7 Foods You Think Are Healthy, But Really Aren't

(photo by Joanna Kosinska)

Every time I see bottle of water labeled "gluten free", I lose a bit of hope for our current health climate. 
There's so much health dogma constantly battering us, it's seemingly impossible to escape it. And sometimes it can be hard to wade through the muck, trying to discern simple truth from hyperbolic fluff and too-good-to-be-true health claims. 
So I thought a simple list would help you pluck some of the truth from the lies. Here's some well-known "health" foods that may not be so healthy after all...

1. Peanut Butter
For some bizarre reason, peanut and other nut butters have fallen into the socially acceptable category of "health food". And while peanuts aren't bad for the occasional snack, it certainly isn't the nutrient-dense food it claims to be.
Peanuts are high in phytic acid, an anti nutrient that keeps the body from absorbing nutrients and minerals. They're are also high in omega 6's, which aren't inherently bad, but the Western diet is already unbalanced when it comes to our intake of omega 3's and 6's.
It takes about 540 peanuts to make a 12 oz jar of peanut butter. Think about that in comparison with how quickly scoop up and gobble a tablespoon of peanut butter. That's a whole lotta peanuts, which is why I more than often opt for eating whole peanuts in the shell, taking my time to enjoy them. (It's hard to not eat mindfully when you're working for your food, I've learned.)
So peanut butter isn't the worst, but it isn't all that and a bag of chips either. If you're gonna eat it, opt for an organic brand that doesn't contain any unrecognizable ingredients or hydrogenated oils. PSA: Peanut butter only needs two ingredients to be made. Peanuts and salt. Groundbreaking.

Wow, Jif somehow managed to perfect the age-old recipe of peanut butter by adding sugar and rancid vegetable oils! Who knew.

2. Smoothies & Juice
Like with flours, nut butters, and any other processed food, when you change the structure of the food, it changes our perception of it as well. I could be satisfied with eating one banana as a snack, but throw three into a blender and make it a smoothie, and I'll drink it aaaaallll. Simply because it's easier to. My brain doesn't have time to catch up and tell me I'm full before I realize it. And that can be helpful if you're underweight or pregnant, but If your'e trying to cut down on your sugar intake, maybe smoothies shouldn't be a regular diet staple.
And I hate to be the one to break it to you, but juice is pretty much sugar water. When separated from its natural fibers from the fruit, juice is essentially just fructose. Now, it's not the worst thing for you, but there's a reason why kids love sappy cups falloff apple juice. Sugar.
So is a cup of orange juice a better alternative than a cup of orange soda? Absolutely. But when it comes to our food choices, everything is relative, and it's good to know where everything falls on the scale. A smoothie from McDonald's that has added sugar and preservatives? Probably not the greatest. But a smoothie made at home with just raw fruit, full-fat yogurt, and ice...much better.

3. Granola Bars
Health cereals and trail mix fall into this category as well, but granola and granola bars in particular are often touted as the go-to healthy snack food. Going camping? Pack a granola bar. Sending your child off to school? Throw a granola bar into their lunchbox. Need a post workout snack? gRanOLa BAr.
Nut based bars are better than oat based, but they're still often glued together with some sort of sugary syrup. And chocolate drizzle. There's always chocolate drizzle. But since when is chocolate drizzle healthy?? If that's the case, you can catch me melting down Hershey's bars and drizzling that stuff on everything.

4. Margarine
Repeat after me. Butter is good for you. Now keep muttering that under your breath until decades of brainwashing by Land-O-Lake's and Smart Balance fade deep into the void.
No, but, seriously. Margarine is the self-proclaimed "heart healthy" substitute to "artery-clogging" butter. (Read here more about why saturated fat is actually good for you!) But it's a poor substitute at that, both in flavor and nutrition. I think the labels speak for themselves.

5. Whole Grains
I talk about whole grains and wheat more in-depth here, but essentially, whole grains aren't as healthy as they would like us to think they are. Modern grains can cause digestion issues, and have been shown over and over to have no correlation with reducing risk of heart disease. What's With Wheat is a compelling documentary on the ill-effects of our wheat belly culture (and it's currently available to watch on Netflix!)

6. Yogurt
"Wow, Melanie, didn't you JUST talk about the benefits of yogurt in your last post?" Yes. You caught me red-handed. But I'm not talking about good 'ol fashioned grass-fed plain yogurt here. I'm talking about what yogurt has become, the yogurt you see lining your grocery store shelves. Low-fat yogurt that's filled with sugar to make up for the lost flavor in skim milk. Little plastic cups loaded to the brim with sugar, granola, and...M&M's?? I mean, I understand that kids are picky, but is dumping candy into the yogurt really the only way to get them to eat it?
Yogurt is great for replenishing your gut microbiome with beneficial bacteria, but not when you have to consume two tablespoons in order to do so. Buying plain yogurt and adding in fresh fruit is almost always a better idea than getting the already sweetened ones.

7. Soy & Vegetarian Substitutes 
Soy has been a food staple for many cultures over thousands of years, but the way we prepare and consume is today has turned it into an entirely different creature. To quote myself: "Phytoestrogens are a type of plant-derived "hormone" that can cause endocrine disruption and mimics estrogen in the body. And in the female body specifically, high levels of this can cause estrogen dominance, which can then lead to infertility, menstrual issues, weight gain, and more." 
But it's not just about women. Soy is also very high in the anti-nutrient phytic acid, and can cause thyroid issues when consumed in large, improperly prepared amounts.
So I'm not knocking properly prepared soy or meat replacements. But avoiding most frozen veggie patties is probably a good idea. Most are loaded with fillers, vegetable oils, preservatives, and a whole host of generally-not-great-things. A good rule of thumb to remember: "vegetarian" is not synonymous with "healthy".

Calm down, don't toss your Yoplait in the trash just yet
I should say that I'm not telling you to never eat any of these foods. (Except maybe margarine, since I'd hardly even call that "food"). I often use peanut butter for baking, and I'm no stranger to the occasional homemade smoothie. Things like smoothies, granola, peanut butter, and yogurt can all fall in the realm of "healthy", depending on the source.
This is all simply food for thought. I just want people to be aware of what they're eating, not just take the label's word for it. And maybe realize that peanut butter toast isn't, in fact, the healthiest breakfast imaginable.

I had about 10 more things I wanted to add to this list, but I'll spare you my ranting for now. But let me know if you'd like to see another post like this!
And next week I'll be writing a list that's the inverse of this one: foods you think are unhealthy, but actually aren't! So stay tuned for that.
And please don't buy Jif.

<3 Mel

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