You may think these foods are ‘healthy,’ because they’re marketed that way. But they’re not. Here are common supermarket foods to avoid, at all costs
By Diane Small
Most of us want to eat well, but knowing how to do that exactly can be a bit of a mystery, thanks to loads of conflicting information. Are eggs good for you, or a heart attack on a plate? Should we be eating healthy carbs, or no carbs at all? Should we believe the claims made by food companies on branded food products? It makes shopping for food a bit of a minefield.
The truth is, today major food corporations dominate your eating choices, be these in restaurants, convenience stores or supermarkets, and it’s in their best interests to sell you food labelled as being healthy–even when it’s not.
Sure, there are apps like HEALabel that can help you navigate what you should be eating and buying or not. But here at Eluxe, we always believe knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better. Especially when it comes to your health!
Here’s a list of 10 foods you probably think are healthy because they’re marketed as such, but you should really avoid. Read it, and you’ll know what NOT to buy at the supermarket next time. Your shopping habits will be healthier, you’ll be healthier, and you’ll probably save money, too.
10 Common Supermarket Foods To Avoid
1. Multi-grain or wholemeal commercial breads
We’ve been told for years that multi-grains and wheat are healthier for us than white bread, so wheat bread may seem like a smart diet choice. However, many baked goods and breads with the labels “wheat” or “multigrain” are actually made from refined grains, meaning you won’t get the proper nutritional benefit of the full grains. Moreover, almost all commercial breads include preservatives, flour bleaches, artificial colouring, and chemicals such as bromide, a known thyroid poison, to help the dough rise quickly. The fast rising process has led to poor digestion of gluten (and a rise of gluten ‘intolerance’).
Shop better: Buy only organic, whole wheat, stone ground artisanal breads, black rye bread, or make your own.
2. Supermarket or prepared salads
The word ‘salad’ usually conjures up pictures of leafy greens and juicy tomatoes in our heads, automatically making us think they are healthy and nutritious, helping us get one of our recommended 5 a day. In reality, prepared salads are another of the common supermarket foods to avoid. Why? Because many store or restaurant prepared salads tend to contain many hidden calories and fats. Ham, cheese, tuna or chicken are usually added to salads that should, essentially, be vegan by nature. Croutons, pasta, macaroni, rice and other carbs are often added. That’s because they’re cheap, tasty fillers. Packing a bowl full of fresh vegetables costs more. The refined carbs in such salads should be shunned by anyone watching their health or weight.
Finally, prepared salads usually come dressed with heavy, chemically-laden salad dressings or mayonnaise, which means a simple lunchtime salad that should be around 200 calories can actually amount to close to 700-800!
Shop Better: Make your own salads at home. In restaurants, always ask for a simple dressing of olive oil and vinegar or lemon on the side, and forgo any fatty or meaty additions to your salad.
3. Reduced fat anything
Many of us are under no illusions about regular peanut butter, with its high protein, high calorie content, yet a reduced fat version of the product isn’t actually a great solution. You’ll usually find that where fat is reduced, sugar is added, therefore not making much calorific difference. The same is true for low fat yogurts, potato chips, cheese–just about anything you’ll find in the supermarket.
Shop better: Go full fat, or better yet, avoid–there’s nothing wrong with a bit of ‘good’ fats, like those from nuts or olives, and all animal fats should be avoided anyway.
4. Energy or protein bars
They’re sold in health food shops and gyms, so it’s easy to be fooled into thinking that so-called energy bars are the ideal snack before working out. Yet these bars are definitely another of the common supermarket foods to avoid. They often contain more than 350 calories, as well as high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats and added sugars. Don’t be misled by their packages: these bars are more sugar than protein most of the time.
5. Vegetarian ‘burgers’ or ‘sausages’
It’s usually a safe bet than any veggie option will be a healthier one than meat. However, many non-organic vegetarian soy-based foods are probably comprised of GMO soya; it’s one of the most commonly grown GMO crops in the world, and despite the fact that GMOs have been related to cancer, the companies who grow these crops are refusing to allow consumers to know what they’re eating.
Some commercial soy products also contain trace amounts of hexane, which listed as a “hazardous air pollutant”, and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG), a neurotoxin. Watch out for these ingredients on the label: textured soy protein concentrate, carrageenan, maltodextrin, disodium inosinate, disodium guanylate, modified cornstarch: All of these are basically different names to hide ingredients that either contain MSG or forms of it.
Shop better: Organic soya is, by nature, non-GMO, so stick with that. The fewer ingredients on your veggie burger carton, the better!
6 Bottled fruit smoothies
Another unhealthy product which is disguised by the promise of giving us one of our 5 a day, smoothies tend to be packed with sugar. Even if you have one that’s sugar free, the amount of concentrated fruit sugar they contain is usually off the charts! A single banana is packed with fructose, but add an apple, a handful of grapes and another fruit to that, like mango, and you may as well just have a Coke. Commercial smoothies, like commercial juices, are much lower in nutrients: after the fruit is peeled and squeezed, oxidisation kills of many nutrients fairly quickly. In addition, adding milk to fruit not only ferments the fruit in your stomach, impeding digestion, but adds unnecessary calories and fat.
Shop better: Don’t buy commercial smoothies. Make your own at home instead, ideally using no more than one fruit and add veggies for the rest.
7. Sandwich meats
Another of the most common supermarket foods to avoid is lunch meat. For example, if you do eat meat, turkey is one of the best sources of protein as it’s very lean. However, packaged turkey often comes with lots of added salt, which usually pushes people over the recommended daily intake of sodium after just one sandwich. And what’s worse: almost all sandwich meat is packed with cancer-causing chemicals, including nitrates. Why eat that stuff?
Shop better: Buy your own bird, cook it and use the leftovers for sandwiches.
8. Pre-cut fruit salads or slices
They may seem to be super-healthy, but pre-cut fruit salads or fruit slices are another one of the common supermarket foods to avoid. As with smoothies, when fruit is cut and left for awhile, it oxidises. The micronutrients are killed by oxygen, and while you still get the fibre, you’re losing out on a lot of potentially good nutrition. Moreover, most pre-made fruit salads have added sugars or sugary juice to keep the fruit tasting sweet.
Shop better: At home, make your own. When out, opt for a single piece of fresh fruit or uncut berries instead.
9. Restaurant baked potatoes
Baked potatoes on their own are great as a carb. They contain fibre, vitamin C and potassium. However, supermarkets and restaurants usually pack them with butter and salt before adding even more fatty toppings, like cheese and bacon, meaning this little old vegetable can run up to over 600 calories, when it should be less than a third of that!
Shop better: At home, make your own baked sweet potatoes, which are higher in vitamins and fibre. Pack them full of healthy toppings, like hummus or guacamole. When eating out, add healthy garnishes like tomato sauce, chives, or beans.
10. Sports or energy drinks
This is another drink which passes itself off as healthy simply because it’s associated with sports and working out. Yet many sports drinks are little more than water packed full of sugars and contain around 150 calories or more per drink. And as for energy drinks – well, they’re full of all kinds of crap, including artificial flavours and colours, as well as loads of caffeine, which harms your nervous system over time.
Shop better: Unless you’re doing serious, marathon-level endurance workouts, or are pulling the occasional all-nighter for whatever reason, opt for water or green tea instead. Boring? Make your own cucumber, lemon, mint or other flavoured waters with these recipes.