In this day and age of contradictory headlines and more information than we can digest, the diet and nutrition industry is all too keen to push products that promise great health benefits and rewards, but are these products as healthy as they claim to be? Below we highlight 10 supposed ‘healthy’ products that actually have the opposite effect.
Fruit yoghurt is often touted as a healthy snack, but flavoured and fruit-on-the-bottom yoghurts are often loaded with more sugar than a bag of sweets. While they might advertise as containing real fruit and ‘natural’ flavours, this mostly makes up a tiny percentage with the bulk of the sweetness coming from sugars and syrups – and that ‘natural’ flavour doesn’t necessarily come from the fruit that the yoghurt is flavoured after – there’s a whole host of bizarre places that flavourings can be made from.
Have this instead: Opt for plain, full-fat Greek yoghurt, which is packed with more protein & less sugar and you can add fruit for a sweeter, healthier snack.
Low-fat dairy options – low-fat cheese, low-fat yoghurt, or skimmed milk – are not quite the healthy options they are believed to be. Fat is an important dietary nutrient in helping us digest vitamins, help in cell growth & repair, and maintain a healthy weight. Dairy products with fat removed or skimmed down will either leave you with just the simple sugars or you’ll often find fat being replaced by extra sugars or bulking agents to keep the flavour creating a product that might be lower calorie, but is not healthy for your body.
Have this instead: Choose regular or ‘full-fat’ dairy options for a healthier, more nutritionally rounded product that will keep you fuller for longer.
Fruit juices are believed to be a very healthy choice, especially when compared to soft drinks and fizzy pop. They will advertise how they contain great amounts of vitamin C or how they come from only fresh fruit, but the truth is the juice you can find in the supermarket generally contains a very small percentage of real fruit, with the rest of the taste coming from additional chemicals or added sugars & sweeteners. Even fruit juices that are branded as 100% fruit only really contain the sugars from that fruit, without the necessary fibre that the body requires to digest and use the vitamins that fruit contains.
Have this instead: Most fruits consist of a large percentage of water, eating a piece of fruit not only gives you a great amount of vitamins and fibre, but can keep you hydrated too.
Margarine has been used for a long time as a ‘heart-healthy’ replacement for butter, and while thankfully we are beginning to see some turnaround on this in the media, the market is still full to the brim of margarines and spreads promising all sorts of health benefits. The unfortunate truth is that these spreads consist of trans-fats and refined vegetable oils which react badly in the human body, promoting inflammation, and actually leading to higher risk of heart disease rather than lower it as the promise. Even olive oil spreads or spreads that contain plant sterols contain such a minimal amount of this that your body will be getting no benefit whatsoever.
Have this instead: Natural butter is full to the brim of vitamins and healthy fat, important in creating the building blocks of human cells and repairing damage. Use sparingly for a tastier, healthier spread.
Vegetable & sunflower oils are low-grade, refined cooking oils that are made cheaply and feature little-to-no nutritional value for cooking or consumption. In fact, these oils are full of omega-6 fatty acids, which create and promote inflammation in arteries and the body thereby increasing risk of cardiovascular disease and other health problems.
Have this instead: Olive oil and coconut oil contain many heart-healthy saturated and monounsaturated fats, while coconut oil has been shown to maintain its chemical structure at very high heats, making it the healthy preference for use as a cooking oil
Breakfast cereals are perhaps the worst offender when it comes to false advertisement of health benefits. Cereal packaging will be chock-full of claims of ‘healthy wholegrains’ ‘fortified with vitamins’ and many more. The truth of the matter is these cereals are so packed full of sugars, syrups, and flavourings that they can in no way count as a healthy breakfast, from cheerios, to (obviously) sugar puffs, even to all-bran, the sugar content on these products far outweighs any benefits they otherwise may have had. Breakfast cereal may be useful as a pre-workout sugary snack but that’s as far as it goes!
Have this instead: Have a combination of eggs/spinach/mushrooms or good old porridge for breakfast to get an easily cooked, more nutritionally-rounded meal. If you must choose cereals or something faster than a cooked breakfast then Shredded Wheat is a the only packaged cereal that contains no hidden sugars or syrups! Add some fruit, seeds, or nuts for a filling breakfast.
While this could have been covered in the cereal entry, granola & muesli seems to be a more extreme version, being considered as a much more ‘healthy’ or ‘diet’ product than most cereals with people make the move from consuming sugary cereals or cooked breakfasts to eating a portion of muesli in the mornings. This is no surprise, as muesli is often specifically marketed to the health-conscious crowd.
You may be surprised to learn that the type of muesli that you can find in most shops is actually quite bad for your body if you are trying to shed fat or maintain a healthy weight. Specifically, muesli can provide as much as 500 calories per serving (a much smaller amount than you would imagine), with even the sugar-free option containing an unacceptable amount of added sugar, syrups, and flavourings used to bind the grains together.
Have this instead: As mentioned above, a cooked breakfast containing eggs, mushrooms, vegetables etc will always be preferable, however for a quicker option then Shredded Wheat with added berries, nuts & seeds is a much healthier breakfast choice than granola or muesli.
Supermarkets put energy bars in the areas reserved for health foods or foods that enhance weight loss, these bars are also commonly featured in many health food stores, though they aren’t really health foods at all. Some bars contain up to 500 calories, the same amount of calories as a small dinner or a large lunch. This is because they are designed to be meal replacements for active, on-the-go individuals however the nutrition content is vastly different and is not sustainable or healthy practice with studies showing this meal-replacement strategy leading to longer term weight gain and health problems.
In spite of the huge amount of calories inside them, however, energy bars are often very small. This discrepancy in size leaves you feeling hungry again soon after eating one. So, you get a huge calorie load without feeling satiated. Also, much like the granola mentioned above, these bars are packed full or sugars and syrups to hold them together, leading to a huge sugar spike from one small bar.
Have this instead: A handful of nuts or a portion of fruit will contain around 50-100 calories while also providing much more nutrients for your body leading to a fuller feeling and a healthier body.
No matter what the adverts claim, Belvita biscuits are always very high in sugar (which is usually high-fructose corn syrup) and low in nutrients. Far from the healthy breakfast option they claim to be, Belvita biscuits come in all sorts of forms and flavours however the end result is always the same, a nutritionally weak food item that will cause sugar spikes and contain no real benefit for your body. One serving (4 cookies) contain around 250 calories and around 4 teaspoons worth of sugar.
Have this instead: Almost anything would be a better option, however for the same amount of calories and a more satisfying and sustainable snack you could choose a slice of whole grain toast with peanut butter and a banana.
Written by me: Keith Fairburn
Personal Trainer, Sports Therapist, S&C Coach.
Ninja Warrior Semi-Finalist, Obstacle Racer, Salming Running Ambassador.
If you have any questions about anything I’ve written in this post or want to get in touch, contact me.