1. Dried fruit
This is tough, because, yes — it’s a fruit, and it has things like fiber. But because it’s dried, it also has at least three times the calories of fresh fruit. And usually some added sugar, along with sulfur to keep it preserved. (Just as an example, a bag of banana chips has 20% more fat and three times the calories as a fresh banana.)
2. Reduced-fat peanut butter
Like most things that are reduced fat, they make up for it with added sugar — which doesn’t make anything healthier.
3. Energy bars
Whether you use them post-workout, or as a meal replacement, most energy bars are filled with enough saturated fats, sugar, and oils to make it equivalent to eating a candy bar. (For example, calorie wise a PowerbarProtein Plus Chocolate Brownie energy bar has 360 calories, while a Snickers has 250 calories.)
Unless you’re doing a super high-energy workout, there’s no need to chow down on bars loaded with protein. But if you’re looking for the best and worst kinds, Well and Good has a fantastic list.
4. Veggie burgers
A recent study by the Cornucopia Institute found that the soy in most veggie burgers (and other soy-based products, like nutrition bars) is made with hexane.
Hexane is a by-product of gasoline, and is not only harmful to humans but also the environment. Some brands that are hexane-free include Helen’s Kitchen, Wildwood, and Boca if they have the “made with organic soy” label.
5. Microwaveable popcorn
Ever heard of popcorn lung? It’s a severe lung condition that factory workers can get when they’re exposed to a chemical in popcorn called diacetyl.
To be fair, diacetyl occurs naturally in plenty of foods, and in most dairy products. But when you microwave popcorn, the fumes fill your home and lungs. That being said, you’d have to eat a lot of microwave popcorn to develop pocorn lung, but to save yourself the worry it’s best to put kernels on the stove and pop them yourself.
6. Sports drinks
One bottle of Gatorade will cost you 130 calories and 34 grams of sugar — about 8.3 teaspoons of sugar — which, if you’re in the middle of a high-energy sport, is fine. But unless you’ve just finished playing a soccer game, you should skip the empty calories and carbs.
Oh, granola! With your oats, nuts, and dried fruits, you seem so healthy. And yet … it’s so not.
That’s because even though oats are high in fiber and iron, and nuts have those heart-healthy fats, there are usually loads of calories and hidden sugars. To avoid them, the best method is to cook your own granola, or be savvy when it comes to labels. (Check the sugar, fillers, oils, and portion size.)
8. Fat-free yogurt
Fat is not the enemy. Your body needs it to function properly, absorb vitamins, and regulate your hormones.
And when something is labeled “fat-free,” it means that in order to compensate for the loss of fat, it’s likely sprinkled with sodium, sugar, and chemicals to help mimic that full-fat taste. Go for Greek yogurt instead!
9. Wheat bread
Not all wheat bread is bad, but you’ve got to look for the right stuff. Most breads labeled “whole wheat” or “multi-grain” are made with refined grains, so you’re not actually seeing those nutrients in the whole grain. Make sure to check the label closely and if you see the words “bleached” or “unbleached enriched wheat flour,” then run away.
10. Bran muffins
OK, to be fair to bran, it does have benefits: It’s rich in fiber, omega, starch, protein, vitamins, and dietary minerals.
But bran muffins are often made with butter and oil, and served in large portions, so that the nutritional benefits become void. A Dunkin’ Donuts honey bran raisin muffin, for example, has 440 calories, 40 grams of sugar, and 13 grams of fat, compared to a chocolate frosted donut, which has 270 calories, 13 grams of sugar, and 15 grams of fat.
11. Protein shakes
Research by the University of Western Ontario in Canada has shown that people who exercise need between .8 grams and 1.7 grams of protein per kilogram of body weight. And when you add more protein than your body uses, it will be stored as fat.
The basic point is that your body probably doesn’t need the added protein that a shake provides — they can add as much as 200 grams or 300 grams of protein a day — and high-protein diets can also lead to things like bone loss and kidney damage.
12. Packaged and sliced turkey
Don’t get me wrong, turkey is great when it comes to lean protein. But a lot of packaged turkey slices are filled with excess sodium. Look for brands with less than 350 milligrams of sodium per 2-ounce serving.
This is a classic case of: It has “apple” in the name, so that means it’s healthy…right? Well, while applesauce certainly won’t kill you, it’s definitely not as healthy as a regular apple. A cup of chopped apples with the skin has 35% fewer calories and 10% more fiber than a cup of unsweetened applesauce.
14. Chewable vitamin C
It’s been reported that chewable vitamin C can lead to severe dental erosion. That’s because vitamin C has a compound known as ascorbic acid, which is more acidic than sugar.
To keep your teeth safe, look for a form of vitamin C called buffered vitamin C. The buffered version is pH-neutral, and not acidic in nature. They’re not as tasty as the regular kind, but it won’t send you to the dentist with cavities either.