10 ‘healthy’ snacks you should avoid

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published May 13, 2019

Key Takeaways

Some snacks are obviously healthy, such as fruits or vegetables. Other snacks appear healthy but they actually aren't. Even though ingredients and calories are listed on nutrition labels, many people don't take the time to look. In fact, nearly 50% of US adults reported that they "sometimes," "rarely," or "never" read nutrition labels, according to the FDA's most recent Health and Diet Survey.

Despite what you may have heard, snacking is part of a balanced diet. With that in mind, let's take a look at 10 snacks that seem healthy but can be bad for you.

Flavored yogurt

Yogurt is healthy for plenty of reasons, including its high vitamin D, calcium, and protein content. But flavored yogurt can contain 15-plus grams of sugar per serving and thus, a higher caloric profile. These extra calories make flavored yogurt—despite its pleasant taste—a bad snack choice. Opt for plain yogurt instead. If you're craving something sweeter, toss in some healthy toppings such as blueberries for extra flavor, antioxidants, and energy.

Trail mix

Trail mix sounds healthy. Its name is reminiscent of the outdoors. But many brands of trail mix include less-than-healthy ingredients, such as M&Ms or chocolate chips. Furthermore, many types of trail mix use salted nuts rather than unsalted nuts, which can raise your blood pressure level, and sweetened vs unsweetened dried fruits, which will add excess sugar to your diet.

Reduced-fat peanut butter

If choosing between regular peanut butter and reduced-fat peanut butter, go with regular peanut butter. This advice may sound strange, but keep in mind the fats in peanut butter are healthy monounsaturated fats. Moreover, when fat is removed from peanut butter to make the reduced-fat variety, sugars and other fillers are added back in. The resulting reduced-fat variety has the same amount of calories as the regular version sans healthy fats.

Flavored rice cakes

Rice cakes on their own are low in calories. Flavored rice cakes, however, are dusted with salt and sugar. If you have to choose between plain rice cakes and flavored ones, go plain. But people with diabetes beware: Rice cakes of any sort can spike blood sugar levels because they are made of highly refined carbohydrates.


When it comes to pretzels, don't be tricked by claims of low fat, fat free, and low sodium. Although these claims may be true, pretzels are usually made from refined carbohydrates with little nutritional value. As a snack, pretzels won't sustain you. Instead, they'll give you a quick sugar high.


Like trail mix, granola is associated with the purity of nature. But granola can make for a sinister snack if you're not careful. Typically, granola is sweetened with sugar, which adds extra calories. Additionally, it's easy to go overboard with granola and consume way too many portions.

Fruit cocktail in syrup

Canned fruit can be just as healthy as its fresh counterpart. But fruit cocktail consisting of bits of pears, grapes, cherries, peaches, and pineapples coated in heavy syrup makes for a bad snack. The syrup adds 10 grams of sugar per serving, which translates to an additional 40 calories. Moreover, the cherries often contain artificial colors to make them more attractive to the consumer. Instead, opt for fruit cocktail in 100% natural juice or—even better—fresh fruit salad.

Deli meats

Sure, some may be marketed as lean, but protein and fat content aside, deli meats are loaded with nitrates, sodium, additives, and preservatives. These things have been linked to heart disease and cancer. A much healthier alternative could involve preparing chicken or turkey breast in the oven and later slicing these meats into sandwich-sized strips.

Veggie straws

Although "veggie" is in the name, veggie straws are a terrible snack. These airy, crunchy, straw-shaped crisps contain no protein or fiber, lack nutrients, and are only slightly better than potato chips because they contain a little less fat. For a healthier, authentic veggie alternative, try munching on celery sticks or baby carrots with a tasty dipping sauce, like hummus.


Sprouts themselves are healthy. The problem is that Escherichia coli, Listeria, and Salmonella thrive in the same warm, moist conditions where sprouts grow. In recent years, there have been numerous recalls due to bacterial contamination of bean, pea, and alfalfa sprouts.

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