There are a lot of foods on the grocery shelves that sound and feel healthy but might actually be working against your body’s ability to optimize its performance. Sometimes that’s because of clever marketing, and sometimes that’s just because preconceived notions about certain foods can make us automatically assume something that isn’t quite true.
In your quest to use your food as optimum fuel—to give you the energy you need and deliver the best nutrients for overall health and wellness—you need to be aware of food choices that might not be as helpful to you as they sound.
There’s a good chance that you’ve spent the better part of your life thinking a certain way about some specific foods and drinks. Maybe that’s because of the way you grew up. Or maybe you were socialized to think of some foods as good for you while others were perceived as bad. Regardless, the world of nutrition and unhealthy can be a difficult place to navigate.
To help make things a little more clear, I wanted to run down some on our unhealthy food list that have a lot of confusion swirling around them.
You can use the list below as a helpful guide when making food choices.
This may be one of the buzziest words ever when it comes to eating well. If it’s organic, then it must be good. But organic processed foods can be a really tricky subject, right? We think that anything organic is good for us but, when we really think about it, that’s a contradictory statement. If something has been processed, let’s say an organic bar, and you turn it over and you look at the ingredients and it says organic sugar, that doesn’t mean that it’s healthy. We know how detrimental sugar is to our overall well-being. Just because it’s organic and pesticide-free, that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. If your goal is to reduce added sugar, organic processed foods are probably not a good choice.
What to Do Instead: Check the labels of anything you’re eating. Spend more time looking at the small words (the ingredients) rather than the big words (the marketing) on the package.
2. Trail Mix
The word “trail” just makes you think about nature. And if it’s about nature, then it must be natural. Look inside—it has nuts in it, so nuts are good. Therefore, trail mix must be good. That’s how our brain thinks when it processes the words “trail mix.” Well, what happens when that trail mix also has yogurt-covered raisins, deep-fried banana chips, and bits of candy in it? Then the nutritional benefits of those nuts get canceled out in a way. And that turns trail mix to epic-fail mix.
What to Do Instead: Eat nuts by themselves (just make sure not to get too many because of the calories). If you want a little sweetness, then a square or two of dark chocolate will be just fine.
3. Low-Fat Peanut Butter
Not many people realize the nutritional power that peanut butter holds, but then you cut the benefit by making it low-fat. Why? For one, fat is good for you, especially the fats found in nuts and nut butter. The other problem with many low-fat foods is that they can also mean high-sugar (that’s done to compensate for the taste when manufacturers remove the fat).
What to Do Instead: Opt for all-natural nut butter. Or for a creamy alternative, I like mashed avocados.
4. Vegetable Oil
Oils can be so confusing. For decades, they were viewed as extremely unhealthy (as were all fats, mistakenly). If you have anything like grapeseed oil or any of the vegetable oils in your pantry, you should get rid of them. Vegetable oils are destroying your health and that of your families.
What to Do Instead: Choose olive, avocado, walnut or tea seed oil which provide us with essential fats.
I grew up eating butter, and I thank my mother for never bringing margarine into my house. But some people grew up eating margarine and still do. And they’ve been led to believe it’s good for their health. It’s not. It’s one of the worst things that you can put into your body. Studies show it actually contributes to the development of a number of diseases and illnesses. So get rid of the margarine.
What to Do Instead: Butter is better.
A third of our country is gluten-free, and yet so many of the gluten-free foods are filled with processed junk. That contradicts the health benefits we are trying to achieve when living a gluten-free lifestyle. Look at labels more closely. Just because something says it doesn’t have gluten doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have other things that can be detrimental to your health.
What to Do Instead: As is the case with organic, just check the labels closely.
7. Electrolyte Sports Drinks
They sure look appealing after a sweaty workout on a hot day. But these brightly colored drinks aren’t exactly the prescription your body needs after training. And what about your kids? Do you give your kids those when they’re playing sports? Have you ever taken a look at the amount of sugar or artificial sweeteners that are in them? They’re just a fancy way of having a high-sugar juice.
What to Do Instead: Better to go with water (you can add some salt to it if you’ve had an especially hard sweat session).
8. Fruit Juices
How many kids guzzle bottled apple juice? Or drink seemingly healthy fresh pressed fruit juices? They’re actually all high in sugar! And with so many of us having allergies or sensitivities, it’s best to just avoid them all. Many processed juices contain several juices that you’re not expecting to be included, and that can trigger a reaction.
What to Do Instead: Go with water to drink, and just eat fresh fruit—berries are great because they are lower in sugar. And if you want to add more flavor to your beverages, try some tea, which comes in a variety of flavors and herbal options—and offers many health benefits.