What NOT to Buy at the Supermarket – Even If You Think It’s Healthy

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.

Here’s a list of just 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 shop will be healthier, and you’ll save money, too.

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 “multi-grain” 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, 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. Why? They’re cheap, tasty filler–filling a bowl full of fresh vegetables costs more–but 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 often contain more than 350 calories, as well as high fructose corn syrup, saturated fats and added sugars. Don’t be misled by the title–these bars are more sugar than protein most of the time.

Shop better: Opt for more nutritious high protein  pre-workout snacks such as nuts instead, or make your own protein bars with recipes like these, from Oh She Glows.


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 fruit sugar 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. Packaged turkey or chicken

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.

Shop better: Buy your own bird, cook it and use the leftovers for sandwiches.

Not so health salad. Image: Wikicommons

8. Pre-cut fruit salads or slices

As with smoothies, when fruit is cut and left for awhile, it oxidises. The micro nutrients 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 ok as a carb–they contain fibre, vitamin C and potassium. However, 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 sweet potatoes, which are higher in vitamins and fibre. When eating out, add healthy garnishes like tomato sauce, chives, or beans.

10. Sports 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.

Shop better: Unless you’re doing serious, marathon-level endurance workouts, opt for water instead. Boring? Make your own cucumber, lemon, mint or other flavoured waters with these recipes.



Diane Small

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  • Reply
    Feb 15, 2015 at 2:56 pm

    I won’t be buying reduced fat again! And I definitely agree with making your own smoothies, they taste so much better too

  • Reply
    May 5, 2015 at 5:35 pm

    Thanks for the great write-up!

    I noticed that you linked to one of my favorite articles ever: 12 Dangerous And Hidden Food Ingredients In Seemingly Healthy Foods.

    I absolutely love that resource.

    I actually set out to make something similar:

    It’s like 12 Dangerous And Hidden Food Ingredients In Seemingly Healthy Foods, but more up to date and comprehensive + an awesome infographic. You may want to consider linking to my article from your page.

    Either way, I’ll see you around at Eluxe!

    • Reply
      May 5, 2015 at 5:46 pm

      Hi Mikko
      Thanks so much for the info and the links! Very useful! 🙂 xxx

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