5 Foods That Aren't as Healthy as You Think

Learn the truth about five foods that get marketed as healthy foods, but aren't really that healthy if you're trying to stay fit.

Ben Greenfield
4-minute read
Episode #288

I have a master’s degree in exercise physiology, a certification in sports nutrition, and over a decade of follow-up studies, thousands of books read, and ongoing continuing education units.

Yet, I find it flabbergasting to see the same foods get marketed over and over again as healthy foods for fit people—foods that I personally used and accepted as healthy for a very long period of time prior to finally realizing that they weren’t doing my body, brain or biomarkers any favors at all.

In no order of importance, here are five such foods that fit people get fooled into thinking are healthy.

1)  Nut butter

While peanut butter (which is technically a legume, not a nut) is the biggest culprit and tends to be comprised of moldy, rancid peanuts and high amounts of sugar, salts, and vegetable oil, many fitness enthusiasts are stuffing themselves full of hundreds of hidden calories from just about every other form of nut butter marketed as health food. Think about it this way: if you had to shell each nut you ate, how many would eat? Especially if weight loss or weight control is your goal, that might be a single handful which—brace yourself—comes out to not much more than a teaspoon of nut butter, and not the 2-3 tablespoons of almond, cashew, peanut, and other nut butters so commonly consumed in shakes, smoothies, and straight out of the jar. A healthier alternative? How about just a handful of soaked, sprouted, or raw almonds? Yes, one handful.

2) Whole wheat bread

Whole wheat bread, especially when derived from modern forms of wheat grown for high yield crops, tends to be notoriously high in the protein gluten, which is a natural protein, when consumed in high amounts like this can cause everything from gut to nervous system inflammation. Books such as “No Grain, No Pain” and “Grain Brain” and “Wheat Belly” really delve into the science behind this. In addition, despite it being marketed as a "healthy" brown carbohydrate, it can spike your blood sugar levels higher than a candy bar. A better alternative? Try using something like a seaweed nori wrap or a giant piece of butter lettuce or kale to make your "sandwich," rather than bread. Or opt for a more natural bread that is fermented, which predigests the gluten. Naturally made sourdough is a perfect example of this.

3) Trail mix

I used to wander into the convenience store and look for trail mixes, thanking them to be the healthiest choice that I can. Problem is, upon closer inspection of the label, most trail mix is chock-full of canola oil, sugar, and very concentrated sources of even more sugar in the chocolate, dried fruit, and other sweets added to the trail mix to satisfy our Western palates. Now don't get me wrong: not all trail mix is bad, but you should consider making your own. It's quite easy. Try a handful of dried blueberries, which are slightly lower on the glycemic, sugar spiking index, combined with some raw, soaked, or sprouted walnuts, almonds, or Brazil nuts. Toss in some unsweetened coconut flakes and cacao nibs and you have a healthy trail mix.

4) Milk

For both recovery and muscle building, I used to drink plenty of milk, which is marketed as the perfect post workout food. And sure, it works. After all it was designed to help tiny mammals turn into big mammals. Problem is, homogenized, pasteurized milk separates the natural milk proteins from the fats and these isolated proteins can cause plenty of inflammation and issues such as acne, eczema, asthma, and much more. In addition, as you no doubt know, milk can also contain contaminants such as antibiotics and hormones. A better choice? Look for unsweetened coconut milk, unsweetened almond milk, unsweetened rice milk, or, if you really want to get adventurous, look for a clean local farm where you can get raw goat’s milk or raw cow’s milk.

5) Energy Bars

If you look at the label of most energy bars, you'll see the same typical ingredients repeated over and over again: sugar, fructose, maltodextrin (which is just a form of sugar), canola oil, soybean oil, milk powder, heavy doses of chocolate, and a host of other preservatives that parts doing your body any favors. There are certainly some healthy energy bars out there. Take Larabar for example. It simply contains fruit and nuts. That’s it. So before you go mowing down that energy bar that makes hefty health claims on the label, check twice at the tiny print on the back of the package. You may just be eating a bunch of frankenfuels.

So what kind of things do I use to support my own performance and get calories that are chock-full of healthy nutrients that don't actually do damage to my body? Here are a few staples that you'll find in my fridge:

  • Avocados
  • Chia seeds
  • Brazil nuts
  • Almonds
  • Coconut milk
  • Blueberries
  • Bone broth
  • Plenty of plants of all colors
  • Nori wraps
  • Fish
  • Eggs
  • Organic beef

Those are just a few examples, but hopefully they get your wheels turning about the type of natural items can have on hand or travel with helps support healthy activity levels without doing damage to your body without swallowing hook, line and sinker but we have been led to believe is actually healthy.

Do you have questions, comments or feedback about these 10 foods that fit people get fooled are healthy? Join the conversation at Facebook.com/getfitguy. Plus, sign up for my newsletter.

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.