If there is one thing that pisses me off about the health and fitness industry, it’s shady marketers. And there are no shadier ones than those responsible for selling junk food disguised as “health” food to the mass market.
Millions of unsuspecting people buy so called healthy foods because the label says “low fat” or they saw a commercial with a celebrity or sports star making it appear to to be good for them.
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong.
Obviously I’m no match for companies like Nabisco, Coca-Cola, or Nestle, but it still pisses me off to no end.
These companies are literally feeding us shit products under the guise of a misleading label and we are all dumb enough to believe it. So we buy them, eat them, and wonder why we’re still fat.
There are too many to list, so I’ve chosen the following 8 “health” foods as examples.
1) Diet Soda
This has to be one of the worst offenders in the history of mankind. How many times have you seen someone eating a Big Mac, large fries, and a huge diet coke? People are led to believe that because it has no calories, it must be good for you.
There are so many fundamental things wrong with diet soda and include the following:
- Can lead to metabolic syndrome
- Increased appetite and hunger response
- Is linked to depression
- Associated risk of developing Type 2 Diabetes
This article does a good job discussing the health effects and links out to a number of studies on why this shit will kill you.
OK, water is the best choice by far, but herbal tea/green tea and coffee is acceptable as well.
2) Energy bars
The concept of the energy or meal replacement bar has fooled many of us into thinking we’re eating quality protein and stuff our bodies need before or after exercise.
In all reality, most are nothing more than upgraded candy bars loaded with chemicals and sugars. Quest has done a “nice” job of using sugar alcohols in their bars to advertise they are “low sugar” bars. Too bad sugar alcohols aren’t good for us either and their bars taste like a plastic bag. I’m guessing it’s from all the chemicals in there..
Luna Bars, while popular and arguably pretty damn tasty, are filled with sugars and soy and have little protein or fiber in comparison. PowerBar Protein Plus Bars, which boasts 30 grams of protein, is loaded with sugar, artificial sweeteners, and processed soy. Stay away!
Although it sounds a little strange and you may have to mentally prepare yourself for it, a meat bar from Epic is a great replacement for your Balance Bar. It’s made with grass fed beef, which is very important given all the steroids in most meats.
As a second choice, Lara Bars are a pretty decent option and most are gluten and soy free. Kind Bars are also a decent choice in a pinch.
It should be a criminal act that Smoothie King (or its competitors) can call their shakes healthy. They are nothing more than sugary blends with fake fruit and low grade protein powder added.
Below is the nutritional profile of one of their high protein smoothies and this one is one of the better ones. Some of their smoothies have more calories then 4 Snickers bars.
Make it yourself! I make mine after my workouts and they contain a fraction of the sugar and garbage they put into Smoothie King ones. And if you haven’t read enough about the negative effects of refined sugar, this post breaks it down nicely.
- 1 scoop of protein powder. I use Dymatize or Vega Protein & Greens (plant based) and prefer vanilla flavor because it tastes better with berries.
- 1 cup frozen berries. I use a store brand strawberry, blueberry, and raspberry medley and it costs around $4.
- 1-1.5 cups of almond or coconut milk. Almond milk makes them creamier than coconut.
- 1 huge handful of fresh spinach. It turns the shake purple/brown, but you can’t really taste the spinach.
- 2 ice cubes
4) Frozen “healthy” meals
The diet industry has made billions of dollars peddling “healthy” pre-packaged and frozen meals.
Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers. NutriSystem. All these companies spend millions to market their products, which in my opinion, are almost worthless from a long-term health standpoint.
I mean, how does a company sell a packaged chicken meal that doesn’t require refrigeration or freezing? These aren’t military grade MRE’s, they are meant for people just trying to get healthy.
Just look at the nutritional label on this popular “healthy” frozen dinner:
Sure they have only 270 calories, but notice that is per serving. And is there anything really healthy in this? How is this going to benefit anyone other than the company selling it?
And you can forget about regular frozen dinners, which for the most part, are nothing more than processed mounds of dehydrated and preserved foods. The sodium count on many of them is off the charts and can give you high blood pressure just looking at them!
Cooking fresh foods is the obvious answer, but for frozen meals, here are a few of the better choices:
- Chicken Penne Pomodoro from Evol
- Kashi Mediterranean Thin Crust Pizza
- Amy’s Black-Eyed Peas and Veggie Bowl
5) Dried fruit
While it may seem like eating dried fruit allows you to get in all those vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants that are in fruit, what you don’t realize is that it’s very calorie dense (and subsequently sugar/fructose dense).
They also often like to coat them with sugar to give them more flavor. Not exactly a healthy snack..
And have you ever tried eating a single dried apricot? It’s damn near impossible and after you’ve sucked down 6 or 7 of them, you realize two things:
- You need to find a toilet ASAP
- You just ate 350 calories consisting basically of sugar
Fresh fruit, baby!
6) Reduced fat peanut butter
Peanut butter is supposed to be healthy, right? Well yes and no. It is a decent source of fats, which we need and it does have some protein (which is lower quality).
When you eat peanut butter, you want the fat. The reduced fat version was intended to take advantage of the “low fat” craze that was popular for so long. The problem is that it’s almost the same amount of calories, but they make up for the lost fat by adding more sugar. Bad.
One of the best nut butters I’ve found is called NuttZo. As you can see by the ingredient list, it’s really just nuts and seeds. And it tastes freakin awesome!
If you must use peanut butter, use the natural stuff. It doesn’t have the same taste, but it’s much better for you. Preferably, use almond or cashew butter.
7) Instant oatmeal
Oatmeal is synonymous with healthy carbs in the fitness world and in some cases, it’s justified. The problem arises when you start using the pre-packaged instant flavors. These refined products are lower in protein and fiber than natural oatmeal and use added sugar.
Steel cut oats are the best choice here. They take longer to cook than instant oatmeal but the nutritional benefits make it worth it.
8) Trail mix
Most commercial trail mixes are nothing more than salted peanuts with candy and dried fruit (see #5). The sodium content is off the charts and many use added oil and sugar, making it very calorie dense.
So after eating a few (or 10) handfuls, you’ve almost filled your daily quota for calories!
Make your own mix or only eat those that are unsalted, have almonds, coconut, and fruit. Avoid anything with chocolate, added salt, or candy (damn you M&M’s!).
It’s Not All Bad
Yes, there are a lot of shady companies selling us garbage disguised as healthy foods, but if you do your homework and pay attention to the details, it can be much easier to stay away from them.
Read those labels carefully and make sure you know what things like sugar alcohols and aspartame are. These compaines make money through our ignorance. Educate yourself on what’s actually good for you and what’s not.
What foods would you add to this list?
What about cliff bars? I eat them when hustling to my kids games or practices before work…… Thought they were the healthiest thing in the gas station….. And they taste great! I’m hoping…… Finger crossed!!
They are probably one of the healthier snacks at the gas station, although still not great. A better choice would be some all natural beef jerky. My local gas station sells some pretty high quality ones too!
Would love to hear your comments on cereals… Cereals like Cheerios advertise lowering cholesterol while failing to mention the high sugar content. Any advise on a good ( if any ) cereal that you would recommend. Great article by the way. Is it okay to share this information with my patients? Keep up the good work.
It sickens me to see all the misrepresented products out there which lead us to believe they are healthy, when in fact, they are not. Cheerios can get away with their claims because they do have oats in them along with vitamins and minerals. But if you look at pretty much any product, you can find some redeeming quality in it.
But the fact is that they use refined oats, which are far less nutritious and add sugar and corn syrup as well, which are obviously NOT healthy. Companies also love to advertise “low sugar” or “low fat”, which can be used because of the small portion sizes they list on the labels. If you eat a normal size serving, which most people do and then some, then you end up losing that benefit, but they will never tell you that.
As far as healthier choices for cereals, look for ones made by Kashi, Barbara’s Puffins, Peace cereals, or Grapenuts. Just look for low sugar and high fiber but also check for the top 3 or 4 ingredients and avoid ones with sugar or its derivatives listed. And sure, feel free to share this.
Great article. Many of these products have done such a good job of convincing people that they actually are healthy that they continue to do business and most of us don’t bat an eye, even if we exercise and watch our diet regularly. Energy bars are a huge one. The gym I used to work at would sell out of their shipments almost instantly because of the demand.
I would add fruit juice to the list. On the surface it looks like a healthier alternative to soda but in fact is high in calories and filled with as much sugar without the fiber. It’s easy to end up drinking way too much especially if you think it’s a healthy option. Better to stick with water or tea for your drinks, and real fruit and vegetables in your diet.