Trying to eat healthier can be a challenge and misleading food advertisings only make things trickier to know what is healthy and what’s not. Some of the most popular “diet” foods can actually be packed with added sugar, processed carbs, and hydrogenated oils. By making a few easy swaps you can keep your diet on track and avoid unnecessary calories. Below are some of the sneakiest foods that are not as healthy as they seem.
“Healthy” Foods That Can Ruin Your Diet
Unhealthy Diet Food #1 – Rice Cakes
We love these tasty grab-and-go snacks, but on their own, they don’t offer much nutritional value. They also don’t do much to keep you full and feeling satisfied (which is why it’s so easy to eat more than the recommended serving).
Rice cakes are made from white or brown rice subjected to very high heat and pressure causing the rice to expand like popcorn. Unfortunately, the high heat and pressure used on the grains remove most of the nutrients contained in the rice. What remains is a round, crunchy snack full of refined carbohydrates that are quickly digested and converted into sugar by the body.
Foods that convert into glucose (sugar) quickly by the body also rank high on the glycemic index. The glycemic index contains values assigned to foods based on how quickly or slowly those foods increase blood glucose levels. The glycemic index rating for rice cakes is approximately 87–91, compared to pure glucose at 100.
Instead of relying on these solo, try making them more well rounded by adding some healthy fats or protein – i.e., a swipe of nut butter and fresh fruit or a few slices of avocado.
Unhealthy Diet Food #2 – Diet Drinks
Unfortunately, the same goes for diet drinks. While these drinks are free of (or extremely low in) calories, studies have linked diet soda and the artificial sweeteners in diet drinks to weight gain, obesity, and higher mortality rates.
The brain normally associates “sweet” with calories. In the realm of human physiology, that’s a good thing. It drives your body to release insulin as sugar’s chaperone to the cells to create fuel. In the past, people assumed this process could not occur when we consume artificial sweeteners because calories don’t follow the sweet flavor.
But, one study by the Diabetes Journal found the process could very well happen. In the study, individuals who consumed a specific artificial sweetener (sucralose) had increases in both insulin and blood glucose levels. This can confuse your body’s glycogen stores into storing more glycogen as fat stores than actually needed. Also, frequent rises in insulin have been linked to insulin resistance and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes.
Additionally, a 2016 study found that drinkers of diet beverages often compensate for “saving” on calories by eating more unhealthy foods. Instead of diet drinks, reach for sugar-free sparkling water, low-sugar fruit juices, and trusty regular water.
Unhealthy Diet Food #3 – Energy Bars
Sadly, these portable delights are often full of sugar (especially refined or added sugars). They also frequently contain added fiber. That might sound good in theory, but too much fiber (especially from non-natural sources) can leave you gassy, bloated, and a little too regular.
Keep an eye out for bars with more than 7 grams of fiber per serving and any mention of added sugars or sugar alcohols. Shoot for a total of 25 to 35 grams of whole-food sourced fiber per day, spread out over three meals and two or three snacks.
Some manufacturers include hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils in their bars. This means that the oils, such as coconut, palm, and corn, have been heated at high temperatures to give them a solid consistency. That’s good for maintaining shelf life, but these types of fats can cause health concerns like weight gain, high blood pressure, and clogged arteries if eaten regularly.
Unhealthy Diet Food #4 – Box Cereals
You probably already know to avoid sugary cereals like Lucky Charms and Cookie Crisp. But did you know that the size of the cereal box can have an effect on weight loss? A recent Cornell study found that women who had breakfast cereal sitting on their kitchen counters weighed 20 pounds more than their neighbors who didn’t.
According to a 2015 review of studies, people actually eat more when eating from larger packages. Opt for smaller boxes and smaller bowls, but mostly try to eat intuitively. No one’s saying you have to eat your cereal out of a teacup but maybe ditch the giant serving bowl.
Look for low sugar content (less than 5 grams is good, less than 2 is ideal). Don’t be fooled by healthy advertising either. For example, Kashi Go Lean Crunch has 13 grams of added sugar. Another tip to avoid sugar that can throw off your diet is to skip those with dried fruit, which can amp up the sugar calories, and add real fruit to your cereal instead.
Unhealthy Diet Food #5 – Flavoured Yogurt
Yogurt can be a great healthy snack as long as you’re checking the ingredients list to see how much sugar has been added. Flavored yogurts can sometimes have more sugar than some cookies and candy bars.
Plain Greek and Icelandic varieties tend to have more protein and fewer carbs. If you need a hint of sweetness, try mixing in some chopped fruit. Plus a study was done by the European Journal of Nutrition that surprisingly links the fat in dairy with a lower risk of obesity, heart disease, and diabetes. Researchers surmise that full-fat dairy might offer some as-yet-unknown health benefits. It also might help with weight management because the fat in it makes it more satisfying, helping keep your appetite in check.