Following a nutritious diet is a key factor in just about every aspect of health and wellbeing. Whether you’re trying to shed a few extra pounds, jumpstart your energy levels, improve your sleep or just live a healthy lifestyle, it all comes back to what you put on your plate.
With all the misinformation circulating online, however, making healthy choices isn’t always clear-cut. There’s always a new “it” ingredient or superfood on the market with a long list of purported health claims, and determining what you should actually eat — and what you should avoid—has become more difficult than ever.
Oftentimes, the seemingly “healthy” kosher foods being promoted by manufacturers, media and retail are actually chock full of additives, chemicals and questionable ingredients that diminish their health properties, thus making it even more challenging to know what you should actually be eating.
But although the line between healthy and unhealthy has gotten a bit blurred, decoding the marketing claims and separating fact from fiction to follow a nutritious diet doesn’t have to be difficult. Here are six of the top “healthy” foods that aren’t actually healthy — plus what you should choose instead.
It may seem like a simple way to squeeze a few servings of veggies into your diet, but most store-bought green juices are actually brimming with added sugar and extra ingredients.
In fact, some popular brands of green juice contain more sugar than a candy bar, with 20-30 grams of sugar in each serving. For reference, the most recent Dietary Guidelines recommend limiting daily added sugar consumption to less than 24 grams for women and 36 grams for men, so just one serving of these sugary green juices will nearly knock out your daily allotment.
Take a closer look at the ingredients label next time you’re shopping for green juice, and avoid anything with additives or extra sugar. Alternatively, break out the blender and try making your own green smoothie at home. Not only does this give you more control of your ingredients, but it also helps retain the fiber content of your favorite fruits and vegetables to promote satiety, blood sugar control and digestive health.
Despite being hailed as a healthy diet staple, certain types of yogurt may not actually be so great for you. Food manufacturers often pump those little plastic cups full of additives and sugar to boost flavor at the cost of your health.
Fruit-flavored yogurts are common culprits, with some brands packing in nearly 30 grams of sugar per serving. This virtually wipes out any potential health benefits associated with the yogurt, making it more of a sugary snack than a nutritious, good bacteria-boosting addition to your diet.
On your next grocery haul, ditch the conventional yogurt and opt for raw, organic yogurt or probiotic yogurt, and sweeten it yourself with fresh fruit and/or raw honey to skip the extra sugar and maximize the potential health benefits.
Just because “vegetable” is in its name doesn’t mean that vegetable oil is healthy. In reality, vegetable oils like canola, corn, and sunflower oil are actually highly inflammatory, often partially hydrogenated, and usually made from genetically modified crops.
Vegetable oils are especially high in omega-6 fatty acids, a type of fatty acid that is found in abundance throughout the modern western diet. According to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, the increase in omega-6 intake over the past few decades coincides with the increased prevalence of conditions like liver disease, heart disease, obesity, arthritis and Alzheimer’s.
For high-heat cooking methods, extra virgin coconut oil is a safe and nutritious alternative that boasts a long list of health benefits and can be easily swapped into your recipes in place of vegetable oil. Other healthy fats include ghee, grass-fed butter, and extra virgin olive oil (though the latter shouldn’t be used for cooking).
Although you can find this sweetener in the health food section of just about any supermarket, agave nectar is far from healthy. Advertised as a low-glycemic alternative to regular sugar, agave nectar is rich in fructose, a type of simple sugar that’s been associated with a host of adverse health effects.
Animal studies have found that high fructose consumption can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, diabetes, and even high blood pressure. While evidence in humans is limited, research also shows that fructose could reduce insulin sensitivity and alter lipid levels in the blood.
Furthermore, agave nectar is low in antioxidants. According to one study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association, using maple syrup, raw honey, or molasses in place of refined sugar or agave nectar each day could supplement your diet with nearly the same amount of antioxidants found in a serving of berries or nuts.
On the surface, veggie chips may seem like a guilt-free substitute for other salty snacks like potato chips or pretzels. Unfortunately, though, that bag of veggie chips may not be doing you any favors when it comes to your health.
Just like potato chips, many brands of veggie chips are deep-fried, loaded with sodium and full of additives and ingredients that you’re better off without. So instead of getting your veggie chips from the store, try making them at home by roasting up your favorite veggies like kale, radishes, carrots, or sweet potatoes. Air-popped popcorn, oven-roasted chickpeas and sunflower seeds are a few other healthy snacks that can help satisfy your cravings.
It’s no secret that eating fish is good for you. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends fitting in at least two servings of fatty fish each week to help maximize the health of your heart. Thanks to its extensive nutrient profile and omega-3 fatty acid content, wild-caught salmon tops the charts as one of the most heart-healthy types of fish available.
Farmed salmon, on the other hand, should be avoided at all costs. Not only has farmed fish been shown to be significantly higher in toxic, cancer-causing pollutants, but it’s even been linked to insulin resistance and obesity in some animal studies.
Farm-raised salmon is often sneakily marketed under the name “Atlantic salmon.” Better options for getting in your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids include Alaskan wild-caught salmon, Pacific sardines, or Atlantic mackerel.
This story "These Six “Healthy” Kosher Foods Aren’t That Healthy" was written by Josh Axe.