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13 "Health" Foods You’re Better Off Avoiding

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Erin Brodwin

Guest Author

Is granola really good for you? Flickr/Jules

We're all familiar with them — foods we think are healthy because we heard them somewhere on the news or from a health-conscious friend. And no matter how much we may dislike them, we just keep buying them because we think they're good for us.

Take swapping your dairy milk for almond milk. Is liquid from nuts really nutritionally superior to milk from a cow?Or splurging on pink Himalayan sea salt. Healthy habit or a little bit of nonsense?


We asked Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian and the co-founder of the group Dietitians for Professional Integrity, for advice on what "health foods" are worth eating and which aren't.

The answers to these questions might surprise you.




Close to half of American adults take vitamins every day. Yet decades' worth of research hasn'tfound any justification for our pill-popping habit.

That isn't to say we don't need small amounts of vitamins to survive — without vitamins like A, C, and E, for example, we have a hard time turning food into energy and can develop conditions like rickets or scurvy. Here's the thing: Research shows we get more than enough of these substances from what we eat, so no need for a pill!

Almond butter

em> jules/Flickr


Everything from Gwyneth Paltrow's daily breakfast smoothie to the grocery store around the corner now seems to contain almond butter, but the stuff is incredibly pricey.

So we asked Andy Bellatti, a registered dietitian and the co-founder of the group Dietitians for Professional Integrity, what the harm was in substituting almond butter for plain old peanut butter, which is roughly four times cheaper. "It can just be peanut butter!" says Bellatti. "If the only ingredients are peanuts and salt, that totally works. It's still going to have your protein, healthy fats, and vitamin E."




When you juice fresh fruits and veggies, you remove all of their fiber, the key ingredient that keeps you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal.

What you keep is the sugar. In the short term, a high-sugar, low-protein diet means constant hunger pangs, mood swings, and low energy. In the long term, you can lose muscle mass since muscles rely on protein.

Gluten-free bread



Unless you're one of the 1% of Americans who suffer from celiac disease, gluten probably won't have a negative effect on you. In fact, studies show that most people suffer from slight bloating and gas when they eat, whether they consume wheat or not. So go ahead and eat that bagel.

Almond milk


Alternatives to dairy milk have been surging in popularity in the last few years, chief among them almond milk. Yet almond milk is practically devoid of nutrients.


By themselves, almonds are protein powerhouses. But a typical glass of almond milk, by volume, is just about 2% almonds and contains almost no protein. And all the vitamins inside are added. So if you're looking for a truly healthy alternative, opt for soy, skim, or low-fat milk.


Flickr/Stacey Spensley

If you're like me, you associate anything crunchy and sold in bags in the health-food aisle with nature-loving hikers — people who get lots of exercise and keep their bodies lean and healthy. But most granola is no health product. In fact, it's packed with sugar and calories — a cup contains about 600 calories, or the same amount as two turkey and cheese sandwiches or about four cereal bars.


Egg whites

An egg-white omelet. Gross. flickr/ missy-and-the-universe

Lots of people began avoiding egg yolks when nutrition experts came out with a recommendation that eating cholesterol was bad for you because it raised your cholesterol.

But there's good news: A growing body of research shows that for the vast majority of people, dietary cholesterol (from foods you eat) doesn't really have much of an effect on your blood cholesterol. So unless you have high cholesterol, ditch those nasty egg-white-only alternatives. Good morning, eggs Benedict!


Bottled water

Getty Images/Matt Cardy

Bottled water is not cleaner or healthier than tap water. Yet globally, we spend more than $100 billion on the bottled, yet otherwise widely available, good every year.

Author Elizabeth Royte writes in her book, "Bottlemania: How Water Went on Sale and Why We Bought it," that 92% of the nation's 53,000 local water systems meet or exceed federal safety standards and are at least as clean and often cleaner than bottled water.


Agave nectar

Agave NYC

Once upon a time, many health proponents (including Dr. Oz) claimed that you should swap your sugar for agave since it has a low-glycemic index and doesn’t lead to the kind of impromptu spikes in blood sugar (a.k.a. glucose) linked with plain old white sugar. 

As it turns out, while agave isn't high in glucose, it is high in another type of sweetener — fructose (the same stuff in high-fructose corn syrup). Some recent studies suggest that diets high in fructose are linked with several health problems, including heart disease.


At the end of the day, it doesn't so much which sweetener you use as how much you're using. "Sugar is sugar is sugar," says Bellatti. 

Anything that promises to "detoxify" your system

Flickr/Pen Waggener

No one needs to detox. Unless you've been poisoned, you already have a superefficient system for filtering out most of the harmful substances you eat. It's made up of two toxin-bashing organs: the liver and the kidneys. "There's nothing about these products that's detoxifying nor is there any food that’s detoxifying," says Bellatti.


While our kidneys filter our blood and remove any waste from our diet, our livers process medications and detoxify any chemicals we ingest. Paired together, these organs make our bodies natural cleansing powerhouses.

Coconut oil

Adding coconut oil to everything won't make it healthier.mealmakeovermoms/flickr

Coconut oil (CO) is roughly identical to olive oil (OO) in terms of its overall calorie and fat content.


But as opposed to a tablespoon of OO, which has just 1 gram of saturated fat and more than 10 grams of healthy mono- or poly-unsaturated fats, a tablespoon of CO has a whopping 12 grams of saturated fat and just 1 gram of healthy fat. Experts suggest avoiding saturated fats because they've been linked with raising cholesterol and the risk of type-2 diabetes.

Himalayan salt

Flickr/Pabs D

The distinctive pink hue of Himalayan salt can be traced to the tiny amount of iron oxide, or rust, in the pebbles.


It also contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, and fractionally lower amounts of sodium than regular table salt. But is it worth the price?

"Yes, the pink hue comes from minerals but the content is close to nil. Nobody should be looking for minerals in things like sugar or salt! Just because it's Himalayan crystal salt you can't just use more of it or think it wouldn't have the same effects as other salts would. Understand that it's still salt," says Bellatti.

Coconut water

Wikimedia Commons/Crisco_1492


This $4-a-serving beverage is not a panacea for everything from post-workout dehydration to cancer.

Yes, coconut water is a great source of potassium and other vitamins and minerals. But it'll do your body just as good to drink a glass of water and snack on a piece of fresh fruit.


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