Look through any grocery store and you’ll see a ton of products labeled “gluten-free,” “keto,” “healthy,” or “all-natural.”
Descriptive titles like these are a simple way to separate your products from the rest — even if they have nothing to do with the title they’ve given themselves.
Products that never included gluten now contain a flashy “gluten-free” logo to stand out as a superior alternative.
With the gluten-free example, you now see it on packages of nuts, bags of chips, popcorn, nut butters, even cans of beans.
These never had gluten in the first place.
It gets worse when products try to masquerade as healthy when they really aren’t.
Great marketing convinces us that their product is what we need to improve our health — but we need to stop being fooled.
With that in mind, here are 4 fake health foods to look out for.
#1. Vitamin Waters
Besides keeping you alive, water is critical for digestion, absorption, transport of nutrients, cognitive function, and temperature regulation — among many other things.
The idea of Vitamin Water seems great: vitamins plus water looks like a winner. If you’re looking for real, natural vitamins — Vitamin waters aren’t the place to get them.
This would be way too expensive, so they use synthetic vitamins.
Some flavors will “boost your immune system” and health, but there is a minimal amount of vitamins — and they're still synthetic.
There is also around 13 grams of sugar per serving, and there are multiple servings per bottle — two and a half, actually.
That regular vitamin water can now have 8 teaspoons of sugar. This sugar can add up quickly, and 75 grams is enough to suppress your immune system for five hours.
If you've ever thought it’s absurd why one single product — like a bottle — can have multiple servings, it’s often to hide ingredients. This has been a way for manufacturers to hide trans fat content.
If a serving is under a certain amount, trans fat content doesn’t have to be displayed. This is why one item may be broken up into multiple servings.
If they had to list all the ingredients for the full serving size of that item, trans fat content would have to be revealed.
Vitamin Water has used cane sugar, which people seem to view as a healthier alternative. But this is like smoking 2 cigarettes compared to 5.
Sugar of this sort is a better option to high-fructose corn syrup — but it’s still a fast-absorbing liquid sugar that can spike blood sugar really quick.
These drinks are trying to boost your immune system while hitting you with a big shot of sugar that can suppress it — so something’s got to give.
Healthier Option: Honestly, you’re better off just eating a chewable vitamin C tablet — taking a decent multi-vitamin if you like them — and drinking a pint of water. Plus, you’ll save yourself a few dollars.
But ultimately, just go for plain water as much as possible.
I know Ensure is seen as beneficial for the elderly, people having trouble getting nutrition, and for medical situations — but that doesn’t mean it’s the healthiest choice.
And if you’re using it regularly as a health option — you may want to reconsider — and again, save yourself money.
There are 23 grams of sugar in that small bottle. The first few ingredients are versions of sugar and then you see odd stuff like refined soy oil and canola oil, which are not the healthiest options
They extract most canola oils using a solvent called hexane. The manufacturing process also uses heat, which affects an oil’s stability and may turn it rancid.
Even if some say we can tolerate a little hexane, I’d still not rather eat a solvent.
Ensure got aggressive about marketing back in 1996 and spent $45.4 million on advertising. The Center for Science in the Public Interest called the ads “the most misleading food ad” of that year.
We seem to have it in our heads that Ensure is the go-to choice for quick, healthy nutrition — and that seems to be because it was aggressively marketed this way.
Products like Ensure have some vitamins and minerals, but the source may be questionable — as are the quantities of them.
This issue also came up during their earlier advertising, as they had falsely marketed the amount of vitamins in the product. Not a great thing to have hanging over your head.
Another issue with beverages like this is artificial flavors and ingredients. The quick lesson on artificial flavors is that manufacturers don’t have to list each ingredient that goes into that artificially created flavor.
Some individual artificial flavors can have over 40 different ingredients — but you’ll never know which ones because they don’t have to be displayed.
Healthier option: Again, why waste the money on a chemically enhanced milkshake when you can blend your own healthy smoothie at home for less — with ingredients you can pronounce such as almond milk, berries, greens, and a plain protein powder of your choice.
#3. Fruit Flavored, Fat-Free Yogurt
Those colorful, fruit-flavored yogurts may not be the healthiest thing in the world. Again, they are filled with sugar and are made of colors you’ve probably never seen in nature.
Some of those little pots have as much as 8 teaspoons of sugar in them, and that’s horrifying.
These yogurts can have active bacteria cultures — which are great for gut health — but they often contain a minimal amount.
There’s also the chance they don’t survive to the gut in this form.
The problem is, too much sugar may damage the good bacteria in your gut, so the minimal amount of good bacteria from the manufactured yogurt might not do its thing.
You may even end up hungrier soon after because of the blood sugar spikes.
If you’re looking for gut-friendly foods, go for kefir, kombucha, kimchee, sauerkraut, and miso.
Healthier option: make your own “flavored yogurt” at home. If you’re a fan of yogurt, get a good plain Greek yogurt, add blueberries, strawberries, chia seeds, and almonds — even some homemade granola if you like that.
#4. Protein Bars
If you can find a protein bar, that’s made of natural ingredients — and has only a handful of them — those can be great.
What we’re talking about here is the mass-produced kind that are basically a Snickers with some extra protein throw-in.
Not only do a lot of these manufactured protein bars have a lot of sugar, but they are also filled with the regular culprits of artificial ingredients, flavors, and a ton of ingredients you can’t pronounce.
Most of these bars use inferior types of protein like soy nuggets. You also find corn syrup and other refined vegetable oils.
As a consumer, I’m not sure why you would want those in a protein bar, but for manufactures; they generally act as preservatives, giving the bar a longer shelf life.
Healthier option: as mentioned, if you can find a minimal ingredient, natural version — go for those. But they aren’t cheap.
Make your own protein bars with things like oats, nut butter, nuts and seeds, a protein powder, almond milk — even a little organic honey.
You can find great 5-ingredient protein bar recipes online that you don’t even need to bake.
The thing that astounds me about many fake health foods is how expensive they are.
Real ingredients can be cheap, and you have control over what you use — and how much of them.
We need convenience in our lives, and that’s what some of these things offer: but to me, they taste like crap. You either taste sugar or all the artificial ingredients.
You don’t end up satisfied — and can end up hungrier after.
And masquerading as healthy food choices don’t help, either. Instead of consuming something that came out of a box or package, go for a green apple and a handful of raw almonds.
You’ll be more satisfied, and give your body vastly superior nutrition.
Not only can you find healthier options than these fake health foods, but you can make your own versions of them that will taste much better, and be much healthier.