15 'Health Foods' That Are Really Junk Foods in Disguise
Surprisingly, people consider some of these foods healthy.
Here are 15 "health foods" that are really junk foods in disguise.
1. Processed ‘Low-Fat’ and ‘Fat-Free’ Foods
The "war" on saturated fat could be considered one of the most misguided decisions in the history of nutrition.
It was based on weak evidence, which has now been completely debunked.
When this discussion started, processed food manufacturers jumped on the bandwagon and started removing the fat from foods.
But there's a huge problem. Food doesn't taste well when the fat has been removed. That's why they added a lot of sugar to compensate.
Saturated fat is harmless, but added sugar is incredibly harmful when consumed in excess.
The words "low fat" or "fat free" on packaging usually means that it's a highly processed product that's loaded with sugar.
2. Most Commercial Salad Dressings
Vegetables are incredibly healthy.
The problem is that they often don't taste very good on their own.
That's why many people use dressings to add flavor to their salads, turning these bland meals into delicious treats.
But many salad dressings are actually loaded with unhealthy ingredients like sugar, vegetable oils, and trans fats, along with various artificial chemicals.
Although vegetables are good for you, eating them with a dressing high in harmful ingredients negates any health benefit you get from the salad.
Check the ingredients list before you use a salad dressing or make your own using healthy ingredients.
3. Fruit Juices … Which Are Basically Just Liquid Sugar
A lot of people believe fruit juices are healthy.
They must be because they come from fruit, right?
But most fruit juice you find in the grocery store isn't really fruit juice.
Sometimes they don't have any actual fruit in them, just chemicals that taste like fruit. What you're drinking is basically fruit-flavored sugar water.
That being said, even if you're drinking 100% quality fruit juice, it's still not the best choice.
Fruit juice actually contains a similar amount of sugar as a sugar-sweetened beverage.
4. ‘Heart-Healthy’ Whole Wheat
Most "whole wheat" products aren't really made from whole wheat.
The grains have been pulverized into very fine flour, which causes them to raise blood sugar just as fast as their refined counterparts.
In fact, whole wheat bread can have a similar glycemic index as white bread.
But even true whole wheat may be a bad idea because modern wheat is unhealthy compared to the wheat our grandparents ate.
Around 1960, scientists modified the genes in wheat to increase the yield. Modern wheat is less nutritious and has some properties that make it much worse for people who have a gluten intolerance.
There are also studies showing that modern wheat may cause inflammation and increased cholesterol levels, at least when compared to the older varieties.
Wheat may have been a relatively healthy grain back in the day, but the stuff most people are eating today should be consumed with caution.
5. Cholesterol-Lowering Phytosterols
Phytosterols are nutrients that are basically like plant versions of cholesterol.
Some studies have shown that they can lower blood cholesterol in humans.
For this reason, they're often added to processed foods that are then marketed as "cholesterol lowering" and claimed to help prevent heart disease.
However, studies have shown that despite lowering cholesterol levels, phytosterols have negative effects on the cardiovascular system and may even increase the risk of heart disease and death.
People with phytosterolaemia (a genetic condition that raises plant sterol level in blood) are more susceptible to the negative effects of phytosterols.
Butter was labeled a bad food choice in the past because of its high saturated fat content.
Various health experts started promoting margarine instead.
Back in the day, margarine used to be high in trans fats. These days, it has fewer trans fats than before, but it's still loaded with refined vegetable oils.
Not surprisingly, the Framingham Heart Study showed that people who replace butter with margarine are actually more likely to die from heart disease.
If you want to improve your health, try to eat real butter (preferably grass fed), and avoid margarine with trans fat. Trans-fat-free margarine has become more available in recent years.
Always read nutrition facts carefully and limit products that contain trans fat.
Recommending trans fat-laden margarine instead of natural butter may be considered some of the worst nutrition advice in history.
7. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks were designed with athletes in mind.
They contain electrolytes (salts) and sugar, which can be useful for athletes in many cases.
However, most people don't need additional salt or liquid sugar in their diet.
Although often considered "less bad" than sugary soft drinks, there's really no fundamental difference in the two, except the sugar content in sports drinks is sometimes slightly lower.
It's important to stay hydrated, especially when working out, but most people will be better off sticking to plain water.
8. Low-Carb Junk Foods
Low carb diets have been incredibly popular for many decades.
In the past 12 years, studies have confirmed that these diets are an effective way to lose weight and improve health.
However, food manufacturers have caught up on the trend and brought various low carb "friendly" processed foods to the market.
This includes highly processed foods like the Atkins bars. If you take a look at the ingredients list, you see that there's no real food in them, just chemicals and highly refined ingredients.
These products can be consumed occasionally without compromising the metabolic adaptation that comes with low carb eating.
However, they don't really nourish your body. Even though they're technically low carb, they're still unhealthy.
9. Agave Nectar
Given the known harmful effects of sugar, people have been looking for alternatives.
One of the more popular "natural" sweeteners is agave nectar, which is also called agave syrup.
You'll find this sweetener in all sorts of "healthy foods," often with attractive claims on the packaging.
The problem with agave is that it's no better than regular sugar. In fact, it's much worse.
One of the main problems with sugar is that it has excessive amounts of fructose, which can cause severe metabolic problems when consumed in excess.
Sugar is about 50% fructose and 55% high fructose corn syrup, but agave contains even more — up to 70-90%.
Therefore, gram for gram, agave is even worse than regular sugar.
"Natural" doesn't always equal healthy. Whether agave should even be considered natural is debatable.
10. Vegan Junk Foods
Vegan diets are very popular these days, often due to ethical and environmental reasons.
However, many people promote vegan diets for the purpose of improving health.
There are many processed vegan foods on the market, often sold as convenient replacements for non-vegan foods.
Vegan bacon is one example.
But it's important to keep in mind that these are usually highly processed, factory made products that are bad for almost anyone, including people who are vegan.
11. Brown Rice Syrup
Brown rice syrup, also known as rice malt syrup, is a sweetener that's mistakenly assumed to be healthy.
It's made by exposing cooked rice to enzymes that break down the starch into simple sugars.
Brown rice syrup contains no refined fructose, just glucose.
Rice syrup is also highly refined and contains almost no essential nutrients. In other words, it's considered "empty" calories.
Some concerns have been raised about arsenic contamination in this syrup, which is another reason to be extra careful with this sweetener.
There are other sweeteners out there, including low calorie sweeteners like:
In general, try to use all sweeteners wisely and follow recommended serving sizes.
12. Processed Organic Foods
Unfortunately, the word "organic" has become a typical marketing buzzword in many instances.
Food manufacturers have found all sorts of ways to make the same products, except with ingredients that happen to be organic.
This includes ingredients like organic raw cane sugar, which is basically 100% identical to regular sugar. It's still just glucose and fructose with little to no nutrients.
In many cases, the difference between an ingredient and its organic counterpart is next to none.
Processed foods that happen to be labeled organic aren't necessarily healthy. Always check the label to see what's inside.
13. Vegetable Oils
However, it's important to keep in mind that blood cholesterol is a risk factor. It's not a disease in itself.
Even though vegetable oils can help improve a risk factor, there's no guarantee that they'll help prevent actual health outcomes like heart attacks or death, which is what really counts.
In fact, several controlled trials have shown that despite lowering cholesterol, these oils can increase the risk of developing heart disease and memory impairment.
Also, follow the recommended serving size, but limit processed vegetable oils as if your health depended on it, which it does.
14. Gluten-Free Junk Foods
According to a 2013 survey, about a third of people in the United States are actively trying to limit or avoid gluten.
Many experts believe this is unnecessary, but the truth is, gluten, especially from modern wheat, can be problematic for a lot of people.
Not surprisingly, the food manufacturers have brought all sorts of gluten-free foods to the market.
The problem with these foods is that they usually have the same negative effects on your body as their gluten-containing counterparts, if not worse.
These are highly processed foods containing few nutrients and often made with refined starches that can lead to very rapid spikes in blood sugar.
Try to choose foods that are naturally gluten free, like plants and animals, not gluten-free processed foods.
Gluten-free junk food is still junk food.
15. Most Processed Breakfast Cereals
The way some breakfast cereals are marketed can be deceiving.
Many of them, including those that are marketed toward children, have various health claims listed on the box.
This includes claims like "whole grain" or "low fat" that may be misleading.
This is especially true when you look at the ingredients list and see that these products mostly contain:
- refined grains
- artificial chemicals
It's important to always review product packaging to confirm what you're actually putting in your body and whether it's healthy for you.
Truly healthy foods are whole, single-ingredient foods. Their health benefits speak for them.
Real food doesn't even need an ingredients list, because real food is the ingredient.
By Michael Svoboda, Ph.D.
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By Katy Neusteter
The Biden-Harris transition team identified COVID-19, economic recovery, racial equity and climate change as its top priorities. Rivers are the through-line linking all of them. The fact is, healthy rivers can no longer be separated into the "nice-to-have" column of environmental progress. Rivers and streams provide more than 60 percent of our drinking water — and a clear path toward public health, a strong economy, a more just society and greater resilience to the impacts of the climate crisis.
Public Health<img lazy-loadable="true" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNTUyNDY3MC9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY2MDkxMTkwNn0.pyP14Bg1WvcUvF_xUGgYVu8PS7Lu49Huzc3PXGvATi4/img.jpg?width=980" id="8e577" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1efb3445f5c445e47d5937a72343c012" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" data-width="3000" data-height="2302" />
Wild and Scenic Merced River, California. Bob Wick / BLM<p>Let's begin with COVID-19. More than <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">16 million Americans</a> have contracted the coronavirus and, tragically,<a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank"> more than</a> <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/us/coronavirus-us-cases.html?name=styln-coronavirus&region=TOP_BANNER&block=storyline_menu_recirc&action=click&pgtype=LegacyCollection&impression_id=2f508610-2a87-11eb-8622-4f6c038cbd1d&variant=1_Show" target="_blank">300,000 have died</a> due to the pandemic. While health officials encourage hand-washing to contain the pandemic, at least <a href="https://closethewatergap.org/" target="_blank">2 million Americans</a> are currently living without running water, indoor plumbing or wastewater treatment. Meanwhile, <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank">aging water infrastructure is growing increasingly costly for utilities to maintain</a>. That cost is passed along to consumers. The upshot? <a href="https://research.msu.edu/affordable-water-in-us-reaching-a-crisis/" target="_blank">More than 13 million</a> U.S. households regularly face unaffordable water bills — and, thus, the threat of water shutoffs. Without basic access to clean water, families and entire communities are at a higher risk of <a href="https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/news/2020/08/05/488705/bridging-water-access-gap-covid-19-relief/" target="_blank">contracting</a> and spreading COVID-19.</p><p>We have a moral duty to ensure that everyone has access to clean water to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Last spring, <a href="https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2020/03/coronavirus-stimulus-bill-explained-bailouts-unemployment-benefits.html" target="_blank">Congress appropriated more than $4 trillion</a> to jumpstart the economy and bring millions of unemployed Americans back to work. Additional federal assistance — desperately needed — will present a historic opportunity to improve our crumbling infrastructure, which has been <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/23/millions-of-americans-cant-afford-water-bills-rise" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">grossly underfunded for decades</a>.</p><p>A report by my organization, American Rivers, suggests that <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Congress must invest at least $50 billion</a> "to address the urgent water infrastructure needs associated with COVID-19," including the rising cost of water. This initial boost would allow for the replacement and maintenance of sewers, stormwater infrastructure and water supply facilities.</p>
Economic Recovery<p>Investing in water infrastructure and healthy rivers also creates jobs. Consider, for example, that <a href="https://tinyurl.com/y9p6sgnk" target="_blank">every $1 million spent on water infrastructure in the United States generates more than 15 jobs</a> throughout the economy, according to a report by the Value of Water Campaign. Similarly, <a href="https://tinyurl.com/yyvd2ksp" target="_blank">every "$1 million invested in forest and watershed restoration contracting will generate between 15.7 and 23.8 jobs,</a> depending on the work type," states a working paper released by the Ecosystem Workforce Program, University of Oregon. Healthy rivers also spur tourism and recreation, which many communities rely on for their livelihoods. According to the findings by the Outdoor Industry Association, which have been shared in our report, "Americans participating in watersports and fishing spend over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">$174 billion</a> on gear and trip related expenses. And, the outdoor watersports and fishing economy supports over <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/06/30222425/Exec-summary-ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-June-30-2020.pdf" target="_blank">1.5 million jobs nationwide</a>."</p><p>After the 2008 financial crisis, Congress invested in infrastructure to put Americans back to work. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act <a href="https://thehill.com/blogs/congress-blog/economy-a-budget/25941-clean-water-green-infrastructure-get-major-boost" target="_blank">of 2009 (ARRA) allocated $6 billion</a> for clean water and drinking water infrastructure to decrease unemployment and boost the economy. More specifically, <a href="https://www.conservationnw.org/news-updates/us-reps-push-for-millions-of-restoration-and-resilience-jobs/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">an analysis of ARRA</a> "showed conservation investments generated 15 to 33 jobs per million dollars," and more than doubled the rate of return, according to a letter written in May 2020 by 79 members of Congress, seeking greater funding for restoration and resilience jobs.</p><p>Today, when considering how to create work for the <a href="https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10.7 million</a> people who are currently unemployed, Congress should review previous stimulus investments and build on their successes by embracing major investments in water infrastructure and watershed restoration.</p>
Racial Justice<p>American Rivers also recommends that Congress dedicate <a href="https://s3.amazonaws.com/american-rivers-website/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/09223525/ECONOMIC-ENGINES-Report-2020.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">$500 billion for rivers and clean water over the next 10 years</a> — not just for the benefit of our environment and economy, but also to begin to address the United States' history of deeply entrenched racial injustice.</p><p>The <a href="https://www.epa.gov/npdes/sanitary-sewer-overflows-ssos" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">23,000-75,000 sewer overflows</a> that occur each year release up to <a href="https://www.americanrivers.org/2020/05/fighting-for-rivers-means-fighting-for-justice/#:~:text=There%20are%20also%2023%2C000%20to%2075%2C000%20sanitary%20sewer,to%20do%20with%20the%20mission%20of%20American%20Rivers." target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">10 billion gallons of toxic sewage</a> <em>every day</em> into rivers and streams. This disproportionately impacts communities of color, because, for generations, Black, Indigenous, Latinx and other people of color have been <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/flooding-disproportionately-harms-black-neighborhoods/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">relegated</a> to live in flood-prone areas and in neighborhoods that have been intentionally burdened with a lack of development that degrades people's health and quality of life. In some communities of color, incessant flooding due to stormwater surges or <a href="https://www.ajc.com/opinion/opinion-partnering-to-better-manage-our-water/7WQ6SEAQP5E4LGQCEYY5DO334Y/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">combined sewer overflows</a> has gone unmitigated for decades.</p><p>We have historically treated people as separate from rivers and water. We can't do that anymore. Every voice — particularly those of people most directly impacted — must have a loudspeaker and be included in decision-making at the highest levels.</p><p>Accordingly, the new administration must diligently invest in projects at the community level that will improve lives in our country's most marginalized communities. We also must go further to ensure that local leaders have a seat at the decision-making table. To this end, the Biden-Harris administration should restore <a href="https://www.epa.gov/cwa-401#:~:text=Section%20401%20Certification%20The%20Clean%20Water%20Act%20%28CWA%29,the%20United%20States.%20Learn%20more%20about%20401%20certification." target="_blank">Section 401 of the Clean Water Act</a>, which was undermined by the <a href="https://earthjustice.org/news/press/2020/tribes-and-environmental-groups-sue-trump-administration-to-preserve-clean-water-protections#:~:text=Under%20Section%20401%20of%20the%20Clean%20Water%20Act%2C,seeks%20to%20undermine%20that%20authority%20in%20several%20ways%3A" target="_blank">Trump administration's 2020 regulatory changes</a>. This provision gives states and tribes the authority to decide whether major development projects, such as hydropower and oil and gas projects, move forward.</p>
Climate Resilience<p>Of course, the menacing shadow looming over it all? Climate change. <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">More than 100 climate-related catastrophes</a> have pummeled the Earth since the pandemic was declared last spring, including the blitzkrieg of megafires, superstorms and heat waves witnessed during the summer of 2020, directly impacting the lives of more than <a href="https://media.ifrc.org/ifrc/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/IFRC_wdr2020/IFRC_WDR_ExecutiveSummary_EN_Web.pdf" target="_blank">50 million people globally</a>.</p><p>Water and climate scientist Brad Udall often says, "<a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xQhpj5G0dME" target="_blank">Climate change is water change</a>." In other words, the most obvious and dire impacts of climate change are evidenced in profound changes to our rivers and water resources. You've likely seen it where you live: Floods are more damaging and frequent. Droughts are deeper and longer. Uncertainty is destabilizing industry and lives.</p><p>By galvanizing action for healthy rivers and managing our water resources more effectively, we can insure future generations against the consequences of climate change. First, we must safeguard rivers that are still healthy and free-flowing. Second, we must protect land and property against the ravages of flooding. And finally, we must promote policies and practical solutions that take the science of climate disruption into account when planning for increased flooding, water shortage and habitat disruption.</p><p>Imagine all that rivers do for us. Most of our towns and cities have a river running through them or flowing nearby. Rivers provide clean drinking water, irrigate crops that provide our food, power our homes and businesses, provide wildlife habitat, and are the lifeblood of the places where we enjoy and explore nature, and where we play and nourish our spirits. Healthy watersheds help <a href="https://news.un.org/en/story/2020/03/1059952" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mitigate</a> climate change, absorbing and reducing the amount of carbon in the atmosphere. Healthy rivers and floodplains help communities adapt and build resilience in the face of climate change by improving flood protection and providing water supply and quality benefits. Rivers are the cornerstones of healthy, strong communities.</p><p>The more than <a href="https://archive.epa.gov/water/archive/web/html/index-17.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">3 million miles</a> of rivers and streams running across our country are a source of great strength and opportunity. When we invest in healthy rivers and clean water, we can improve our lives. When we invest in rivers, we create jobs and strengthen our economy. When we invest in rivers, we invest in our shared future.</p>
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