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 Melissa Gaskill
Two decades ago scientists and volunteers along the Virginia coast started tossing seagrass seeds into barren seaside lagoons. Disease and an intense hurricane had wiped out the plants in the 1930s, and no nearby meadows could serve as a naturally dispersing source of seeds to bring them back.
Restored seagrass beds in Virginia now provide habitat for hundreds of thousands of scallops. Bob Orth, Virginia Institute of Marine Science / CC BY 2.0<p>The paper is part of a growing trend of evidence suggesting seagrass meadows can be easier to restore than other coastal habitats.</p><p>Successful seagrass-restoration methods include <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0304377099000078?via%3Dihub" target="_blank">transplanting shoots</a>, <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1061-2971.2004.00314.x" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">mechanized planting</a> and, more recently, <a href="https://www.nature.com/articles/s41467-020-17438-4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">biodegradable mats</a>. Removing threats, proximity to donor seagrass beds, planting techniques, project size and site selection all play roles in a restoration effort's success.</p><p>Human assistance isn't always necessary, though. In areas where some beds remain, seagrass can even recover on its own when stressors are reduced or removed. For example, seagrass began to recover when Tampa Bay improved its water quality by reducing nitrogen loads from runoff by roughly 90%.</p><p>But more and more, seagrass meadows struggle to hang on.</p><p>The marine flowering plants have declined globally since the 1930s and currently disappear at a rate equivalent to a football field every 30 minutes, according to the <a href="https://www.unep.org/resources/report/out-blue-value-seagrasses-environment-and-people" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Environment Programme</a>. And research published in 2018 found the rate of decline is <a href="https://agupubs.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1029/2018GB005941" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">accelerating</a> in many regions.</p><p>The causes of decline vary and overlap, depending on the region. They include thermal stress from climate change; human activities such as dredging, anchoring and coastal infrastructure; and intentional removal in tourist areas. In addition, increased runoff from land carries sediment that clouds the water, blocking sunlight the plants need for photosynthesis. Runoff can also carry contaminants and nutrients from fertilizer that disrupt habitats and cause algal blooms.</p><p>All that damage comes with a cost.</p>
The Value of Seagrass<p>As with ecosystems like rainforests and <a href="https://therevelator.org/mangroves-climate-change/" target="_blank">mangroves</a>, loss of seagrass increases carbon dioxide emissions. And that spells trouble not just for certain habitats but for the whole planet.</p><p>Although seagrass covers at most 0.2% of the seabed, it <a href="https://www.unenvironment.org/news-and-stories/story/seagrass-secret-weapon-fight-against-global-heating" target="_blank">accounts for 10%</a> of the ocean's capacity to store carbon and soils, and these meadows store carbon dioxide an estimated 30 times faster than most terrestrial forests. Slow decomposition rates in seagrass sediments contribute to their <a href="https://www.researchgate.net/publication/238506081_Assessing_the_capacity_of_seagrass_meadows_for_carbon_burial_Current_limitations_and_future_strategies" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">high carbon burial rates</a>. In Australia, according to <a href="https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/gcb.15204" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">research</a> by scientists at Edith Cowan University, loss of seagrass meadows since the 1950s has increased carbon dioxide emissions by an amount equivalent to 5 million cars a year. The United Nations Environment Programme reports that a 29% decline in seagrass in Chesapeake Bay between 1991 and 2006 resulted in an estimated loss of up to 1.8 million tons of carbon.</p>
Eelgrass in the river delta at Prince William Sound, Alaska. Alaska ShoreZone Program NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC; Courtesy of Mandy Lindeberg / NOAA / NMFS / AKFSC<p>Seagrasses also protect costal habitats. A healthy meadow slows wave energy, reduces erosion and lowers the risk of flooding. In Morro Bay, California, a 90% decline in the seagrass species known as eelgrass caused extensive erosion, according to a <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0272771420303528?via%3Dihub" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> from researchers at California Polytechnic State University.</p><p>"Right away, we noticed big patterns in sediment loss or erosion," said lead author Ryan Walter. "Many studies have shown this on individual eelgrass beds, but very few studies looked at it on a systemwide scale."</p><p>In the tropics, seagrass's natural protection can reduce the need for expensive and often-environmentally unfriendly <a href="https://www.nioz.nl/en/news/zeegras-spaart-stranden-en-geld" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">beach nourishments</a> regularly conducted in tourism areas.</p><p>Seagrass ecosystems improve water quality and clarity, filtering particles out of the water column and preventing resuspension of sediment. This role could be even more important in the future. By producing oxygen through photosynthesis, meadows could help offset decreased oxygen levels caused by warmer water temperatures (oxygen is less soluble in warm than in cold water).</p><p>The meadows also provide vital habitat for a wide variety of marine life, including fish, sea turtles, birds, marine mammals such as manatees, invertebrates and algae. They provide nursery habitat for <a href="https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/32636/seagrass.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">roughly 20%</a> of the world's largest fisheries — an <a href="https://www.floridamuseum.ufl.edu/science/seagrass-meadows-harbor-wildlife-for-centuries/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimated 70%</a> of fish habitats in Florida alone.</p><p>Conversely, their disappearance can contribute to die-offs of marine life. The loss of more than 20 square miles of seagrass in Florida's Biscayne Bay may have helped set the stage for a widespread <a href="https://www.wlrn.org/2020-08-14/the-seagrass-died-that-may-have-triggered-a-widespread-fish-kill-in-biscayne-bay" target="_blank">fish kill</a> in summer 2020. Lack of grasses to produce oxygen left the basin more vulnerable when temperatures rose and oxygen levels dropped as a result, says Florida International University professor Piero Gardinali.</p>
Damaged Systems, a Changing Climate<p>Governments and conservationists around the world have already put a lot of effort into coastal restoration efforts. And that's helped some seagrass populations.</p><p>Where stressors remain, though, restoration grows more complicated. <a href="https://www.rug.nl/research/portal/en/publications/the-future-of-seagrass-ecosystem-services-in-a-changing-world(3a8c56db-7bed-4c9e-ac7f-c72453e2a102).html" target="_blank">Research</a> published this September found that only 37% of seagrass restorations have survived. Newly restored meadows remain vulnerable to the original stressors that depleted them, as well as to storms — and <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/tag/climate-crisis">climate change</a>.</p>
Seagrass in Dry Tortugas National Park, Florida. Alicia Wellman / Florida Fish and Wildlife / CC BY-NC-ND 2.0<p>In Chesapeake Bay a cold-water species of seagrass is currently hitting its heat limit, especially in summer, according to Alexander Challen Hyman of University of Florida's School of Natural Resources and Environment. As waters continue to warm due to climate change, the species likely will disappear there.</p><p>Climate-driven sea-level rise complicates the problem as well. Seagrasses thrive at specific depths — too shallow and they dry out or are eaten, too deep and there isn't enough light for photosynthesis.</p>
But There’s Good News, Too<p>Luckily, left to its own devices, a seagrass meadow can flourish for hundreds of years, according to a <a href="https://royalsocietypublishing.org/doi/10.1098/rspb.2019.1861" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper</a> published last year by Hyman and other researchers from the University of Florida. The researchers arrived at their conclusion by looking at shells of living mollusks and fossil shells to estimate the ages of meadows in Florida's Big Bend region on the Gulf Coast.</p><p>That area has extensive, relatively pristine seagrass meadows. "Our motivation was to understand the past history of these systems, and shells store a lot of history," said co-author Michal Kowalewski.</p><p>A high degree of similarity between living and dead shells indicates a stable area, while a mismatch suggests an area shifted from seagrass to barren sand. The researchers found that long-term accumulations of shells resembled living ones, suggesting that the seagrass habitats have been stable over time.</p><p>That stability allows biodiversity to thrive, creating conditions where specialist species can survive and flourish, according to Hyman.</p><p>Discovering the long-term stability of seagrass meadows has implications for choosing restoration sites, Kowalewski notes.</p><p>"There must be reasons they thrive in one place, while a mile away they don't and fossil data says they probably never did," he said. "If we remove a seagrass patch, we cannot hope to plant it somewhere else. It's not just the seagrass that is special. The location at which it's found is special, too."</p><p>A better approach is conserving these habitats in the first place, but we're not doing enough of that right now. The UN reports that marine protected areas safeguard just 26% of recorded seagrass meadows, compared with 40% of coral reefs and 43% of mangroves.</p>
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