To help you separate fact from fiction when searching for healthy options, here are 10 foods that most people think are healthy but actually aren't.
What do you get when you combine the fear created by the obesity epidemic with the growing trend of fitness as a lifestyle among Millennials? Food manufacturers with savvy marketing teams are jumping on these trends by creating and selling products that appear to be more healthy than they really are.
You've seen them: Organic, multi-grain, fat-free, low-carb, all-natural, super foods and the hundreds of other labels that may attract your eye and win your dollars, but aren't necessarily the healthiest options, despite what the advertisers might say. To help you separate fact from fiction when searching for healthy options, here are 10 foods that most people think are healthy but actually aren't:
1. Packaged cold cuts
Low-fat meats like prepackaged sliced turkey or chicken can be an easy way to get some protein at lunch, but there is a hidden danger lurking inside this popular item. According to Reader's Digest, even low-fat sliced meats often pack a huge dose of sodium, and this can be bad if you have high blood pressure or are focused on heart health.
The solution? Always look for a low-sodium option that contains less than 350 mg of sodium per serving, or just roast and slice your own meats.
2. Multi-grain and wheat breads
Multi-grain, wheat and other labels sound like they'd be healthy options, but they may not actually be giving you the benefits that actual whole wheat grains would, Livestrong wrote. The problem is that breads with the multi-grain and wheat labels tend to contain refined grains, and are missing certain parts of the whole grain that provide the greatest health benefits, such as protein and fiber.
According to Livestrong, the best way to ensure you're getting true whole grain bread is to check the ingredient list on the loaf. If "refined/bleached flour" is the first ingredient on there, it's not whole grain and should stay on the shelf.
3. Energy and protein bars
In what is one of the greatest marketing coups in history, energy and protein bar manufacturers have gotten legions of fitness fanatics hooked on products that have more sugar and calories than some candy bars. Look for the ones that have fewer than 200 calories and contain only a few ingredients to avoid the processed chemicals that comprise most of these bars.
4. Smoothies and frozen yogurt
Smoothies and frozen yogurt — or fro-yo — always start out innocently enough. There's some fruit and some low-fat dairy, and that's enough for a tasty treat that can have some real nutritional value. But it's a slippery slope: One of the biggest issues with smoothies and fro-yo is that because people assume they're healthy, they let their portion sizes get out of control. If you include sugary toppings with these snacks, then you could be looking at a major spike in sugar and calories.
When it comes to smoothies, the best option is to make your own with fresh ingredients and a close eye on the serving size. With fro-yo, stick to the smallest size cup available and avoid the cookies, chocolate and candy toppings.
5. Veggie burger patties
Veggie burgers are a delicious and popular alternative to meat-based patties because it allows eaters to avoid the fat content of a beef patty. Unfortunately, many frozen veggie patties contain a lot of processed fillers that provide little to no nutritional value. As with anything else, check the ingredient list on any box of veggie patties to ensure that actual vegetables are at the front of the list.
"Many frozen veggie patties contain a lot of processed fillers."
6. Bottled salad dressings
The general rule of thumb when it comes to salad dressings is to look for translucent, oil-based dressings over the thick, creamy varieties. But as Cooking Light explained, a visual inspection doesn't go far enough in a lot of cases . Even in oil-based dressings, you can look at the list of ingredients and see several lines of additives that increase the sugar and fat content of the dressing. Suddenly, that otherwise healthy salad loses a lot of its nutritional punch.
Fortunately, you can make your own dressings that will be much healthier than just about any premade product on the market. With some good quality oil, vinegar and salt, you can whip up your own delicious and healthy vinaigrette in seconds. Add chopped herbs or a touch of dijon mustard for some extra flavor without all the extra calories.
7. Prepared salads
Whenever salad finds itself in a food product's name, it automatically makes it sound like a healthy option. However, when it comes to prepared salads, such as tuna, chicken and shrimp salads, you could be looking at a seriously high fat and caloric count thanks to the mayonnaise and oil in the mix.
Again, portion sizes play a big role in how healthy a prepared salad is, so if you need a quick lunch and you have to spring for one, avoid the heaping piles of it. Better yet, you can always make your own with dijon mustard, plain Greek yogurt or low-fat mayo.
8. Fat-free food products
This one is a little more broad, since it can apply to a wide range of food products. Fat-free foods aren't necessarily unhealthy, but there are a lot of hazards that come with this label. The first is that it's easy to overeat when consuming anything fat-free, since it can be rationalized by telling yourself that you're eating healthy.
But as Cooking Light explained, even those health claims can be misleading. Manufacturers of fat-free products have to find other ways to ensure the food is still tasty, so to make up for the lack of fat content, they add sugars, sodium and other additives. These can have a negative impact on your diet far in excess of what the fat would have done. When looking at a fat-free product, always give the nutritional label a close reading to ensure there aren't any chemical additives and that something else isn't replacing the fat
9. Instant oatmeal
Instant oatmeal is often billed as a healthy whole grain breakfast for busy people. Best of all, it's easy to add nutritious extras like fresh fruit or cinnamon. Unfortunately, those flavored packets usually have a lot of added sugar. Reader's Digest suggested looking for steel cut oats or rolled oats as a replacement for these artificially flavored oatmeals.
10. Sports drinks
Athletes consume sports drinks, so they must be healthy right? Not so fast — most of these beverages contain a lot of sugar and calories in addition to the vital electrolytes they give athletes. Livestrong explained that unless you're doing an endurance workout that lasts longer than an hour, you really don't need that sports drink. If you're going to engage in moderate activity, stick to water.
With the current health food craze, many food products have become masters of disguise, giving the appearance of good nutrition even though they can easily set your diet back. By understanding these common label tricks, figuring out appropriate portion sizes and finding do-it-yourself alternatives to common products, you can maintain a healthy diet.