Health Food Impostors

Have you noticed that there’s a new “health food” out practically every time you go to the grocery store?  It’s hard to ignore the advertising and all of the “expert claims” that promise to make you healthier, help your body to work better, and give you more energy.  With so many magic foods and beverages available to us, it’s a wonder we aren’t all super-human.  So should you jump on the bandwagon and believe all the hoopla, or are these products really health food impostors?  Here are some common products that nutritionists see lots of people using, and how we really feel about them.


Fiber enhanced bars, brownies, cookies, etc.   I don’t eat enough fiber, so can’t I just get extra from these foods?


Health Food Impostors|Craving Something Healthy

Unfortunately, these are desserts, not health foods.  Most of these products are enhanced with inulin, a processed starch that’s usually made in a lab.  It does up the fiber content a bit, but unfortunately, inulin doesn’t provide the same health benefits as naturally occurring fiber from fruits, vegetables and whole grains. To get the cholesterol and blood sugar lowering benefits of fiber, you’re much better off adding more fruits and vegetables to your diet.  If you’re craving a fiber brownie (really?) have an apple first, and then if you’re still hungry have the brownie.


Coconut water and sports drinks.  We need to replace electrolytes when we work out.  Right?


How Much Sugar Do You Drink|Craving Something Healthy

Sure, if you’re working out at a high intensity (aka running or cross country skiing) for more than an hour, and really sweating, you could probably stand to replace some electrolytes.  But if you’re like the other ninety-nine percent of us, a better choice is a banana before your workout to boost up your potassium and carbs, and a Greek yogurt after you workout, to give you some additional carbs, good quality protein, and plenty of the minerals you sweat out.  Drinking sports drinks and even coconut water is really just drinking an extra 5 teaspoons of sugar in every 12 ounces, as you can see from graphic above,  so unless you’re lacking in that department, skip them and drink water instead.


Veggie sticks, wraps, and noodles.   They’re better for you and they count as a vegetable.  Don’t they…?

Health Food Impostors|Craving Something Healthy

Most of these products like spinach lasagna, sun dried tomato wraps, and many brands of veggie sticks and chips contain just a trace amount of vegetable puree or powder, so no, they definitely don’t count as a vegetable, and they aren’t necessarily better for you.  A better choice is plain low fat popcorn (a great whole grain), or whole-wheat wraps or pasta.  Fill the wrap or top the noodles with some chopped or shredded vegetables and that really will be good for you.


Sugar-free cookies.  They’re lower in carbs.

Health Food Impostors|Craving Something Healthy

Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a free lunch – or cookie.  They might not have sugar, but they still have refined carbs from flour, as well as unhealthy fats, and a boatload of artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols to make them taste sweet.  The downside of eating too much sugar alcohol is that is has a laxative effect.  Instead of a bunch of sugar free chocolate chip cookies, which still has lots of carbohydrate and mostly unhealthy fat, have one full graham cracker sheet spread with a tablespoon of peanut butter and a sliced strawberry.  That only has 20 grams of carbohydrate and 10 grams of heart healthy fat.  Even if you splurge and have two, it’s still the healthier option.


Smoothies They’re an easy way to get a day’s worth of fruits and vegetables in quickly.

Health Food Impostors|Craving Something Healthy

Yes, you can get some fruits and vegetables, but many smoothies also provide lots of calories and sugar, even it it’s natural fruit sugar.  If you’re drinking a smoothie in place of a meal, make sure it has a good dose of protein, fiber and some vegetables and not just fruit and juice.  That way it’s more balanced, and won’t spike your blood sugar so quickly.  And be aware – if you’re drinking it as a recovery drink after a workout, you’re probably replacing all of the calories you’ve just worked off and then some.

One more important thing about getting in all of your produce at one time – recent research suggests that it’s important to have the protective “phytochemicals” in plants circulating in your body all day, rather than all at one time.



Bottled tea.  I drink it for the antioxidants.

Health Food Impostors|Craving Something Healthy

Tea is an excellent source of polyphenols, or plant compounds that may have certain health benefits, but to get them, it’s best to brew the tea yourself.  Research from the American Chemical Society showed that most bottled teas contain just a fraction of the beneficial compounds as a cup of brewed tea.  Some brands contained such small amounts that consumers would have to drink 20 bottles to get the polyphenols present in one cup of tea.


Just some food for thought!


Are there any foods that you’re wondering about?  Feel free to leave me a comment and ask!

Eat well!

The post Food Impostors first appeared on Craving Something Healthy


  1. Anne,
    Your healthy food impostors post is really good and informative! What a great infografic about the amount of sugar in drinks. When did the food industry come out with a target for added sugar?

    1. Thanks Mireya! I think the recommendation is more from Amer Heart Association and World Health Organization who recommend that we eat/drink no more than 100 calories from added sugar for women and 150 calories for men. WHO wants to limit it to 5% of total calories. The beverage industry has been under fire for a while b/c sweetened drinks are #1 source of added sugar in the American diet. Don’t let that deter you from reading my cookie post tomorrow 🙂

    1. Thanks for visiting Izzy!

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