Not-so-healthy \"health foods\" to reconsider

Not-so-healthy "health foods" to reconsider

Devil in disguise

Text: Rachel Ng Janice Sim Cheryl Lai-Lim

With the array of “healthier” options now lining up the aisles of our supermarkets, picking the “healthier” option has become a no-brainer for us cognitive misers.  From “low-fat” labels to your fashionable health fad foods, eating healthy has never been easier, right? Wrong. Sorry to disappoint folks, but we're going to burst that bubble of cardinal misconceptions, item by item. It's time to reconsider these conscience-easing foods the next time you're at the supermarket.

Acai bowls

The superfood bowl, topped with an array of colourful nuts and fruits, is a constant appearance on social media. But, the millennial-approved health fix might not be as healthy as you think. While acai berries contain plenty of fibre and antioxidants, they're fairly bitter. Therefore, commercial varieties often load acai bowls with plenty of sugar or artificial syrups to sweeten the bowl. Further, additional fruits and berries added to the bowl contribute to a higher sugar intake. Average-sized acai bowls can contain anywhere between 21g to 62g of sugar per serving. To opt for a healthier possibility, try making your own acai bowls at home. It's the best way to control your sugar content and portion size.

Two acai bowls with fruits and nuts toppings

Dried fruits

A common snack many reach for, dried fruits are deliciously sweet pick-me-ups. Dried fruits are made by removing water content in fruit, leaving behind a great source of concentrated vitamins, minerals, and fibre. However, plenty of dried fruits are soaked in sugar and treated with additional preservatives for longer preservation. This causes dried fruit to contain very high levels of sugar and calories. Dried raisins, for example, contain 59% of natural sugar content whilst dates contain 65%. Not only that, as the fruit is shrunken during the drying process, it's easy to consume loads more dried fruit due to its smaller size. To combat that, try having them in small portion sizes or choose dried fruit that has been dehydrated without additional sugar.

Dried apricots drying out

Spinach wraps

Don't let the word spinach in the name fool you. Spinach wraps are said to be green tortillas made with refined flour and spinach. While they might look and sound healthier, they typically only contain traces of spinach and none of the immune-boosting vitamins A and C. Worse, some companies might not even add spinach in as an ingredient and instead use food colouring for the green appearance. If you're committed to eating healthy, choose 100% wholegrain wrap options, or take it a step further and make cabbage tortillas.

Spinach wraps stuffed with vegetables

Sports drinks

Sports drinks contain electrolytes, so most assume that the stimulating drink is healthy. However, plenty of sports drinks stacked on the shelves of supermarkets contain added sugar and carbohydrates. It's also important to note that most of the colourful variations have food dyes added to them in order to further appeal to consumers. While they might be beneficial for athletes who engage in lengthy, intense training sessions, they are not necessary for most gym enthusiasts. Instead, stick to water for hydration and fresh fruits and vegetables as a source of vitamins and minerals.

Girl holding an ice cold sports drink


It's the crowd-pleaser of snacks, especially when married with a platter of nachos. But it's not exactly low in fat. Hummus might be made from a blend of chickpeas, but in the mix, there's also an impressive amount of olive oil, sesame paste and cumin. Which means a serving could add up to 435 calories.



Avo on toast, avo in shakes, avo on its own. The millennial favourite isn't exactly going anywhere. And for good reason, the fruit is in fact, good for vitamin E and C, which boosts your skin's vitality. But it is also very high in fat content; resulting in them being high in calories. The key is limiting it to a quarter a day, and you'll be fine.


Energy bars

Often touted as your convenient, wholesome, on-the-go snack, these energy bars contain a little bit more than just the energy you need - the most alluring of which are your protein bars. But do yourself a favour and scan the back of the wrapper for three things - ingredients, nutritional value and calories. More than just protein, many of these bars contain partially hydrogenated oils, sugar alcohols, and artificial sweeteners which can cause bloating, weight gain and allergies. The guiding principle? If you can't pronounce or understand any of the ingredients listed on the back of the wrapper, they are very likely things you won't want in your system. Think real foods, always.

As for nutritional value, look out for the carbohydrate to protein ratio and choose according to the purpose you intend this snack to serve. suggests that the total number of carbohydrates should not go over 30g per bar, and that the ratio be kept at 2:1 if you are looking to lose fat. If you're consuming this as a post-workout snack,  you can afford to go slightly over 30g, but ensure the carbohydrate to protein ratio is at 1:2. Keep sugars below 13g, and the calories below 220kcal. Any more than that and you're better off having an actual meal, which is way more satisfying than this processed bar.

No so healthy health foods, energy bars, health, gimmicks

Fruit juice

Juice cleanses are all the fad now, but you might still want to go slow on those glasses. While fruits are a whole pack of amazing nutrients and vitamins, its liquefied form is hardly the same. Unless you've got the cold-press option on hand, most traditional juicing methods release the sugars in fruits and remove the insoluble fibres, rendering your juice to what is essentially a mix of natural sugars and water. But it's natural sugars, you say? This is when going au naturel no longer works. According to Scott Kahan, director of the National Centre for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C, the body does little to distinguish between the natural and processed sugars; the bigger issue being what goes along with the sugar. Hence, without the fibre in your juice, absorption of sugars does not slow down, resulting in insulin spikes which can lead to type 2 diabetes when your body can no longer keep up with your need for insulin.

Not so healthy health foods, fruit juice, health gimmicks

Deli meats

Thinking of having a light sandwich? Skip the deli meats. They are not the "high protein, low fat" alternatives you want in your clean-eating diet. As with other processed meats, the high amounts of sodium and nitrates used in the preservation process contributes to higher risks of heart attack and diabetes. Explained by Sam Teece, a chef and dietician at Sam Teece Nutrition Consulting, processed meats contain about 400% higher amounts of sodium on average than unprocessed meats, causing the stiffening of blood vessels and stressing of the kidneys. Still unconvinced? A 2015 report by World Health Organization classified processed meat as "carcinogenic" - in other words cancer-causing,

The big guys have spoken, and so it must be. Steer clear, folks.

Not so healthy health foods, deli meats, health gimmicks

Multigrain foods

Lumped together as healthier alternatives to your refined whites are your "multigrain" and "wholegrain" labels. You might, however, want to add another divider right there. As wholesome as it may sound, the multigrain options are far from interchangeable with the whole grains, and may be just as bad as the whites you've been trying to avoid. According to Mayo Clinic, "multiggrain" merely indicates the presence of more than one grain, although none of them may necessarily be whole grains. This means that you could possibly be consuming a whole range of refined grains, which contain only the high-in-carbohydrate endosperm, and are lower in fibre and mineral content than unrefined grains.

Next time, just go straight for the wholegrain option. These unrefined grains retain the fibre it was blessed with - it'll likewise bless you with slower digestive process that creates feelings of fullness and reduce those indulging tendencies.

Not so healthy health foods, multigrain, health gimmicks

Low-fat yoghurt

Low-fat options exist for a reason, and offering a healthier recourse to your dieting grievances is not one of them. As with most other low-fat alternatives, reduced fat yoghurts contain higher levels of sugar to compensate for the loss of flavour from the missing fat. Keri Gans, author of The Small Change Diet, suggests giving it a miss if that yoghurt contains more than 18g of sugar per serving, or if sugar is the first ingredient on the label. The fat in these yoghurts may also not be something you want to avoid after all. Lauren Minchen, a registered dietician and nutritionist based in New York City offers a plausible explanation for her patients losing weight successfully with the help of full-fat yoghuer. "When the body gets nutrients from whole, unaltered foods like full-fat yoghurt, it will be less likely to hold on to excess calories and store them as fat. Whole food fat sources also boost satiety, helping people eat less overall throughout the day," says Minchen.

The middle ground? Stick to your low-fat yoghurt if you insist, but ensure there is no sugar compensation taking place.

Not so healthy health foods, low fat yogurt, health gimmicks

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