The 13 Foods That Aren’t As Healthy As You Thought.

There are a variety of food products out there, especially packaged foods, which have the reputation of being very healthy choices. While some of these foods may rightfully deserve that reputation, many of them are not as good for you as you might have been led to believe. That’s not necessarily to say these foods are unhealthy or that you shouldn’t eat them, rather that you should be aware that there are certain limitations to their healthfulness.

Today I will take a closer look at 13 of these foods, explain why they aren’t necessarily as great for you as may have thought, and provide you with alternative choices. 

1. Instant Oatmeal: Rolled or instant oats, the 1-minute microwaveable variety you often see at grocery stores, are a prime example of a food with a greater reputation than they deserve. While whole oats are a very healthful grain, high in numerous important nutrients and soluble fibre, rolled or instant oats are a heavily refined version of the original (which is why you can cook them so quickly) that will raise your blood sugar levels by about the same amount as a bowl of frosted flakes. The solution? Opt for steel cut oats which are a much less refined version of the grain that is closer to its originally intended state and won’t raise your blood sugar nearly as much.

2. Granola:  Picture taking your rolled instant oats (as in the above) and then baking them with a bunch of fat and sugar. That is, more or less, granola. Granola is a nice treat for once in a while, but I do not want you thinking you are doing your body any great favours by eating this stuff regularly.

3. Salted nuts/seeds: Nuts and seeds are healthy, nutrient dense foods that contain many important nutrients that most people do not eat enough of. However, salted varieties of these foods contribute to our already sodium-overloaded diet. Once you add enough salt to a healthy food, it is no longer as good for you as it used to be. 

4. Yogurt:  Don’t get me wrong, yogurt can be a great source of calcium, protein and probiotics (healthy bacteria). However, many of the sweetened and high fat varieties of yogurt you encounter in coffee shops or in the supermarket really aren’t that great for you. They are generally high in calories relative to the amount of calcium and protein they contain. My suggestion would be to stick to unsweetened lower-fat Greek yogurt varieties that are higher in protein and lower in calories. You can sweeten your yogurt naturally by adding your own fruit or honey. 

5. 100% Whole Wheat Bread:  Did you know that your 100% whole wheat bread may not actually be a true whole grain product. Even if that bread says “whole grain” on the product label, it still might not be whole grain. These products may actually contain refined wheat or other grains which are not as nutritious as whole grains. How can this be? Currently there is no regulation in Canada for the use of the “whole grain” label on products. The only way you ensure your bread is whole grain (ie: unrefined) is by looking on the ingredients list for “whole grain whole wheat” or “whole wheat flour with added germ”.  If it does not contain one of these two ingredients, your bread is not as healthy as you thought it was. 

6. Peanut butter:  Did you know that natural peanut butter is not naturally 100% solid at room temperature? The common varieties you may find at the supermarket have added fats, usually saturated fats, which allow them to retain that perfect shape and solidity (they usually have added sugar and sodium as well). If you haven’t already, I recommend giving all natural peanut butter a try. Just remember that you will probably need to store it in the fridge. 

7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Olive oil is probably the best recognized of all the vegetable oils, and for good reason. It is high in monounsaturated fats which have been shown to have a positive effect on blood cholesterol and heart health. The reason why olive oil makes this list, however, is that it is not particularly safe to cook with at high temperatures (>400 F). Olive oil has a moderate smoke point, which means that if it is exposed to extremely high heat, it will form compounds that are dangerous to your health. Olive oil remains an extremely healthy addition to your foods when their ready to eat, but opt for higher smoke point oils such as sunflower, safflower or avocado oil when it comes to cooking at high heat ( 400 F and above).

8. Canned Tuna:  Canned tuna is an affordable and extremely popular protein source for many people. The only issue that I have with tuna is that it is generally higher in mercury (especially albacore) and lower in vitamin D and/or omega 3 fatty acids than other canned fish options such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. While still being a decent option, it is not the best canned fish variety available to you.

9. Cheese: Cheese is a good source of protein and one of the naturally richest sources of calcium, a nutrient that many of us need more of. Unfortunately, it is also generally high in sodium, saturated fat and calories, three things that none of us need more of. My recommendation? Enjoy cheese occasionally and try to stick to lower fat varieties whenever possible.

10. White Rice: Savvy observers will note that a bowl of white rice is actually one of the dishes on display in the grains section of the Canadian Food Guide. White rice is not a whole grain, nor is it rich in fibre or nutrients. Most white rice varieties, especially sticky types, will increase your blood sugar levels about as high as the instant oats that I discussed previously. My suggestion would be to stick to brown rice or brown rice as often as possible to be enjoying a truly healthy whole grain.

11. Protein/Energy Bars: Despite eating my fair share of these products when I was younger, I cannot endorse their use. Almost all of these bars are highly processed, expensive, high in sodium, high in fat, high in sugar and the list goes on. If you want a quick source of energy and protein, grab a glass of milk (or milk alternative) and a banana which I believe to be a better choice than even the healthiest varieties of these bars. 

12. 100% Fruit Juice: Despite 100% fruit juice being a better choice than sugar-added fruit drinks such as lemonade or fruit punch, it really isn’t that great. Although the Canadian food guide equates ½ cup of 100% fruit juice to a serving of fruit, I’m still not sold. Compared to a whole fruit, ½ cup of juice can be consumed in a fraction of time and lacks the fibre that the whole fruit will have, one of its most important components. Not to mention the fact that nobody drinks just ½ cup of juice and there is great room overconsumption of calories and sugar. Don’t get me wrong, having a glass of juice once in a while is fine and it is certainly better than pop, but nothing comes close to eating the whole fruit.

13. Smoothies: Lucky number thirteen just had to be smoothies. For similar reasons as fruit juice, smoothies fall into the category of not being as healthy as you thought. They are certainly decent options for people who may not otherwise eat certain fruits or vegetables, but it isn’t all sunshine and roses. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but when you heavily blend your fruits and vegetables you are delegating important components of digestion away from your gastrointestinal tract and that is not a great thing to be doing on a regular basis.

Thus concludes my list of thirteen foods that are not quite as healthy as you may have thought they were. It may have surprised you to see that many of the foods on this list actually appear as suggested items on the Canadian Food Guide. Although I am generally a big supporter of the food guide, I did expose some of its limitations here today. 

Please keep in mind that I am not suggesting you outlaw the food selections that this article highlighted, rather that you might consider having them less often in favour of some of the proposed alternatives. If you are eating many of the foods on this list, I believe it is a sign that you are very close to eating well, so do not take it as a negative.

I sincerely hope that the suggestions I provided here today will help you make even better food choices going forward and I hope equally that I haven’t ruined most of your favourite foods. 

Until next time, Eat Up!
Andy De Santis RD MPH