30 Foods That Aren’t as Healthy as You Think

We all strive to make healthy choices, especially when it comes to food. However, appearances can be deceiving. Many seemingly healthy options harbor hidden sugar, unhealthy fats, and excessive calories.

While complete dietary needs vary, understanding these surprising contenders can empower you to make informed choices.

1. Granola Bars: 

Marketed as convenient and packed with whole grains and fiber, many granola bars are loaded with unhealthy fats, sugar, and excessive calories.

Scrutinize the label: opt for bars with minimal added sugars (less than 5 grams per serving), healthy fats like nuts and seeds, and whole grains listed high on the ingredient list. Remember, portion control is crucial. A bar exceeding 200 calories might not be the best choice.

2. Fruit Yogurts: 

While fruits are undoubtedly healthy, flavored yogurts often contain alarming quantities of added sugars (over 15 grams per serving) and artificial flavors.

Choose plain yogurt with fresh fruit. This allows you to control the sweetness and benefit from the natural sugars and fiber present in the fruit. Opt for Greek yogurt for an added protein boost.

3. Pretzels: 

Compared to potato chips, pretzels seem like a healthier alternative due to their lower fat content.

However, they are often high in refined carbohydrates (over 20 grams per serving) and sodium (over 300mg per serving), which can contribute to blood sugar spikes and high blood pressure. Enjoy pretzels in moderation and pair them with a source of protein or healthy fats like hummus or guacamole for added satiety.

4. Low-Fat Salad Dressings: 

Choosing low-fat salad dressings might seem like a healthy option, but they often compromise for the reduced fat content by adding sugar (over 5 grams per serving), sodium (over 300mg per serving), and thickeners that may not be readily identifiable.

Opt for olive oil and vinegar-based dressings, or make your own with fresh herbs and spices for a healthier and more flavorful alternative.

5. Agave Nectar: 

Marketed as a natural sweetener, agave nectar has acquired popularity as a healthier alternative to sugar.

However, it is primarily fructose (over 50%), which can contribute to increased liver fat and potential health problems when consumed in excess. Adopt natural sweeteners in moderation (less than 1 tablespoon per serving), or explore sugar substitutes approved by health organizations.

6. Breakfast Cereals: 

While some fortified cereals offer essential vitamins and minerals, many are loaded with added sugars (over 10 grams per serving), refined carbohydrates (over 20 grams per serving), and minimal fiber (less than 2 grams per serving).

Choose whole-grain cereals with low sugar content and add your own healthy toppings like nuts, seeds, or fresh fruit for added nutrition and fiber. Aim for cereals with at least 5 grams of fiber per serving.

7. Energy Bars: 

Similar to granola bars, energy bars often boast impressive claims about boosting energy and focus. However, many are packed with added sugars (over 10 grams per serving), unhealthy fats (over 10 grams per serving), and artificial ingredients.

Opt for natural whole-food sources like fruits, nuts, or yogurt to sustain your energy levels. These options provide fiber, protein, and healthy fats for longer-lasting energy.

8. Veggie Burgers: 

While a vegetarian alternative to meat burgers, pre-made veggie burgers can be surprisingly high in sodium (over 400mg per serving), unhealthy fats (over 10 grams per serving), and fillers. Look for options made with whole ingredients like beans, lentils, and vegetables.

Consider making your own veggie burgers at home using healthier ingredients like mashed sweet potatoes, quinoa, or black beans, controlling the sodium content by using minimal seasonings.

9. Fruit Juices: 

While fruits naturally contain sugar, juice removes the fiber, leaving behind concentrated sugar.

This can lead to spike in blood sugar and contribute to weight gain. Opt for whole fruits instead. They provide the same vitamins and minerals, but with the added benefit of fiber which helps you feel fuller for longer.

10. Flavored Coffee Drinks: 

Those fancy coffee drinks may seem like a delicious treat, but they are often loaded with syrups, whipped cream, and other high-calorie, high-sugar additions. These additions can easily add hundreds of extra calories to your drink.

Opt for black coffee or unsweetened tea for a healthier and lower-calorie beverage. You can add milk or a small amount of natural sweetener like stevia for a slight flavor modification.

11. Dried Fruit: 

While packed with nutrients, dried fruit can be concentrated in sugar and calories due to the water removal process.

A single serving of dried fruit can contain the same amount of sugar as a whole piece of fresh fruit, with significantly less fiber. Stick to moderate portions (around ¼ cup) and consider soaking dried fruit in water to rehydrate them, making them slightly less concentrated in sugar.

12. Sports Drinks: 

Marketed for athletes, sports drinks can be unnecessary for most individuals unless they engage in intense, prolonged exercise (lasting longer than an hour). These drinks are often high in sugar (over 10 grams per serving) and electrolytes not needed by those with moderate activity levels.

Water is generally the best choice for hydration during most activities. If you participate in strenuous exercise for extended periods, consult a healthcare professional or registered dietitian to determine if a sports drink is right for you.

13. Processed “Healthy” Snacks: 

Many snacks labeled as “healthy” or “natural” might contain hidden sugars, unhealthy fats, and artificial ingredients.

Always read the product label carefully. Look for snacks with whole-food ingredients that you recognize, ideally containing minimal added sugars and unhealthy fats. Choose options with fiber and protein for added satiety, like trail mixes containing mostly nuts and seeds or vegetable sticks with hummus.

14. Breakfast Smoothies: 

While a healthy option if made yourself, pre-made smoothies often contain added sugars (over 10 grams per serving), artificial flavors, and thickeners.

Opt for blending your own smoothies with fresh or frozen fruits, vegetables, and a healthy liquid base like unsweetened yogurt or plant-based milk. This allows you to control the ingredients and sugar content, maximizing the potential health benefits of your smoothie.

15. Coconut Water: 

While trendy and naturally hydrating, coconut water contains high natural sugars (over 6 grams per serving) and lacks essential electrolytes lost through sweat during intense exercise.

Consider water or a balanced electrolyte-replenishing beverage for more strenuous activities. Coconut water can be a refreshing option after moderate exercise, but be mindful of the sugar content.

16. Veggie Chips: 

These chips might sound like a healthier replacement to potato chips, but they can be deceiving. Often they are deep-fried or baked with added oils, leading to high fat (over 10 grams per serving) and calorie content.

Additionally, they may contain preservatives or artificial flavors. Opt for baked or air-fried vegetables like carrot sticks, sweet potato wedges, or zucchini chips with minimal added ingredients for a healthier snack alternative.

These options provide fiber and essential vitamins without the added fat and calories of commercially prepared veggie chips.

17. Non-Dairy Milks with Added Sugars: 

While non-dairy alternatives like almond milk or oat milk can be beneficial for those with lactose intolerance or dietary restrictions, choosing options with added sugars negates their health benefits.

Opt for unsweetened versions and add your own natural sweetness like cinnamon or a hint of vanilla extract if desired. Unsweetened non-dairy alternatives provide a similar calcium and vitamin D content as cow’s milk while being lower in saturated fat and lactose-free.

18. Deli Meats: 

Deli meats like ham, turkey, and salami can be convenient sources of protein, but they are often high in sodium (over 500mg per serving), preservatives, and nitrates. Limit consumption and choose lean options with lower sodium content (ideally under 400mg per serving).

Consider alternatives like grilled chicken breast, canned tuna (in water), or tofu for healthier protein sources. These options are lower in sodium and preservatives and offer a variety of essential nutrients.

19. Canned Soups: 

While convenient, canned soups are usually loaded with sodium (over 400mg per serving) and preservatives to extend shelf life. They often lack fiber and essential nutrients.

Opt for homemade soups made with fresh ingredients to control the sodium content, ingredients, and overall nutritional value of your meal. If opting for canned soup, choose low-sodium varieties and pair them with a whole-grain side dish like brown rice or quinoa for added fiber and satiety.

20. Frozen Dinners: 

These meals might seem like a quick and easy solution, but they often lack essential nutrients and are packed with sodium (over 500mg per serving), unhealthy fats (over 10 grams per serving), and preservatives.

Opt for preparing meals at home using fresh ingredients. This allows you to control the portion sizes, ingredients, and overall nutritional value of your meals, ensuring you get the essential nutrients your body needs without the added sodium, unhealthy fats, and preservatives often found in frozen dinners.

21. Trail Mix with Added Sugars and Candy: 

Trail mix can be a healthy snack when it contains a mix of nuts, seeds, and dried fruits. However, beware of trail mixes loaded with added sugars, chocolate chips, or candy pieces.

These additions significantly increase the sugar content and negate the health benefits of the nuts and seeds. Choose mixes containing mostly nuts and seeds with minimal dried fruits, and be mindful of portion sizes. A ¼ cup serving is generally recommended.

22. Flavored Rice: 

Packaged flavored rice mixes often contain hidden sugars (over 5 grams per serving), sodium (over 400mg per serving), and unhealthy fats (over 5 grams per serving) disguised as flavorings and seasonings.

Opt for plain brown rice and add your own healthy flavorings like herbs, spices, or a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. This allows you to control the sweetness, sodium content, and fat used, tailoring the flavors to your preference while maintaining the nutritional benefits of brown rice.

23. Protein Bars with Artificial Ingredients: 

While protein bars can be a convenient source of protein, they often contain artificial sweeteners, flavors, and fillers. These ingredients offer minimal nutritional value and may even have negative health implications with frequent consumption.

Choose bars with minimal ingredients, containing primarily whole foods like nuts, seeds, and dates. Alternatively, opt for natural sources of protein like Greek yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, or lean meats. These options offer complete protein profiles with additional essential nutrients and no artificial additives.

24. Instant Oatmeal Packets: 

These packets might seem like a quick and healthy breakfast option, but they often contain added sugars (over 10 grams per serving), artificial flavors, and unhealthy fats (over 5 grams per serving) used for texture and convenience.

Opt for plain rolled oats and customize your oatmeal with fruits, nuts, seeds, and spices for more control over the sweetness, texture, and overall nutritional value of your breakfast.

Rolled oats offer a good source of fiber and complex carbohydrates, providing sustained energy throughout the morning.

25. Flavored Yogurt Drinks: 

These drinks are often marketed as a healthy and convenient snack but are loaded with added sugars (over 15 grams per serving) and artificial ingredients. Opt for plain yogurt with fresh fruit or water for a healthier and more hydrating alternative.

Plain yogurt provides protein and calcium, while fresh fruit adds essential vitamins and fiber. Water ensures you stay hydrated without consuming unnecessary sugars and artificial additives.

26. Breaded and Fried “Healthy” Options: 

Many restaurants offer seemingly healthy options like “grilled” or “baked” chicken or fish. However, these dishes might be breaded or fried, negating their health benefits. Breading and frying add significant amounts of unhealthy fats and calories to the meal.

Opt for truly grilled, baked, or pan-seared options with minimal added fats and oils to maintain their health benefits. These cooking methods preserve the inherent nutrients in the protein source while minimizing the addition of unhealthy fats.

27. Light Ice Cream: 

While marketed as a lower-fat alternative, light ice cream often contains added sugars (over 10 grams per serving), artificial sweeteners, and stabilizers to compensate for the reduced fat content. These additions can negate the potential health benefits of lower fat content.

Opt for small portions of regular ice cream (ideally ½ cup) or consider healthier frozen alternatives like frozen yogurt or fruits. Frozen fruits offer natural sweetness, fiber, and essential vitamins without the added sugars and artificial ingredients often found in ice cream and light ice cream options.

28. Coconut Oil: 

While trendy and touted for its health benefits, coconut oil is high in saturated fat (over 90%). While some saturated fat intake is necessary, consuming excessive amounts can increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and contribute to heart disease risk.

Choose healthier options for everyday cooking like olive oil, avocado oil, or canola oil. These options offer a balance of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats that are beneficial for heart health.

29. Processed Cheese Slices: 

These slices are convenient but often lack the nutritional value of real cheese and contain added sodium (over 400mg per serving), preservatives, and artificial ingredients. Opt for real cheese in moderation, choosing lower-sodium varieties when possible.

Look for options labeled as “natural” or “minimally processed” and limit your intake to 1-2 ounce servings to minimize sodium intake.

30. Fruit-flavored Snacks: 

These seemingly healthy snacks often contain little to no actual fruit and are packed with added sugars (over 10 grams per serving), artificial flavors, and coloring. These additions can contribute to excessive sugar intake and offer minimal nutritional value.

Opt for whole fruits as a healthier and more nutritious snack alternative. Whole fruits provide essential vitamins, minerals, and fiber while satisfying your sweet tooth naturally.


While healthy choices are often our intention, navigating the world of food can be confusing. This exploration of 30 seemingly healthy foods highlighted the potential drawbacks hidden within certain products.

Remember, this is not an exhaustive list, and individual needs vary. However, understanding these examples and fostering mindful reading of food labels empowers you to make informed decisions.

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