The term 'healthy food' is used to label foods with a good nutrient profile, while 'unhealthy food' is used to refer to highly processed food that is high in calories, sugar, and sodium and has a low nutrient profile. However, advertisements can influence people's thoughts about food, and sometimes, foods with low nutrient profiles are advertised as 'healthy foods.’ Read more to avoid 'healthy' foods that may not be as nutritious as they seem.
Some seemingly healthy foods can contain high amounts of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. Advertisements can influence perspectives on food.
Many foods advertised as ’healthy’ options, such as granola bars, no-sugar, and fat-free products, can have unhealthy ingredients.
It’s crucial to read nutrition fact labels to ensure products align with your nutritional needs and requirements.
Limiting foods that are high in sodium, added sugars, and saturated fats while consuming nutrient-rich options supports a healthy and balanced diet.
It’s okay to consume so-called ’unhealthy’ foods in moderation from time to time. Labeling foods as good or bad or avoiding certain food groups can be problematic for mental or physical health.
Before you read the list of some 'healthy' foods to skip, keep in mind that eating so-called 'unhealthy foods' in moderation is a completely normal part of the diet, and black-and-white thinking around foods can be problematic. It's recommended to follow a healthy and balanced diet in general, but this does not mean you can't enjoy the foods you love, even if they're not as nutritious as others.
Granola bars are typically made with oats, nuts, seeds, and dried fruits, all of which are healthy ingredients. However, most granola bars also contain a significant amount of added sugars in the form of brown sugar, high fructose corn syrup, fruit juice concentrates, maple syrup, honey, molasses, agave nectar, sugar alcohols, and so on. You can read nutrition labels to identify the source and amounts of sugar a granola bar contains.
Many people prefer zero-calorie drinks such as diet soda, zero-calorie energy drinks, and Coke Zero to avoid additional calories. However, calorie content is not the only determinant of healthy foods. Zero-calorie drinks generally contain artificial sweeteners and few to no nutrients.
Low-fat or fat-free products
Some fat-free or low-fat foods contain lower amounts of fat but high amounts of sugar and sodium. If you buy reduced-fat, fat-free, or low-fat products, always check food labeling for total fat, sugar, and sodium content.
Pre-packaged smoothies can seem like a convenient and delicious way to consume fruits and vegetables. However, most pre-packaged smoothies can contain higher amounts of added sugars than fresh fruits and vegetables.
Deli meats, such as cold cuts and cured meats, are a convenient protein source for sandwiches and salads. The downside is they are usually high in sodium and contain preservatives and additives to extend shelf life.
Many frozen foods are highly processed, especially ready-made meals and snacks. They mostly contain high levels of sodium, artificial additives, and unhealthy fats. Reading labels can help you identify frozen options that are lower in sodium, trans fats, and added sugars.
Fruit or vegetable juices
Bottled fruit juice can be tricky if you don't know what to look for on nutrition labels and in claims. Only '100% juice' indicates that the product is made by directly extracting fruit or vegetables. Be cautious of labels like 'drink,' 'beverage,' 'punch,' 'nectar,' or 'cocktail.' These products generally contain a low percentage of fruit juice along with added sugars and sweeteners.
5 tips to choose foods for a healthy and balanced diet
The 'healthy' claim on packaging is used to indicate foods that are nutrient-dense. Products with a 'healthy' claim have limits for added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium.
Therefore, nutritional education plays a crucial role in choosing 'healthy foods.' Here are a few tips to help you make healthier food choices:
Limit high-sodium foods
Many packaged products contain sodium, but some foods contain considerably high amounts, such as canned soups, cured meats, and frozen foods. You can easily determine sodium content by checking the ingredients and reading nutrition labels. Sodium is found in many ingredients as 'salt,' 'soda,' 'monosodium glutamate (MSG),' and 'fleur de sel.'
According to the National Health Service:
- If a product contains more than 1.5 g of salt or 0.6 g of sodium per 100 g, it's high in sodium.
- While 0.3 g of salt or 0.1 g of sodium per 100 g is considered low.
Limit foods that contain high amounts of saturated fats
Most processed and packaged foods contain high amounts of saturated fats, which are associated with cardiovascular diseases when consumed in excess. Products containing 5 g or more saturated fat per 100 g are considered to have a high saturated fat content.
Read nutrition labels to identify products with lower saturated fat content and aim to incorporate more unsaturated fats, such as those found in avocados, nuts, and olive oil, into your meals for a heart-healthy approach to nutrition.
Limit your intake of added sugars
The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends limiting daily added sugar intake to no more than 25 g for women and 36 g for men. You can choose products with no added sugar or those with less than 5 g of added sugar per 100 g of the product.
Choose fresh foods over highly processed foods
Highly processed foods often contain excessive amounts of added sugars, unhealthy fats, and sodium. On the other hand, fresh foods like fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, and whole grains provide essential nutrients without the artificial additives commonly found in processed options.
Choose foods with a good nutrient profile
Focus on including a variety of nutrient-dense options in your meals, such as whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, dairy, eggs, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats.
In conclusion, while 'healthy' claims on food labels can be informative, it's crucial to be aware of added sugars, saturated fats, and sodium content with the help of nutrition fact labels.
- U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Use of the Term Healthy on Food Labeling.
- American Heart Association. Unhealthy Foods.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. Fat-Free Versus Regular Calorie Comparison.
- American Diabetes Association. Reading Food Labels.
- National Health Service (NHS). Food labels.
Show all references
- American Heart Association. Added Sugars.