4 Fitness Foods You Should Avoid

In this episode, find out four common healthy eating items and fitness foods that you should actually avoid!


Ben Greenfield
6-minute read
Episode #248

The Journal Of Marketing Research recently released the article, “The Effect of Fitness Branding on Restrained Eaters' Food Consumption and Post-Consumption Physical Activity.” In the article, the authors look into the effects of food branded as “fitness” food, specifically investigating whether people who were trying to lose weight and who were given trail-mix style snacks marked either “Fitness” or “Trail Mix” would approach both the snack and their exercise differently depending on whether they perceived the snack to be fitness food. The trail mix marked as the official “Fitness” mix, which was no different than the regular trail mix in terms of ingredients, but just labeled differently, even had a picture of running shoes on the front of it.

The results were nearly humorous. People given the fitness-labeled snack mix not only ate many more calories of the fitness snack mix, but they exercised less after eating the fitness snack mix, apparently convinced that the act of eating something associated with increasing health or fitness somehow justified less exercise. Interesting, eh?

And here’s the deal: even if you do have self control and you actually eat less or the same amount of a food that you perceive to be health food or fitness food, the fact is that many of these foods still contain ingredients that aren’t doing you any favors in the fitness, fat loss, or health department. Here are four popular fitness foods and so-called health foods that you should consider limiting or avoiding:

1.      Fruit Juice

While I’m not really on the “fruit is toxic” or “fructose is toxic” bandwagon, I definitely agree with the research that shows that fructose-sweetened foods and drinks like high fructose corn syrup containing energy bars, fructose filled soft drinks and, yes, even those apple and pear jam-packed green juices at your local healthy grocery store can cause serious metabolic problems and big elevations in triglycerides if accompanied by excess calories. And frankly, it’s quite often that I see people consuming even the healthiest of fruit drinks, fruit juices, and fruit smoothies not exactly living in a calorie deficit. Once your body has had it’s fill of fructose (no more than about 400 calories per day), even the healthiest of juices can become metabolically damaging.   

The basic science goes like this: fructose is metabolized by your liver. If your liver is full of glycogen (storage carbohydrate) the fructose is then turned into blood triglycerides and fat. This can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and other metabolic issues such as resistance to the hormones insulin and leptin, which can lead to obesity and diabetes.

One example of an ingredient commonly used as a high fructose corn syrup replacement in so-called health foods is “agave.” Unfortunately, while regular sugar is 50% fructose, the fructose content of agave can be as high as 90%. So despite it’s seemingly natural, healthy title, agave really doesn’t make a juice or smoothie any healthier.

2.      Whole Wheat Bread

Whole wheat is technically healthier than refined wheat, but this does not mean that this carbohydrate that many people perceive to be the holy grail of healthy bread is actually healthy. To say whole wheat is a healthier bread is much like saying filtered cigarettes are healthier than unfiltered cigarettes. It’s simply a lesser evil.

Why is this? Modern commercial wheat is a concentrated source of gluten in the diet, and while gluten is not a big issue in smaller amounts, in extremely concentrated amounts such as commercial whole wheat bread, it can cause both gut and neural inflammation as the immune system attacks excess gluten proteins in the digestive tract and in neuronal tissue. This inflammation can cause issues such as brain fog, damage to the lining of the digestive tract, bloating, constipation, and other unpleasant symptoms.

And, contrary to popular belief, whole wheat bread is not a “low sugar” food, and can, in fact, significantly spike your blood sugar. How? The glycemic index is a measurement of how quickly a food spikes blood sugar, and the glycemic index of white bread is 69. You’d except whole wheat bread to have a lower index, but the glycemic index of whole bread is 72 (and Shredded Wheat cereal is 67), while that of sucrose (table sugar) is 59.2. The glycemic index of a Snickers bar is 41, which means whole wheat bread spikes your blood sugar far more than a candy bar!

So-called healthy cereals based on whole grains and whole wheat aren’t much better. For example, here’s the ingredient list of  Kellogg’s® Smart Start® Strong Heart Antioxidants, which you can see is packed with not just sugar and refined carbohydrates, but also a host of additional preservatives and artificial additives:

Rice, whole grain wheat, sugar, oat clusters, sugar, toasted oats [rolled oats, sugar, canola oil with tbhq and citric acid to preserve freshness, molasses, honey, bht for freshness, soy lecithin], wheat flakes, crisp rice [rice, sugar, malt, salt], corn syrup, polydextrose, honey, cinnamon, BHT [preservative], artificial vanilla flavor, high fructose corn syrup, salt, honey, malt flavoring, alpha tocopherol acetate [vitamin E], niacinamide, zinc oxide, reduced iron, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), calcium pantothenate, Yellow #5, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), BHT (preservative), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, beta carotene (a source of vitamin A), vitamin B12 and vitamin D.


All content here is for informational purposes only. This content does not replace the professional judgment of your own health provider. Please consult a licensed health professional for all individual questions and issues.

About the Author

Ben Greenfield

Ben Greenfield received bachelor’s and master’s degrees from University of Idaho in sports science and exercise physiology; personal training and strength and conditioning certifications from the National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA); a sports nutrition certification from the International Society of Sports Nutrition (ISSN), an advanced bicycle fitting certification from Serotta. He has over 11 years’ experience in coaching professional, collegiate, and recreational athletes from all sports, and as helped hundreds of clients achieve weight loss and fitness success.