Foods You Probably Think Are Healthy but Actually Aren’t

It’s hard to eat healthy when so many foods claim to be good for you but aren’t. Low-fat snacks are often higher in sodium and sugars, and gluten-free foods can be packed with fat. Here, we break down these not-so-healthy foods that somehow have a good rep. One beloved burger backup isn’t so body-friendly (page 10).

1. Dried fruit

Organic Healthy Assorted Dried Fruit on a Plate
This should only be eaten in moderation. | iStock/Getty Images

Dried fruits do pack a lot of nutrients, which is why they come across as healthy. However, since the fruits have been dried and are smaller, it’s easy to eat a lot more of them. With that comes much more sugar, calories, and carbohydrates. One snack sized pack of raisins (dried grapes) has 20 grams of sugar. However, you’d have to consume nearly 1.5 cups of grapes to get the same amount of sugar.

Next: This Japanese staple isn’t as healthy as it seems. 

2. Sushi

sushi with Cheetos on top
Watch which rolls you choose. | Nikelle Murphy/Culture Cheat Sheet

Some sushi can be extremely healthy. Other sushi can be extremely unhealthy. If you order a tuna roll with brown rice, you’re safe. However, more exotic rolls, such as anything that features white rice and tempura, can be full of calories, fat, and simple sugars. Sushi’s “spicy sauce” is also made with mayonnaise, which adds a lot of fat content. Always order your sushi with brown rice and avoid anything with too many extras, like fried seafood or spicy sauce.

Next: This diet trend has some serious drawbacks. 

3. Gluten-free foods

Gluten Free loaf of bread
Not as guilt-free as you might think. | chameleonseye/iStock/Getty Images

If you’re not dealing with celiac, it’s best to avoid gluten-free options. Items such as gluten-free doughs and pastas are often packed with extra fats and sugars to make them more palatable and much less healthy. Plus, whole grains are linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, cancer, and obesity, and should be embraced rather than avoided.

Next: This dessert isn’t as healthy as you might think. 

4. Frozen yogurt

Frozen Yogurt with fresh fruit and chocolate chips
Those toppings can really add up! |

Frozen yogurt is actually much higher in calories and sugar than you might expect. If you indulge in two cups of frozen yogurt, you’re consuming close to 400 calories and 76 grams of sugar, according to Plus, consumers often load it with unhealthy toppings like sugary syrups and candy. Although you’ve been told that frozen yogurt is full of probiotics, extreme temperatures can lower the amount of probiotics in this dessert.

Next: When it comes to this, you’re better off ordering the regular version. 

5. Sweet potato fries

plate of sweet potato fries with a side of curry-peanut dip
They look healthy, but are they? | Christine Skopec/Culture Cheat Sheet

Anything that resembles the word “fried” is not very healthy. Sweet potatoes actually have more calories in them than regular potatoes, plus a lot more sugar. Also, restaurants tend to balance out the sweetness with extra salt, which quickly ups your sodium intake. Unless you’re baking the fries and not adding any extra salt, you might as well order regular fries.

Next: Check the ingredients list closely before you purchase one of these. 

6. Protein bars

Chocolate Muesli Bars on wooden background
These babies are packed with sugar. |

When you’re deciding on a new protein bar or meal replacement bar, take a good look at the ingredients. While protein bars do have a lot of protein, they often also have a ton of calories and sugar. Some protein bars’ nutrition is similar to candy bars. If you’re looking for a decent protein bar, always check the nutrition facts and ingredients list to make sure it’s not teeming with calories and added sugar.

Next: Adding this could ruin your healthy meal. 

7. Salad dressing

Variety of sauces and salad dressings
The creamy versions in particular, can be bad for you. | VeselovaElena/iStock/Getty Images

Tangy, sweet, or spicy dressing is often what makes the whole salad. However, dressings are packed with fat and calories that your body doesn’t need. Store-bought dressings often have added artificial flavors and preservatives, too. Even “light” options are not always a good choice, since the lower fat content means a higher sugar and salt content for more flavor. You’re better off making your own salad dressing at home so you can control exactly what’s in it.

Next: This quick and easy snack can be extremely unhealthy. 

8. Microwave popcorn

Microwave popcorn
It seems so harmless, right?| iStock/Getty Images

While fat-free, butter-free popcorn is a great snack option, any popcorn with butter in it is a big no — butter is full of saturated fat. Plus, most microwave popcorn bags contain a chemical known as PFOA that has been linked to certain cancers. Skip the microwaveable bag and make some fat free Jiffy Pop.

Next: Always choose real fruit over this. 

9. Fruit juice

Young female bar employee making fruit juice
This is one calorie-packed drink. |

A glass of orange juice can provide essential vitamin C. Unfortunately, it can also provide a lot of unessential sugar and calories. Some fruit juices contain just as many calories as a soft drink, and, if it’s made from concentrate, it’s packed with unhealthy sugar. Even juices that are “100% natural” are often full of unhealthy ingredients. It’s best to eat an orange instead of sipping on a glass of orange juice.

Next: These sound healthy, but they can be filled with sodium and fat. 

10. Veggie burger

vegan burger
Salt is a major ingredient. |

Most veggie burgers are not nearly as healthy as you wish they’d be. Packed with sodium and largely processed, veggie burgers can actually do more harm than good when it comes to your health. Plus, most veggie burgers are held together with either butter or oil, both of which are very unhealthy when consumed in excess.

Next: You might want to rethink this lunch option. 

11. Deli meats

deli meat turkey sandwich
Processed meats are packed with salt, and some carcinogens. | Rez-art/iStock/Getty Image

A turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread sounds like a healthy lunch option, but if that turkey is processed deli meat, steer clear. Deli meats are full of sodium — sometimes over 200 milligrams just in one slice. Plus, the World Health Organization recently classified certain deli meats as carcinogenic.

Next: Don’t be fooled by what you’ve heard about this sweet treat’s health benefits. 

12. Flavored yogurt

Child hold a spoon with yoghurt and blackberry
Stick to the plain version. |

Yogurt does contain probiotics to help digestion, but flavored yogurts are often full of added sugars, corn syrup, and artificial sweeteners. The fruit in some flavored yogurts isn’t always real fruit, either. Greek yogurt topped with real fruit is a good way to ensure that you’re getting essential probiotics without putting tons of sugars into your body as well.

Next: These easy dinner options can be packed with carbs and sodium. 

13. ‘Healthy’ frozen dinners

A processed frozen dinner
“Healthy” can sometimes be misleading. | Joe Belanger/ iStock/Getty Images Plus

Frozen dinner options that are marketed as healthy, like Lean Cuisine and Smart Ones, are not as healthy as they seem. While these meals tend to be low in calories and fat, they are often packed with sodium to add flavor. Lean Cuisine’s five-cheese lasagna also comes with 51 grams of carbohydrates and 14 grams of sugar.

Next: Don’t be fooled by the ‘low fat’ label.

14. Low-fat soup

Vegetable tomato and carrot soup with spices
Low fat foods aren’t harmless. |

Soup options that say “light” or “low fat” are not anything close to healthy. The reason is because of the uncanny amount of sodium in canned soup. A half-cup of Campbell’s condensed chicken noodle soup has nearly 900 milligrams of sodium in it — and that’s not even close to eating the entire can, which, let’s face it, most of us can do. Soups that have little or no fat can sometimes have even more sodium than that to try and make up for lost flavor.

Next: This is one of the worst pastas you can eat. 

15. Veggie pasta

Pasta with roasted cauliflower
Too much of anything is bad. |

It’s easy to assume that pasta infused with vegetables is good for you. However, when you take a closer look, it’s actually not. Most veggie pastas have one half cup of vegetables in every serving and are made with enriched wheat flour (white flour). This means that in order to get one cup of vegetables, you’d have to double the amount of pasta – which means doubling the amount of sugars and carbohydrates. You’re better off eating whole wheat pasta and filling your bowl with veggies.

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