17 Surprisingly Unhealthy Foods You Might Want to Avoid

Think these “healthy” foods are helping you lose weight or eat better? Here’s why they’re not as nutritious as you think.

1/17 View as List

Veggie patties

veggie-pattiesAnna Shepulova/Shutterstock
A diet staple for those trying to cut back on meat, veggie patties can be healthy. But many of the processed, frozen versions have more fillers—used to create that burger-like texture—than actual vegetables, dietitian Lona Sandon told WomansDay.com. To ensure your burger is packed with real good-for-you greens, Sandon suggests checking to make sure vegetables are listed at the beginning of the ingredient list. Better yet, swap a questionable patty for one of these healthy foods that are more nutritious than you think.

Packaged turkey

TurkeyFabio Di Natale/Shutterstock
Yes, turkey is good, lean protein, and on a sandwich with whole-grain and lettuce, tomato, and other veggies, it isn’t a bad lunch choice. The culprit here is sodium; a two-ounce serving of some brands has as much as nearly one-third of your recommended limit, according to CookingLight.com. The healthier move: Buy low-sodium slices (look for less than 350 mg sodium per two-ounce serving) or roast and slice your own meat. Here are some other foods with way more sodium than you realized.

Energy bars

Granola-barsElena Shashkina/Shutterstock
Praise the marketing geniuses who figured out a way to sell these unhealthy foods that contain more sugar and calories than certain candy bars as "healthy." “Protein bars are all just processed chemicals,” Garth Davis, MD, a bariatric surgeon at The Davis Clinic in Houston, Texas and author of The Expert’s Guide to Weight Loss Surgery, told iVillage.com. If you’re going to eat these surprisingly unhealthy foods, pick ones with fewer than 200 calories and 20 grams of sugar per serving, recommends WomansDay.com. Also key: Read labels to choose bars with as few ingredients as possible. Some bars from brands like KIND and Larabar contain just nuts, dried fruit, and seeds. Or, try one of these homemade energy bars and bites.

Bran muffins

Bran-MuffinsAnna Shepulova/Shutterstock
Wholesome and humble, bran muffins seem like a breakfast food hero. But while bran itself is a healthy whole grain source of fiber, it becomes less—much, much less—nutritious when baked into a muffin with heaps of sugar, flour, and fat. “Depending on the size, a bran muffin can have more calories and sugar than a doughnut,” Joan Salge Blake, RD, LDN, author of Nutrition & You, told WomansDay.com. If you’re really craving a muffin, make them yourself and look for recipes that use whole wheat flour and substitute applesauce for butter. Or try one of these healthier breakfast options.

Multigrain bread

Multigrain-breadOlga Pink/Shutterstock
Words like “multigrain,” “wheat,” and “7 grain” don’t mean all that much, explains CookingLight.com. Many breads labeled this way actually contained refined grains, which lack the fiber of whole grains and can make your blood sugar spike faster after eating, leading to cravings. Be a smarter bread shopper! If the first flour listed on the label is refined (look for "bleached" or "unbleached enriched wheat flour"), it’s not really a whole grain product. Here are some reasons you should be eating more bread (as long as it's the right kind)!

Flavored instant oatmeal

It’s a whole grain, a healthy grab-and-go breakfast choice, and easily topped with other healthful sides like berries, flax, and nuts. So what could possibly be bad about oatmeal? Well, flavored packets have more sugar and sodium than regular rolled or steel cut oats, notes Prevention.com. A better option: Dress up regular oatmeal with fresh fruit or a small amount of honey. Here are some other breakfast foods you should probably stop eating.

Reduced-fat peanut butter

Repeat after us: The fat from nuts is good for you! A recent Harvard study found that people who ate an ounce (a small handful) a day had a 20 percent lower risk of dying than people who didn’t. What’s more, when you compare labels of regular and reduced-fat peanut butter, you’ll see that calories are roughly equal. The difference, notes CookingLight.com, is that reduced-fat versions add more sugar to make up for the lack of fat. So choose the regular kind, and stick to 1 to 2 tablespoons per serving.


CouscousBrent Hofacker/Shutterstock
This exotic-looking grain seems like a virtuous side dish, but the jig is up. Couscous is really just a tiny pasta—a refined grain similar to white pasta, according to BestHealthMag.com. Look for whole-wheat couscous, or else opt for a healthier whole grain like quinoa. Check out some great recipes using quinoa.


SushiIn Green/Shutterstock
Fresh fish, no heavy sauces—health food, right? We tend to eat a lot of sushi to feel full, and those rolls contain mostly rice and very few veggies. According to The Biggest Loser nutritionist Rachel Beller, one California roll is equivalent to eating two sandwiches filled with imitation crab meat. A spicy tuna roll is like adding another one and a half tuna sandwiches with full-fat mayo. A healthier option: Ask for rolls wrapped in cucumber or that are “easy on the rice” and be sure to fill up with a side salad or protein-packed edamame. Here are some more sushi-eating mistakes that sabotage your health.

Rice crackers

So light, so airy—rice crackers and cakes are the ultimate diet snack food cliché. But these surprisingly unhealthy foods lack fiber and can be high in sodium, notes BestHealthMag.com. What’s more, rice crackers are actually considered carb dense, meaning they have a high ratio of carb grams relative to their weight. (Carb-dense foods can alter the balance of your gut flora and trigger inflammation.) A plain rice cake weighs only 9 grams but 80 percent of it is carbohydrate. In comparison, a small potato—which many people think is a “bad” carb—weighs 170 grams but only 23 percent is carbohydrate. Here are some times you should never, ever eat carbs.

1/17 View as List

Want to stay smart and healthy?

Get our weekly Health Reads newsletter

We will use your email address to send you this newsletter. For more information please read our privacy policy.