading: add in some of the low-sugar cereal to your bowl of sweetened cereal. Then, slowly add in more of the low-sugar option and less of the sweetened option to ‘fade’ out the added-sugar cereal.

Low-Fat Salad Dressing 

Man Dressing Salad. He Is Preparing Food In His Kitchen
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Low fat does not always mean better. Low fat implies the omission of healthy fats, which in salad dressing usually means olive oil. On top of that, these salad dressings often contain added sugars as a fat substitute.

Rice Cakes

A Healthy Breakfast With Rice Cakes, Peanut Butter And Strawberries
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Rice cakes are a favorite for many and can be a great option for snacking. However, they tend to be higher in sodium than regular bread, so opt for lower-sodium picks if you consume these often.

Baked Chips

Healthy Vegetable Baked Chips Made From Beets, Sweet Potato And Parsnip
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Several users acknowledged their love for baked chips. Just like veggie straws, they aren’t necessarily better than regular potato chips.

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