'Healthy foods' that aren't as healthy as you think

By Alistair Gardiner
Published July 2, 2021

Key Takeaways

There are plenty of ways to ruin an otherwise healthy food—manufacturers do it all the time by adding tons of sugar, sauces, dressings, or other unhealthy ingredients. In fact, many of the foods we consider to be “healthy” either have nutrients processed out of them, or insidiously high levels of sugars, fats, and artificial ingredients.

Here are six so-called healthy foods that aren’t actually as good for you as you might think.

Flavored and low-fat yogurt

Yogurt, especially the lowfat or nonfat kind, is often touted as a health food. This ancient dietary favorite boasts important nutrients like protein (particularly high in Greek yogurt); calcium, necessary for healthy bones, teeth, and proper muscle and nerve function; and probiotics, the beneficial bacteria that support the immune system—to name a few. There’s even research suggesting that yogurt is good for heart health by helping to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as helping to prevent long-term weight gain, according to an article by the Cleveland Clinic.

But the next time you pick up some yogurt from the dairy aisle, take a closer look at the label: Many types of yogurt, especially the fruit-flavored varieties, are packed with added sugar and other ingredients that aren’t doing your body any favors.  

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends limiting calories from added sugars to less than 10 percent of total calories per day. For a 2,000-calorie daily diet, that translates to 200 calories, or 50 grams of added sugars per day. Limiting excess sugar is important because consuming too much is associated with obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, certain cancers, tooth decay, and more.

When it comes to yogurt, even the plain variety contains naturally occurring sugar in the form of lactose. Then consider that many flavored yogurt varieties include a lot of added sugars—2 teaspoons of sugar per 2.25 oz serving or even more, depending on the brand.  

What’s more, “low-fat yogurts” can appear to be a healthier option while actually containing high levels of unhealthy ingredients. For example, many brands of low-fat yogurt don’t include as much sugar, but do contain high levels of artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, which have been linked to depression, neurological problems, and stroke. Many yogurts also contain modified corn starches, preservatives, artificial flavors, food dyes, and other unwanted ingredients.  

To maximize the health benefits of yogurt, stick to moderate portions of the plain varieties. If they don’t bring enough flavor or sweetness for you, add some fresh fruits and berries, honey, or cinnamon. 

The bottom line? Not all yogurt is created equal, so a careful look at the nutrition label is key. 

Fruit juice

It feels natural to assume that fruit juice is good for you, and there are some ways in which that’s true. While fruit juice gives you a good boost of vitamin C, potassium, and certain other nutrients, it’s among the worst ways to consume fruit. 

According to registered dietitian Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD, fruit juices contain a lot of natural sugars, but they lack the fiber found in whole fruits, which means the sugar is absorbed far more quickly in juices. In addition, some brands of fruit juices (particularly those sold as “fruit juice cocktails”) contain a lot of added sugar.

The takeaway? Avoid fruit juice and stick to whole fruits whenever possible. 

Vegetable chips and veggie puffs

While wandering the chip aisle, many of us have made the decision to opt for vegetable chips or vegetable puffs as opposed to the traditional potato variety, believing we’re making the healthier choice. 

According to Jennings, while these chips are made from vegetables, they’re often processed to the point where they’ve lost the nutrients for which whole vegetables are known. In addition, they typically contain about 125-160 calories and as much as 12 grams of fat per ounce.

Likewise, veggie puffs are not the healthy snack marketers would have us believe. In fact, veggie puffs are primarily made of refined grains, like corn flour, soy flour, or rice. The vegetables listed on the label are usually powdered, which means that most of the vitamins and minerals have been lost during processing.  

Low-fat peanut butter

Peanut butter can be a bit of an indulgence calorie-wise, but perhaps you’ve found yourself thinking that a low-fat spread could be a more innocent option. Turns out that may not be the case. 

Natural peanut butter (which contains just peanuts) has a lot of healthy monounsaturated fats and protein. Low-fat varieties have fewer natural fats, but in lieu of this, producers tend to add ingredients like corn syrup, sugar, soy protein, or even synthetic fats like hydrogenated oils and mono- and diglycerides. To illustrate: natural peanut butter typically contains about 2 g of sugars per serving. However, low-fat Jif peanut butter contains 4 g of sugar per serving. 

Better to stick to natural peanut butter and keep a close eye on the nutrition label.


By this point, granola is close to becoming a synonym for “healthy food,” but a quick look at the label should dispel this myth. 

Granola has a lot of carbs, which are a good source of energy—particularly for people who are active. However, a typical store-bought variety can contain as much as 13 g of sugar per serving, which is roughly 27% of your daily recommended intake. 

According to registered dietician Nancy Clark, RD, while the fruits and nuts in this food provide healthy fats and potassium, the amounts in most granolas are not enough to offer much benefit. 

Clark also points out that the ingredients of granola are often stuck together with a sticky sweetener, which is one of the reasons for its high sugar content. 

Prepared salads

If you’re heading out to lunch, a salad is always a healthy choice, right? Well, that’s not always the case, according to dieticians and nutritional data

A typical salad with chicken contains 550 calories and 43 g of protein. But it may also feature as much as 33 g of fat (51% of your daily recommended intake), 740 mg of sodium (32% of your daily recommended intake), 11 g of sugar, and 290 mg of cholesterol (97% of your daily recommended intake).

According to registered dietician Susan Bowerman, salads can have “more calories and fat than a cheeseburger.” This is partly because shop-bought salads often feature lots of tasty little extras, like cheese, bacon, sour cream, or oily croutons, all of which are high in fat. 

But the main culprit, in this case, is the dressing. A creamy or cheesy dressing can add as much as 75 calories per tablespoon to your salad, and many restaurants add up to 8 tablespoons to your salad. Half a cup of ranch dressing has 600 calories and 60 g of fat.

It’s far better to make your own salad, so you know exactly which ingredients are going into it. Try making your own healthy dressing, too: A little vinegar, olive oil, and lemon juice should do the trick and satisfy your tastebuds.

Want to read more about this topic? Check out Here’s why your food isn’t as healthy as it appears, on MDLinx.   

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