'Healthy' Foods That Are Actually Ruining Your Diet

A nutritionist shares the health food impostors to avoid in order to keep your diet on track.

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Health Food Impostors

Your intentions are healthy, but your choices may not be. Prevent diet sabotage by smartening up about these seemingly-nutritious foods.

Fat-Free Salad Dressing

Keeping oil out of the bottle means your dressing is mostly water, salt, sugar and thickeners to give it some body. You and your salad would benefit from the healthy fats in olive oil so make your own or shop for a vinaigrette with a simple ingredient list.

Canned Soup

Opening a can of soup at the end of a busy day may not be the healthy option you bargained for. In addition to the ghastly amounts of sodium that canned soups are famous for there are also plenty of thickeners, coloring agents and other chemicals sealed in those cans. Some brands offer lower sodium varieties that still manage to pack in one-third of your daily dose of salt per serving. Add some fresh veggies and leftover chicken to a low sodium boxed chicken or vegetable broth instead.

Enhanced Waters

Whether they are spiked with supplemental vitamins, artificial sweeteners, other questionable additives, or all of the above, there are clearly better ways to stay hydrated. Check ingredient labels carefully as many of these beverages are more processed than they seem.

Frozen Diet Meals

Words like "lean" and "fit" or "smart" can dupe a health-conscious consumer into thinking they’re making a wise choice but many frozen entrees are processed junk in disguise. Armed with plenty of sodium and long lists of other preservatives, you’d be much better off sharpening your meal prep skills.

Bottled Juice Blends

They may promise to deliver multiple servings of fruits and vegetables, but these drinks often come with a hefty dose of added sugars, plus a bottle full of calories (upwards of 200 per serving. There’s no slurpable replacement for fiber-filled whole fruits and veggies.

Sandwich Wraps

Trying to cut the calories on your sandwich by switching to a wrap? These round flour tortillas may stack up to the same calorie count as 3 or 4 slices of bread. Be especially careful when ordering wraps at delis and restaurants, as these wraps tend to have the largest circumferences (10-inches or more!).

Fruit Snacks

Seems like a new gummy item hits store shelves every day. It’s a challenge to find much fruit in these candy-like chews; the texture also wreaks havoc on your teeth. Instead reach for real dehydrated fruit without added sugar and enjoy in moderation.

Natural Flavors

This term is used for a plethora of ingredients added to food to enhance flavor and aroma. While they are derived from plant or animal products, they are made in a laboratory and likely less natural than you think. A better option would be whole foods where the flavor and smell come from nothing but real food, herbs and spices.

Packaged Ramen

Leave these salty noodle cups in college dorm rooms where they belong. Social media hacks suggest skipping the flavor packet but that block of noodles is also spiked with sodium and unhealthy fats. If you really want to experience the glory of authentic ramen noodles, find a local restaurant where it’s offered on the menu.

Snack Mixes

Lots of trail mixes and other sweet-salty-crunchy concoctions may be handy snacks, but be careful that you’re not mindlessly munching on not-so-healthy versions. Many packaged varieties come filled with sugary candies and heavily seasoned crunchy bits. Some also contain highly processed sweeteners and partially hydrogenated oils (aka trans fats).

Protein Bars

In search of a high protein post workout snack? Try a sandwich! Just because it has the word "protein" on the label doesn’t mean a bar is a high-quality food. Many popular protein bars are nothing but candy bars spiked with protein powder so read labels carefully.

Diet Drinks

Calorie-free bevvies like soda, fruit drinks, and teas may help reduce your calorie count but may still not be worth gulping. Not only are you slurping chemical replacements for sugar, but also research has linked these artificial sweeteners to increased cravings for other high-sugar (and high-calorie) foods.

Low-Calorie Yogurts

The lowest-calorie option isn’t always the healthiest. When it comes to junk food in disguise, yogurt may be one of the worst offenders. Some ultra-low-cal yogurts cut back on sugar and fat but replace them with artificial sweeteners and thickeners. Check the ingredient list on your favorite brand.

Protein Powders

The idea of having a protein-infused shake to start your day or end a workout seems to have mass appeal, but as it turns out, it’s not doing you much good. You might just be whirling a whole lot of extra calories into your day. Instead of expensive powders, opt for pure-food options like Greek yogurt and peanut butter to boost the protein in your favorite blended drinks.


Plant-based oils like olive, safflower, grapeseed and canola can benefit heart health but still must be consumed in moderation. Any oil you choose packs in about 120 calories and 14 grams of fat per serving. Pay attention to portions when cooking and drizzling, to avoid a steep increase in calories.

Gluten-Free Baked Goods

“Gluten-free” anything is often mistaken for a healthier alternative, but a cookie is still a cookie even when made sans gluten. In fact, many gluten-free baked items are higher in calories than their wheat-filled counterparts. Folks who suffer from celiac disease must steer clear of gluten by carefully reading food labels.

Whole-Grain Pasta

Whole-grain breads, pastas and cereals are certainly the best options to boost fiber, vitamins and minerals, but portions still matter. Two cups of cooked whole-wheat pasta contains 420 calories (compare that with the 4-to-6-cup servings that most restaurants offer). For the healthiest meal option, toss pasta with fresh veggies and protein from lean meats and legumes to make it satisfying without excessive portions. 

Takeout Salads

When you're dining out, salads may seem like a smart choice. You will get some veggies and protein, but extras like cheese, crunchy toppings (that are usually fried) and gobs of fatty dressing make salads among the highest-calorie menu items. Read menus carefully!

Reduced-Fat Treats

You'll still find store shelves stocked with reduced-fat peanut butter, baked goods and snack foods. While consuming less fat may seem like a smart move, these products are often more highly processed and just as high (if not higher) in calories and sugar as the regular versions. Stick to sensible portions of the real thing and indulge on occasion, not every day.

100-Calorie Snacks

Lots of junk comes tucked away in a 100-calorie package. While these little baggies do offer portion control, they are filled with low-fiber and high-sugar processed foods that leave you wanting more. Instead of eating these, reach for wholesome snacks like nuts, low-fat cheese and yogurt, and fresh fruit; they will keep you feeling fueled and focused. 

Smoothie Shop Drinks

Whether it’s a tub of a fruit and yogurt blend or a bucket of fresh-pressed juice, these popular drinks come supersized! Many also come filled with sugary add-ins like fro-yo, chocolate and other flavored syrups. Make your own properly portioned blended creation, or stick to ordering ones with the simplest of ingredients and lower calorie counts.