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10 Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think

This post was contributed by a community member.

Pamela Riggs, MS, RDN, CSOWM at Marin General Hospital wanted to share the following article to highlight National Nutrition Month.

Food marketers are a clever bunch. Many are good at sizing up health and dietary trends and repackaging the foods they sell as seemingly healthy and nutritious, when, in fact, their claims can be a little dubious. Terms on labels such as, organic, vegetarian, vitamin enhanced, 100 percent juice, vegan, gluten free, and multigrain, may sound healthy, closer evaluation often reveals these products can be high in salt, sugar and saturated fat.

March is National Nutrition Month, an annual nutrition education and information campaign created by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign focuses on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. In the following story, we’ll take a look at few foods that may not be as healthy as you think.

Ground turkey

Ground turkey has a reputation for being a very lean meat, but that’s only the case if you choose ground 100 percent turkey breast. Unless otherwise specified on the label, dark turkey meat and skin get mixed in with the light meat making it fattier than you may think. A four-ounce portion of cooked turkey burger (made from a combo of dark and light meat) has 193 calories, 11 grams of fat, three grams of saturated fat and 22 grams of protein. Compare that to a four- oz. portion of the leanest ground beef (90 percent lean, 10 percent fat), which is 225 calories, 12 grams of fat, five grams of saturated fat and 27 grams of protein.

Bottled Iced Tea

Looking to satisfy your thirst with something healthier than soda, juice or an energy drink? Perhaps bottled iced tea sounds like a good option! It can be, but you need to be a pro at label reading. Surprisingly, even brands that sound healthy like Honest Tea, Purity Organic and Pure Leaf are packed with as much sugar as a soda. Honest Tea’s Organic Raspberry Tea is sweetened with organic cane sugar and has 26 grams per serving (that’s equal to six and a half teaspoons of sugar). Pure Leaf Sweetened Black Tea has 38 grams of sugar (equal to nine and a half teaspoons of sugar). For comparison a 12 oz. serving of Coke has 39 grams of sugar.

Vegetarian “Bowls”

Soups and cereals used to be the food you put in bowls, but today “bowl” food is all the rage. Brands like Kashi, Healthy Choice and Amy’s have all jumped on the bowl bandwagon but beware, frozen entrees like these can still be made with refined grains and can load us up on too much salt and saturated fat. Amy’s 3 Cheese & Kale Bake Bowl has 470 calories, 780 mg of sodium, 21 grams of fat (of which 12 grams are from unhealthy saturated fat) and is made with processed rice flour pasta.

Sport Waters

It’s true that if you’re an athlete and exercising for longer than an hour especially in a hot climate where you sweat a lot, you may benefit from hydration with a sports drink. However, for the average person, “sports-level hydration” with products such as Vitamin Water Active are unnecessary. Although Vitamin Water Active provides 100 percent of the daily value for vitamin C, B6, B12 and pantothenic acid, you don’t really need to get those from your water, and you don’t need the extra 100 calories from the added sugar.

Pre-made smoothies

Despite label claims like, “all natural”, “no added sugar”, 100 percent juice, vegan, gluten free and non- gmo – premade smoothies like those made by Odwalla and Naked Juice are not best way to get your fruits and vegetables. For example, a 15-ounce serving of Naked Juice Blue Machine “boosted smoothie” has a whopping 320 calories 55 grams of natural sugar and only 2 grams of fiber. You’re much better off eating two cups of blueberries. You’ll save about half the calories and get only 30 grams of natural sugar and four times as much fiber (eight grams).


Fad diet trends like the Paleo and Keto diets have promoted the use of Ghee as a healthier alternative to other fats including regular butter. The truth is Ghee is clarified butter which is made by removing the milk solids and water and in doing so also concentrates its dairy fat. So, instead of a butter’s usual seven grams of saturated fat and 100 calories per tablespoon, the same amount of Ghee provides up to eight to 10 grams of saturated fat and 120-140 calories.

Coconut milk

There’s no shortage these days of milk alternatives for those with cow’s milk allergies or are lactose intolerance. Almond, soy and rice milk are most common, but coconut milk is gaining popularity. Traditionally used in Southeastern Asian and Caribbean style cooking, coconut milk is easy to find on the grocery store shelves and available as an option in your latte at Starbucks. Coconut milk is made from the pulp of the coconut, which is high in saturated fat and very low in protein. It’s probably best to stick with unsweetened, organic soy milk as a healthy alternative to cow’s milk.

Fruit Flavored Yogurt

A source of calcium, protein and probiotics (friendly bacteria that support gut health), yogurt certainly makes the cut as a health food, but not all yogurts are created equal. In fact, if you look at the variety of yogurts on the grocery store shelve, their sugar content can make yogurt taste more like dessert. Yoplait Original or Thick & Creamy has the equivalent of six teaspoons of sugar and Dannon Fruit on the Bottom has five and a half teaspoons. The best option is a plain Greek style low fat yogurt topped with some fresh berries.

Fast Food Salads

Fast food restaurants are notoriously known for high calorie, high fat, high salt meals, so choosing a salad advertised with healthy sounding ingredients like grilled chicken, fresh and ripe tomatoes, and mixed greens certainly seems like a good choice. However, they too can often be high in calories, unhealthy fats and way too much salt. The Chicken Garden Salad offered at Burger King provides a whopping 520 calories, 33 grams of fat and 1,250 mg of sodium, and the Southwest Avocado Chicken Salad from Wendy’s has 600 calories, 41 grams of fat and 1,120 mg of sodium. For comparison sake, a regular hamburger and small serving of fries from Burger King has 620 calories, 24 grams of fat and 460 mg of sodium.

Multigrain Bread or Crackers.

“Made with seven grains”, “with whole grains”, “contains 28 grams of whole grains”: these are the types of label claims you’ll find on breads and cereal packaging that can make you think you’re making a healthy choice. The reality is that these claims don’t guarantee the product is 100 percent whole grain or a good source of dietary fiber. They can still list unbleached enriched wheat flour as the first ingredient and have very little fiber per serving. Choose breads that list whole grains, like 100 percent whole wheat, as the first ingredient and have at least three grams of fiber per serving.

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