It’s safe to say that the current obesity epidemic has been teaching people how to choose healthier foods and take better care of their bodies.

I’ve learned not to frequent fast food chains, eat white breads or pastas, and I avoid products with long, confusing ingredient lists.

But what if that’s not enough?

We know that companies purposefully confuse or trick us into buying unhealthy products disguised as being healthy. I was shocked to learn how many ‘healthy’ food items I’ve bought that turned out to be the furthest thing from nutritious.

Let’s start with the most important meal of the day, breakfast.

Unhealthy ‘Healthy’ Breakfast Options

1. Cereal

bowl cerealBy now we should all know that eating cereal with marshmallows or chocolate mixed in is a bad idea. And we certainly shouldn’t be feeding these to our kids.

But what about the brands that aim for a healthy take on cereal?

According to an article on CNN.com, you have to check the ingredient list for whole grains that will be ingested as healthy fiber for your body. “Fiber is in general good, but all fibers are not created equal”, says Bonnie Liebman, director of nutrition for the Center for Science in the Public Interest. “Intact fibers that come from whole grains or bran carry health benefits, but many cereals add in isolated fibers, which are removed from grains and made into powders”.

These powders don’t do anything for you health wise, so make sure the ingredients on the cereals you choose are whole grains and low in sugar.

Did you get that? Make sure they are low in sugar.

In all honesty there aren’t many breakfast cereals that are low in sugar, which is why they are listed here as a breakfast food that’s best avoided.

2. Yogurt

flavoured yogurtThe appeal of the grab-and-go yogurt is unquestionable. Yogurt comes in so many different flavors and you can eat it on the train or at your desk.

But as I shared with you before, yogurt is full of hidden sugar.

A 6 oz. container of Yoplait Reduced Sugar yogurt clocks in at 18 g of sugar. You know what else contains 18 g of sugar? A miniature Snickers bar.

Activia, the healthy gut promoting brand, dishes out as much as 15 g of sugar in a smaller 4 oz. container. Seems like all that sugar might have the opposite effect of being gut healthy, wouldn’t you think?

3. Granola

granola jarThere are two things you should watch out for when buying granola, fiber and sugar. If you’re not paying attention to these two things you could wind up buying a sugary carb heavy mess, topping in around 400 calories a serving.

Melissa O’Shea, MS, RD, says sugar is hidden in granola under the guise of “evaporated cane juice, molasses, brown rice syrup, [and] oat syrup solids”. Look out for these ingredients and make sure you’re not getting more than 8 g of sugar per serving.

Yes, you will notice that I am harping on about sugar quite a bit in this post, and that’s because most of us consume way too much of it. It’s easy to do when it’s hidden in many food items, including so called ‘healthy’ foods. The World Health Organization recommends that for optimal health it’s best to keep your sugar intake to less than 5% per day, or 25 g (6 teaspoons).

4. Flavored instant oatmeal

flavoured oatmeal blueberryDon’t be fooled by thinking instant flavored oatmeal is healthy for you; it’s not. You have to use steel cut or old fashioned rolled oats to get the most nutrition out of oatmeal, plain and simple.

Instant oats fall on the highest end of the glycemic index, around an 83. That’s not too far off from a white bagel which is a 72. While regular old fashioned oatmeal comes in around a 55, a low glycemic index.

If you want healthy oatmeal, but don’t have the time to make it every morning, I have just the trick for you with my old fashioned overnight oats recipe here.

5. Frozen breakfast sandwiches

sausage egg breakfast muffinJimmy Dean has been marketing their ‘Delights’ breakfast sandwiches as healthy, quick breakfast alternatives.

But let’s take a closer look at the ‘turkey sausage, egg, and cheese on honey wheat flatbread’ option. With over 30 ingredients like soybean oil, preservatives like calcium propionate and distilled monoglycerides, azodicarbonamide (ADA), soy protein concentrate, and additives like annatto and soy lecithin, there’s nothing delightful about these sandwiches.

6. Turkey bacon

turkey baconWho can resist the salty crunch of perfectly cooked bacon in the morning?

I had to see if trying a ‘healthier’ version of bacon would quench my desire for the fatty pork variety. Since turkey is a lean meat that’s also low in cholesterol, I figured it would be a no-brainer switch.

But then I checked the ingredient label. Apparently it takes a lot to turn turkey into faux bacon.

For example, the ingredient label on an Oscar Mayer package of turkey bacon shows there’s more than just turkey. There’s potassium lactate (also used in fire suppressants and leather preserving), potassium chloride, sodium diacetate, smoke flavor, sodium ascorbate, autolyzed yeast extract, sodium nitrite, and soy lecithin.

Okay, I don’t think we’ll be eating that again…

Are all milks created equal?

7. Skim milk

skim milkWhole milk has fat-soluble vitamins like A, D, E, and K that are great for your body. However, when the fat content is removed to make skim milk, manufacturers have to add these vitamins back into the milk.

Fortifying skim milk makes it nutritionally similar to whole milk, but studies claim that these vitamins are not easily absorbed by our bodies without the milk fat.

We always hear that milk is a great way to get more calcium and vitamin D. Vitamin D comes in two forms, vitamin D3 and the synthesized version vitamin D2. Since most cows are kept from actual sunlight, they lack vitamin D3. Companies then fortify the milk with vitamin D2, but research from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition suggests that our bodies regard D2 as basically useless when compared to true forms of vitamin D.

8. Rice milk

rice milkTo make rice milk, companies take milled white rice and mix it with water to form a milky consistency. Courtney Subramanian at Time.com says that: “During the process, carbohydrates become sugar, giving it a natural sweetened taste. The sugary alternative is very low in nutrient value unless vitamins and calcium are added to it”.

9. Soy milk

soy beans milkAlmost all of the soybean crops in the US and Canada are genetically modified to withstand tons of pesticide spraying without dying.

And since soy milk is not as pleasant as companies would have us believe, manufacturers have to load it with artificial flavors and sweeteners.

Soy also contains isoflavones, which is a compound similar to the hormone estrogen. Erin Coleman, R.D., L.D., says that “large amounts of soy have the potential to alter menstrual cycles and sex hormones in women, stimulate breast cancer cells and increase a woman’s risk for developing uterine cancer”.

The truth is, since soy milk is such a relatively new concept, we just don’t have enough long term research to vouch for its safety.

Grab-and-go gym foods

10. Fiber bars

fiber barsSure, Fiber One bars have 9 g of fiber per 140 calorie bar, but they also have 10 g of sugar too. If you eat these you’re consuming more sugar than fiber. That doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Instead, choose foods with naturally occurring fiber and less sugar like one medium artichoke (10 g fiber), half a cup of cooked spinach (7 g fiber), or one cup of cooked black beans (19 g fiber).

11. Protein bars

protein barsWhen I’m running from workouts to meetings and can barely get a shower in between, I rely on protein bars to get me through. But you have to be super selective when choosing the right protein bar.

First, make sure you have at least 15 g of protein and not just any protein, the good kinds of protein like whey isolates, hydrolyzed whey, or micellar casein. Next, check the sugar content. Stay away from bars that use high fructose corn syrup, sugar alcohols (sorbitol, xylitol, maltitol, or glycerol), or sucrose.

And another thing you’ll commonly find in many protein bars that’s a big no no is artificial sweeteners like aspartame. And then you’ll want to choose a protein bar that doesn’t have a long list of ingredients you don’t recognize. There are a lot of rubbish protein bars out there, so always read the labels and be very choosey in your selection.

Or you could just make your own. Some of my favorite protein bar recipes are from Muscle for Life.

12. Energy drinks

energy drinks womenHere’s a fact, since energy drinks are categorized as supplements, not beverages, the FDA does not limit them to safe caffeine levels. Combine this extra potent caffeine content with an incredible amount of sugar and you have a recipe for irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure spikes, and increased risk of heart attacks.

Did you know that Monster energy drink contains 160 mg caffeine and 54 g sugar, and Red Bull contains 80 mg caffeine and 27 g sugar? Those numbers are pretty alarming right?

13. Premade smoothies

premade smoothie drinkI talked about the hidden sugars in restaurant smoothies in this post. High fructose corn syrup or sugary fruit juice bases won’t do any favors for your health or waistline.

Take this Naked Juice Protein Zone Banana Chocolate smoothie for example. Though it has 30 g of protein in the bottle, it also has 68 g of sugar. Yikes!

Are fruit-based snacks just sugary treats?

14. Fruit snacks

fruit snacksYou’d never let your child eat shoe wax or floor polish, but carnauba wax is exactly what’s in standard fruit snacks.

This article at Huffington Post confirms that many fruit snacks are just fruit concentrate, loads of sugar, gelatin, and artificial food colorings. In addition, Mott’s Medleys fruit flavored snacks use sodium citrate, malic acid, sunflower oil, and potassium citrate. And Welch’s fruit snacks have added coconut oil in their chews.

Need I say more?

15. Yogurt covered raisins

yogurt covered raisinsI never understood why people go crazy for yogurt covered raisins. Don’t they know that the coating is not real yogurt?

But I guess most people don’t know that the hard candy shell is made up of ingredients like sugar, palm kernel oil, titanium dioxide, maltodextrin, and soy lecithin.

One tiny Sun-Maid snack box of vanilla yogurt covered raisins is 20% of your daily recommended intake of saturated fat. Plus, that same tiny box has 18 g of sugar.

16. Fruit cocktail

fruit cocktail syrupMany packaged fruit cocktails trap the fruit in a syrupy bath of sugar.

So what if we choose the fruit packed in fruit juice instead? That sounds healthy, but it’s not.

A serving of Del Monte’s Fruit Cocktail packed in 100% juice has 60 calories and 14 g of sugar. However, a Del Monte’s Fruit Cocktail packed in water only has 45 calories and 7 g of sugar.

My opinion? If your kids love packaged fruits in their lunch boxes (or if you do), give them fruit packed in water. Otherwise avoid the excess calories and stick to fresh fruit instead.

How healthy is your lunch?

17. Multigrain bread

multigrain breadWhen I swore off white bread, I was opting for multigrain bread varieties instead. Until I realized that multigrain and whole grain are not the same. Multigrain, or options like seven-grain, just means that many types of grains were used to make the bread, and none of them have to be whole grains.

Make sure to check the nutrition labels for ‘whole grains’ and ‘whole wheat’.” Like Katherine Zeratsky, R.D., L.D. points out: “Whole-grain foods are a healthy choice because they contain nutrients, fiber and other healthy plant compounds found naturally in the grain…[that are a] good source of fiber, several B vitamins and minerals”.

18. Wraps

wrap breadYou think you’re doing your body a favor by choosing a wrap instead of that ciabatta. But guess what?

Wraps are still made with refined flour and sugar, the same ingredients in regular bread.

While you believe the carb content in wraps should be less than typical slices of white bread, you may be surprised to learn that wraps sometimes have more carbs instead. For example, a ciabatta has about 26 g of carbohydrates, but Mission’s Garden Spinach Herb Wrap has 36 g of carbs.

Which leads me to another point, wraps made with spinach or sundried tomatoes aren’t any better for us either. There’s such a small trace of these vegetables that it’s not worth mentioning or eating them.

19. Cold cuts

cold cut meatsI like to divide cold cuts into two groups, fatty and lean. Fatty cold cuts include bologna, salami, pepperoni, etc. Because these are so high in saturated fat and sodium, I rarely include them in my grocery trip.

Lean cold cuts, like turkey and ham, are great options as long as you look for low-sodium varieties. But be careful because some of these still top 20-30% of your sodium intake.

I like to pay more attention to the nitrates and nitrites added to preserve cold cuts. As SFGate points out: “Consuming too many nitrates and nitrites has been linked with certain types of cancer”. This includes increased risks of developing pancreatic and colon cancer.

It’s best said that most processed meats are for eating in small portions and I always opt for lean, low-sodium, nitrate and nitrite free cold cuts where possible.

20. Soup

canned soupCanned soups are notorious for being high in sodium and fat. Creamed soups are high in calories and fats, so always opt for vegetable and broth based soups instead.

Lisa Young, Ph.D., R.D., C.D.N. advises picking a soup “with the fewest ingredients and [seeking] at least 3 g of fiber and 5 g of protein—your best bets are bean (lentil, white bean, split pea) and minestrone (Italian soup with veggies, beans, pasta, and herbs in veggie broth)”.

21. Fat-free salad dressing

low fat salad dressingHere’s a tip I always follow, stay away from anything labeled ‘fat-free’. Chances are fat will be the least of your worries when you check out the other ingredients companies have to use to make up for the missing fat content.

Typical fat-free salad dressings are made of water, corn syrup, and soybean oil; a classic low cost trifecta for companies to manufacture cheap products to us.

We know that corn syrup is bad for us but what about soybean oil?

According to Chris Kresser, soybean oil contains more omega-6 fatty acids than omega-3s. When you consume more omega-6s than omega-3s, you run the risk of developing chronic inflammatory issues like as asthma, allergies, and even arthritis.

The worst ‘health’ drinks

22. Fruit juice

fruit juiceIf you want healthy fruit juice, you’re going to have to grab that blender and make some yourself.

Since most fruit juice on the market lacks fiber, the natural sugar found in the fruit doesn’t have any regulators to slow down the rate of sugar entering your blood. Without fiber slowing the sugar’s journey to your liver, some of it can be turned into fat. And we certainly don’t want that.

23. Bottled tea

bottled teaGreen tea is one of my favorite tools for weight loss and if you want a fat busting drink recipe using green tea, don’t forget about the recipe I shared with you before.

According to claims made by Dr. Mercola, a physician and alternative medicine supporter, the primary antioxidant found in green tea, also known as epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), has shown an increase in fat oxidation by as much as 33%.

But get this…since the FDA doesn’t regulate tea, you probably don’t know how much tea you’re actually consuming when you drink bottled tea. Many bottled green tea distributors only use trace amounts of EGCG.

These polyphenol antioxidants are the component that provides the health benefits and as WedMD points out, a study by Dr. Li revealed that bottled teas only contain 3-81 mg of polyphenols compared to 50-150 mg in an ordinary home-brewed cup of black or green tea.

I think it’s best to stick to home-brewed tea, don’t you?

24. Coconut water

coconut waterI love coconut water to hydrate and replenish electrolytes when I’ve had a busy day. But coconut water varies in health benefits depending on manufacturers.

Always try to find coconut water made from young coconuts because they are brimming with the nutrient rich water that will help your body. The older the coconuts get, the more time the nutrients in the water have to sit inside the coconut and get reabsorbed into the fruit. This leaves the water depleted of these nutrients.

In my opinion, ignore the coconut waters with added fruit juice concentrates. You’re just drinking unnecessary added sugars. If you want fruit flavored coconut water, drop some fresh chunks of pineapple or peach into your water instead.

Are your favorite ‘healthy’ snacks bad for you?

25. Blue corn chips

blue corn chipsEven though blue corn chips have a higher amount of amino acids and antioxidants per serving than their white corn brothers, these chips are unhealthy no matter what color they are.

Michael R. Peluso, Ph.D. states that: “Processing blue corn flour for the production of tortillas can result in significant losses of anthocyanins and antioxidant capacity. The lime-cooking extrusion process has been found to minimize loss of these valuable phytonutrients”.

When you buy blue corn chips, make sure they’re baked. When blue corn chips are fried, free radicals develop in the chips which causes inflammation and tissue damage in our bodies. Dr. Mercola writes, “High temperatures used to cook them can still cause the formation of carcinogenic substances like acrylamide”.

26. Rice cakes/crackers

rice cakesSince rice cakes seemed like a better option than fatty potato chips, I remember when it seemed like everyone was snacking on rice cakes or crackers to get thin. It was as if everyone forgot that white rice was bad for you.

But are rice cakes really all they are cracked up to be?

I don’t think so.

As Shape magazine points out: “Rice cakes can have a glycemic index rating as high as 91 (pure glucose has a rating of 100), making it the kind of carbohydrate that will send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride”.

27. Pretzels

pretzelYou’re staring at the vending machine at work; you see a bag of fried potato chips and a bag of pretzels. You choose the pretzels thinking you’re opting for the lesser evil.

But then you learn that pretzels are nothing but flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. They are literally devoid of any kind of nutritional value. Pretzels score high on the glycemic index with a score of 70 or more. Thanks to the white flour and sugar in pretzels, your blood sugar and glucose levels spike and you end up feeling worse than before.

No thanks!

28. Commercial peanut butter

peanut butterCommercial peanut butters contain hydrogenated vegetable oils, preservatives, and sugar.

It’s easy to make your own fresh peanut butter without adding any oil. By using some roasted peanuts and adding a little salt to a food processor, you’ll have all the heart healthy benefits without the added preservatives. You can also buy natural peanut butter that’s made via this same process. So look out for the natural option at the store.

My favorite way to enjoy heart healthy nut spreads is by making my own almond butter instead.

For almond butter, I’ll throw 2 cups of roasted ‘no salt’ almonds into my food processor, then I’ll pulse it on and off until it’s smooth. At the end, I’ll add a pinch of salt to taste. Super simple and delicious!

Stay away from these Oils

I talked about some of my favorite cooking oils in this post, but what about the oils I didn’t include in my list?

29. Canola oil

canola oilAn article by Sally Fallon and Mary G. Enig, PhD explains that canola oil goes through a refining process that involves high temperatures and ‘questionable safety’.

While canola oil has tons of omega-3 fatty acids, the high temperatures make these smell bad in the oil so the oil has to be deodorized. “The standard deodorization process removes a large portion of the omega-3 fatty acids by turning them into trans fatty acids…[R]esearch at the University of Florida at Gainesville, found trans levels as high as 4.6 percent in commercial liquid oil”.

And guess what? These trans fatty acids are not listed on the canola nutrition label.

30. Palm oil

palm oilYou may not be cooking with palm oil, but I keep seeing it listed in ingredients of food items like cereal, peanut butter, soy milk, and other processed food.

The palm oil industry has been expanding ever since we started our campaign against trans fats. Since trans fats raise bad cholesterol levels and lower good cholesterol levels, it’s no wonder companies have been forced to get rid of them by replacing them with palm oil.

But a study shared with the National Center for Biotechnology Information states that: “Palm oil consumption results in higher LDL cholesterol than…vegetable oils low in saturated fat and higher HDL cholesterol”.

31. Margarine

margarine on toastMargarine gained popularity when butter was being villainized. But the truth is, we should always choose butter over margarine.

To make margarine, companies have to add hydrogen to unsaturated fats to create a solid and spreadable saturated fat. This is how trans fats are formed. These trans fatty acids will raise LDL levels, or bad cholesterol.

The American Heart Association says: “Eating trans fats increases your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. It’s also associated with a higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes”.

So that sums up our list of 31 foods. Were you just as surprised as I was to see so-called ‘healthy’ food contain so many unhealthy ingredients?

With added sugars, questionable ingredients, and purposefully confusing advertising, it’s no wonder people are becoming obese and sick at such an alarming rate.

I believe the only way to combat this is by eating a diet rich in unprocessed fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. I hope these tips help you clean out your ‘healthy’ pantry to make way for some truly nutritious food.

Which ‘healthy’ food are you definitely avoiding from now on?