5 Health Foods That Aren't as Healthy as They Seem

Sep 10, 2010
Megan Bedard is a sucker for sustainable agriculture and a good farmers market, she likes writing about food almost as much as eating it.

At a time when the first lady is calling for whole grains in the White House, and Jamie Oliver might pop up to swap your yolks for egg whites, the pressure is on to eat well.

Maybe you have been. Between downward dogs and spin classes, perhaps you’ve maintained some saffron-spiced shred of dietary integrity. If so, congrats.

But before you get healthier-than-thou with your junk-food gobbling pals, be sure you’re really chewing on kudo-worthy sustenance. Here, five health food items that aren’t what they seem.

Tasty, pretty and fatty. (Photo: Merelymel13/Creative Commons)

photo: Merelymel13/Creative Commons via Flickr


Though the ever-waify Jennifer Aniston has attributed her fit figure to Japanese raw-fish goodness, she’s probably eating leaner sushi than you’re likely to find at the all-you-can-eat bento buffet. The layman’s sushi—a California roll—is stuffed with mayo and sugar-filled fake crab meat. A tempura roll, at 320 calories and 17 grams of fat (almost a third of your daily intake), doesn’t fare much better than the Cali roll. And the Philadelphia roll? Let’s just put it this way: cream cheese isn’t a.) Japanese or b.) good for you.

A good alternative? When you go out for sushi, choose rolls made the way sushi was meant to be prepared: Opt for brown rice, stay away from the fake crab, and stick to rolls that haven't been deep fried (all things tempura).

Bland and nutritionally vacuous! (Photo: tgolf_69/Creative Commons)

Photo: tgolf_69/Creative Commons via Flickr

Rice Cakes

Yes, it's true. The cracker substitute of treehuggers everywhere isn’t good for you. What’s not healthy about eating air? Almost everything, if you want your food to function as fuel. Even if you don’t mind that they taste like spongy Styrofoam, the granular discs have almost no nutritional value. (And if they do taste good, sugar and salt are to blame.)

If rice cakes help you stave off a potato chip attack, they might be worth eating. But if you’re hoping to gain something from them—say, energy?—you’d be well advised to look elsewhere.

What to eat instead? Plenty of snacks are good on the go. Consider toting veggies in Tupperware.

A viscous swirl of sugary badness. (Photo: randomidea/Creative Commons)

Photo: randomidea/Creative Commons via Flickr

Fruity Yogurt

It shares three letters with "yoga"; how could it be bad? Unfortunately, many of today's yogurts are sugar-infused concoctions marketed on a historically wholesome image. Fruity yogurts in particular are often dosed with a viscous, sugary syrup, meant to bolster the meager amount of actual fruit in the container. With as many as 44 grams of sugar in some yogurts (or worse, a bunch of high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweetener), snacking on a yogurt can be tantamount to downing a candy bar.

Not all yogurts are your enemy, but you have to do your research. Marion Nestle, professor of nutrition at NYU, explains in her book What to Eat: "Yogurt has the aura of health. Whether it deserves this special reputation is a matter worth examining."

Instead? Stick to plain Greek yogurt, adding your own fruit or honey for flavor.

All the fat and calories of a Sausage McMuffin, without all that troublesome sensory pleasure. (Photo: Art by Steve Johnson/Creative Commons)

Photo: Art by Steve Johnson/Creative Commons via Flickr

Bran Muffins

A health food that’s gotten a good reputation by tasting like bark, the bran muffin is not a silver bullet. Though bran is rich in dietary fiber and omegas, the benefits of adding the grain byproduct to a muffin don't cancel out the fat and calories that go into making a muffin as delicious as it is. Bran or not, the little treat is a dessert. If you prefer a Sausage McMuffin, in terms of fat and calories you may as well go for it. The two are even Steven.

A healthier alternative? Make muffins at home, and substitute apple sauce for butter.

Pita chips are a double dose of sodium and calories away from healthy eating perfection. (Photo: kmohman/Creative Commons)

Photo: kmohman/Creative Commons via Flickr

Pita Chips

With less fat than potato chips, pita chips seems like a weight watcher’s dream come true. Problem is, most pita chips are on par with the potato variety when it comes to calories, and still have a great deal of sodium per serving (about a fifth of your daily intake in a single helping). So even though they're healthier, that doesn't mean they're good for a snacking free-for-all.

To keep control of your fat, sugar, and sodium intake, swap out store-bought pita chips for homemade ones. Find a recipe here.

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