6 Unhealthy Health Foods You Should Never Consume

These six foods are often marketed as "health food," but offer little in the way of nutrition.

| May/June 2015

  • Read ingredient labels, along with nutrition facts, to ensure you're getting the nutrition and quality your body deserves.
    Photo by iStock

As a nutrition consultant, I know eating healthfully can be harder than it should be, thanks in part to a creative food industry that encourages us to consume more than we need. Our country’s agricultural system produces twice what most of us require—3,900 calories per person per day, according to the USDA Economic Research Service. Creative marketing is designed to unload the excess, much of it made with cheap ingredients and minimal nutritional value, and designed for long shelf lives. Terms such as “low-fat,” “high-fiber,” “multigrain,” “gluten-free” and “natural” can confuse even the most sophisticated customers into believing what they’re buying is healthful.

What can you do? First, make a habit of reading the ingredients, not just the Nutrition Facts panel. Look for products with the fewest ingredients and the most recognizable ingredient names, and avoid those that have sugar (or one of its synonyms, including fructose, cane juice, rice syrup, fruit juice concentrates and dextrose, among others) in the first few ingredients. Beyond those general guidelines, remember that the following products are all worth resisting.

Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter

The oil is the most healthful part of a peanut or tree nut. It contains most of the nutrients, so taking it out actually robs the peanut butter of its health benefits. “Reduced-fat peanut butter has as many calories and more sugar than regular,” says Bonnie Liebman, nutrition director for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Instead: Buy (or make your own) full-fat natural peanut butter. The only ingredients should be peanuts and possibly a little salt. Eating peanut butter or one or two ounces of nuts daily is associated with reductions in heart disease and cancer risk. A recent Harvard study showed that eating peanuts—which are nutritionally similar to tree nuts—is associated with lower body weight.

Enhanced Water

Most of us can ditch the sports drinks when we hit the gym or trails. Essentially diluted soft drinks with salt, sports drinks are only useful during intense exercise exceeding one hour in extreme heat. Drinks such as Vitaminwater are basically sugar drinks with a vitamin pill. They are “unequivocally harmful to health,” says Walter Willett, professor of epidemiology and nutrition at Harvard’s School of Public Health. “Whether vitamins dissolved in water have any benefit will depend on who you are...Some people may be getting too much of some vitamins and minerals if they add vitamin water on top of fortified foods and supplements.” Energy drinks, such as Red Bull, SoBe Lifewater or Monster Energy, are not only high in sugar, but most contain stimulants that may be harmful, especially for people with medical conditions such as high blood pressure. Finally, most bottled or ready-to-drink teas contain added sugar and little or none of the nutrients in fresh tea.

Instead: Drink water. It’s the best drink for hydrating your body. If you like flavored drinks, consider making herb- or fruit-enhanced water.

11/6/2015 11:27:51 AM

So nice to hear that some natural sweetners are ok, less guilt is a good thing.

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