Surprisingly Dangerous Foods You Buy at the Health Food Store

When you shop at the health food store, it’s easy to think everything on the shelves is healthy. But processed foods contain tons of preservatives, no matter where you buy them. And some ostensibly healthy foods have fewer health benefits than you think. The fact that your local health food store chooses to stock an item doesn’t necessarily mean it’s healthy for you and your family to eat.

Do you know which foods to steer clear of the next time you’re at the health food store? You might find it surprising that some of the foods you buy offer fewer health benefits than you thought. And some of them can even harm you. Read on to find out which foods you should stop buying at the health food store.

1. Agave

agave nectar

As a substitute for sugar, agave nectar sounds great. But it’s no better than high-fructose corn syrup. | iStock.com

Agave sounds like a healthy, natural substitute for refined sugar. You can probably find it at your local health food store, particularly in the form of agave nectar. But The Kitchn reports this alternative sweetener might be just as unhealthy as high-fructose corn syrup.

Agave nectar isn’t actually a nectar. In fact, it’s processed in much the same way as high-fructose corn syrup. It doesn’t come from the sap of the yucca or agave plant. Instead, it comes from the starch of the root bulb. It goes through a complex refining process that converts the starch and fiber into fructose.

Agave syrup can cause mineral depletion, liver inflammation, hardening of the arteries, and insulin resistance. (That on its own can lead to diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and obesity.) Plus, agave nectar contains high quantities of a chemical called saponin, which might cause miscarriages.

2. Whole grain foods

whole grain bread

The term “whole grain” sounds great. But it doesn’t really mean much. | iStock.com

Processed foods still carry risks, even if they’re labeled “natural” or “organic” and sold at the health food store. For instance, plenty of companies make packaged “whole grain” foods that actually lack heart-healthy fiber.

According to Scientific American, “Many foods legally marketed as whole grains could actually harm your health.” The term “whole grain” refers to “any mixture of bran, endosperm, and germ in the proportions one would expect to see in an intact grain — yet the grains can be, and usually are, processed so that the three parts are separated and ground before being incorporated into foods.”

Compared with intact grains, processed whole grains have lower fiber and nutrient levels. Plus, your body absorbs the sugar from processed while grains quickly. That triggers blood sugar spikes that increase hunger, lead to overeating, and increase the risk of diabetes and heart disease.

3. Sprouts

alfalfa sprouts

Many types of sprouts add a delicious crunch to your salad or sandwich. But all carry a high risk of foodborne illness. | iStock.com

Sprouts add a delicious crunch to salads and sandwiches. But they might be one of the riskiest items in your health food store’s produce aisle. As FoodSafety.gov reports, any fresh produce that you consume raw or lightly cooked carries a risk of foodborne illness. But “unlike other fresh produce, seeds and beans need warm and humid conditions to sprout and grow. These conditions are also ideal for the growth of bacteria, including Salmonella, Listeria, and E. coli.”

Since 1996, there have been at least 30 reported outbreaks of foodborne illness associated with sprouts. Even homegrown sprouts aren’t necessarily safer than store-bought sprouts. So the FDA recommends children, the elderly, pregnant women, and anyone with a weakened immune system should avoid eating raw sprouts.

4. Yogurt

yogurt

Yogurt seems like a health food. But it can cause some unwanted side effects. |  iStock.com

Most of us think of yogurt as a healthy snack. But The Huffington Post warns that according to scientists, yogurt might not be quite as healthy as you assume. The Harvard School of Public Health found expectant moms who ate a serving of low-fat yogurt each day were more likely to have kids with allergies or asthma.

And Livestrong notes according to other studies, probiotic yogurts can cause minor side effects — such as gas or an upset stomach — or in rare cases, a serious infection. Plus, added sugar and calories make some yogurts a less healthy snack than you might think.

5. Raw milk

raw milk

Raw milk doesn’t go through the pasteurization process. So it’s likely to cause foodborne illness. | iStock.com

Many people love raw milk. It has a creamy texture. And something that’s “raw” sounds pretty healthy. But the United States Food and Drug Administration advises against purchasing raw milk. Because it doesn’t undergo the pasteurization process to kill bacteria, raw milk can contain dangerous microorganisms. According to the CDC, these microorganisms made 1,500 people sick between 1993 and 2006. Plus, the public health organization reports that “unpasteurized milk is 150 times more likely to cause foodborne illness and results in 13 times more hospitalizations than illnesses involving pasteurized dairy products.”

6. Rice and rice-based foods

cooked brown rice in a blue bowl

Rice often contains arsenic. | iStock.com

Whether you want to cut down on gluten or just prefer rice to wheat, your health food store probably offers plenty of options for rice and rice-based foods. But you should think twice before loading up your cart. NPR reports there’s likely arsenic in your rice. And “there are no federal limits for the amount of arsenic that’s acceptable in food.” So we don’t know if eating arsenic at the levels that are found in rice and rice products is a problem.

Brown rice tends to have more arsenic than white rice. But levels vary depending on where (and when) the rice was grown. Arsenic in drinking water can cause thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, numbness in hands and feet, partial paralysis, and blindness. It can also increase your risk of bladder and other cancers.

7. Organic seafood

fancy white bowl filled with rice, green peas, and rice

Organic seafood can contain numerous contaminants. | iStock.com

Buying organic seafood sounds like a great choice. But as with other kinds of organic food, organic seafood probably doesn’t offer the benefits you think it does. Food and Water Watch explains that “there are no official standards for organic seafood in the U.S.” That means any seafood labeled “organic” comes from elsewhere (usually from northern Europe.) Plus, seafood labeled “organic” is farmed, not wild-caught. Less than 2% of seafood imports to the U.S. get inspected for contamination. So nobody’s making sure your fish doesn’t have bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

8. Organic produce

Fresh organic farmers market fruit and vegetable

Contrary to popular belief, organic produce contains pesticides. | iStock.com/Elenathewise

Another kind of organic food that might be exposing you to some hidden dangers? Organic produce. Scientific American reports that, contrary to most consumers’ expectations, organic produce can be and is grown with pesticides and fungicides. So don’t skip the step of washing off your fruits and veggies just because they’re labeled organic.

“Many large organic farms use pesticides liberally,” according to Scientific American. “They’re organic by certification, but you’d never know it if you saw their farming practices.” Organic farms just need to use organic pesticides. But research shows these pesticides aren’t any less toxic than synthetic pesticides. In fact, “Many natural pesticides have been found to be potential — or serious — health risks.”

9. Fruit juice

girl with juice box

Some juices contain more sugar than soda. | iStock.com

Especially when you’re buying it at the health food store, fruit juice sounds like a great alternative to soda. After all, it comes from real fruit. But don’t go stocking up just yet. Despite the “all natural” and “real fruit” labels, even the juices at your local health food store are packed with sugar. NPR reports though the “sugars in juice seem more ‘natural’ than high fructose corn syrup,” fruit juice has an average fructose concentration “of about 45.5 grams per liter, only a bit less than the average of 50 grams per liter for sodas.” Some apple juices have more fructose than Coca-Cola. And your body converts fructose to fat, which increases your risk for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and liver disease.

10. Diet soda

Ginger Ale Soda with ginger on a wooden board

Even organic (and expensive) diet sodas can make you gain weight. | iStock.com

If sugar is so bad, the artificial sweeteners in diet soda start to sound better. But diet soda doesn’t offer a healthy option either — not even diet sodas from the “natural” brands sold at your local health food store. Time reports drinking diet soda “doesn’t do your waistline any favors.” Expectant mothers who frequently drink diet soda are twice as likely to have babies who are overweight or obese a year after birth than women who consumed few artificially sweetened drinks. People who drink diet sodas gain triple the abdominal fat as those who don’t drink diet soda. That means they gain visceral fat, which is associated with increased cardiovascular disease, inflammation, and Type 2 diabetes.

11. Protein drinks and bars

single scoop of vanilla whey protein powder

Protein drinks and bars offer fewer health benefits than you think. | iStock.com

Your local health food store probably stocks protein powder, protein drinks, and protein bars. Brands market these products as a nutritious post-workout snack. And some even encourage consumers to rely on protein drinks and bars as meal replacements, whether they’re training for an athletic event or just looking to lose weight.

But Shape reports relying on portion powders and drinks can result in poor nutrition. “There are a lot of ‘unbalanced’ products that have added sugars, artificial flavors, preservatives, and other non-natural things you don’t want to eat a lot of,” according to Shape. Protein drinks and bars also deprive you of the important nutrients you’d get from whole foods. Plus, overeating protein bars can mean ingesting excess calories, carbs, and fat.

12. Seitan

seitan and broccoli

Meat substitute seitan often contains way too much sodium. | iStock.com

Seitan, a vegetarian meat substitute made from wheat gluten, offers high amounts of protein but low amounts of fat. That might make it an attractive purchase when you’re shopping at the health food store. But you might want to think twice about eating a lot of seitan. Livestrong reports this “meatlike food” can be “high in sodium and thus affect blood pressure.” A 3-ounce portion of seitan can have anywhere from 170 to 320 milligrams of sodium. The problem? “Too much sodium in the diet increases blood pressure and risk of heart disease.”

13. Fat-free and sugar-free foods

pear muffin

Fat-free foods replace the fat with sugar. And sugar-free foods just load up on artificial sweeteners. | iStock.com/Astryda

Have you ever walked down the aisle at the health food store and marveled at the number of delicious snacks that carry labels, such as “fat-free,” “low-fat,” and “sugar-free”? You should steer clear of almost all of those foods. U.S. News reports sugar-free products replace refined sugars with artificial sweeteners. Fat-free and low-fat foods usually replace fats with sugar. But your body will just store the sugar as fat anyway. Many labels, both at the health food store and at a standard grocery store, are deceptive. Make sure you know what you’re buying.

14. Gummy vitamins

Young man using cellphone in a grocery store

Gummy vitamins contain a lot of sugar. And they make it easy to overdose on specific vitamins. | iStock.com/Koji_Ishii

The colorful gummy vitamins you can find at any grocery store, including your local health food store, taste great. But they probably aren’t as healthy to have around as you think they are. Prevention reports that gummy vitamins taste like candy. That often prompts both kids and adults to take more than the recommended dosage. That’s pretty dangerous. You can overdose on fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K because they don’t get flushed out in your urine. Overdose symptoms depend on the individual vitamins involved, but they can often include fatigue, nausea, and muscle weakness. Plus, gummy vitamins contain a lot of sugar.

15. Herbal supplements

Close up view of young woman holding ginseng vitamins and minerals pills in hand with capsule bottle on table. High angle view.

Herbal supplements are unproven and sometimes dangerous. | iStock.com/diego_cervo

While you’re in the vitamin aisle, you’ll probably encounter numerous herbal supplements. Supplements promise all kinds of benefits. But the Cleveland Clinic notes scientists have conducted “very few valid medical studies on herbal remedies, their safety, effectiveness or mechanisms of action.”

Herbs seem harmless. But many of them can have dangerous effects, especially if you take medication for a heart problem. “Serious, even fatal, interactions have been reported between cardiac medicines and some supplements,” according to Cleveland Clinic.

16. Detox and weight loss teas

dandelion tisane tea

Detox and weight loss teas can have dangerous effects. | iStock.com

Just like supplements, herbal teas seem pretty harmless. But they can pose more dangers than you think. Shape reports, “Buyers need to beware before they use a teatox since the teas could interact with or alter the absorption and effectiveness of other supplements or medications.”

You also need to check all of the ingredients included to ensure each one is safe. But no matter what your research turns up, bear in mind you can make healthier choices. There’s no evidence that detox or weight loss teas work. And the healthiest way to achieve your nutritional goals is through a balanced diet, an active lifestyle, and a healthy amount of sleep.

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