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Foods You Think Are Healthy…But They Are Not!

Today’s Boot Camp Health Tip

I came across this list of foods that people think are healthy, but really are not. Some will be obvious to you because you are so savvy and have learned a thing or two from your boot camp SMART Nutrition packet and have listened to our nutrition tips during camp…but others may not. I searched for this list in working with a new client who is extremely over weight (but she lost 6 pounds her first week of camp). I feel like her diet was so poor that even things that seem obvious to most of us, to her are not. She is making better choices in the scheme of things BUT still poor choices all around that are affecting her progress. Change happens gradually. I thought everyone would find this information helpful as it gives you some great alternatives to your current food choices. Pass this one on.

Foods and Drinks that People Think are Healthy but are Not Healthy

Written by Jeff Behar, MS, MBA

Today more than ever many people want to look good, feel good and fight the bulge, so many people try to eat healthy an unhealthy health foods try to eat good. I stress the word “try” because although many people want to eat healthy, so many people lack the basic understanding of nutrition, and in their efforts to eat healthy foods, many people eat foods that are totally unhealthy for them. Marketing tricks, marketing gimmicks and deceptive advertising of many food companies and also poor nutrition knowledge by the media and many people blogging about healthy foods across the web does not help matters. The following is a list off several “health foods” and “health drinks” that are just not that healthy.


Breakfast CerealBreakfast Cereals. Breakfast cereals may be quick, and many taste good, but most are horrible unhealthy cereals for your health

The downside: Most breakfast cereals are often high in sugar & salt and their vitamin/mineral content is chemical based. Drop that spoon.

If you can’t resist: Opt for cereals with LESS processed sugars. Do realize though, that not all low sugar cereals will be healthier than their full-sugar counterparts. When you pick up a box of cereal, read the ingredients list. Try to select cereals listing whole-grain wheat, whole oats or wheat bran as the first ingredient. Whole-grain cereals will have more fiber. These are the healthiest cereals because they stabilize the body’s sugar-control system, reducing the incidence of Type 2 diabetes and lower the risk to heart disease. Also look for cereals that are fortified with vitamins and minerals. Look for cereals fortified with B-vitamins, zinc and iron, as well as a high amount of vitamin C because it aids in iron’s absorption. Good examples include: Kellogg’s Complete Wheat Bran Flakes, Kellogg’s Mini-Wheats, and Kashi Heart to Heart Cereal. Of course there are many more. Just read the labels and choose wisely.

Healthy alternative(s): Healthy alternative: non-processed cereals like bran, or no sugar added oatmeal. Everyone knows how healthy non-processed cereals like bran cereals are; since they contain lots of fiber (a mere 1/3rd cup of bran contains about 14 grams of fiber). To improve the taste and add variety you can cut up small pieces of high fiber fruit like, apples, dates, figs, pears and prunes and easily reach your recommended daily amount of fiber before you even leave the house!

If you do not like the taste of bran type cereals a great Healthy alternative is oatmeal. A steaming bowl of fresh cooked oatmeal is the perfect way to start off your day, especially if you are trying to prevent or are currently dealing with heart disease or diabetes. With the exception of certain flavored varieties, oatmeal is 100% natural. Oatmeal contains several important vitamins, minerals, anti-oxidants, heart health fiber, and a wide variety of additional nutrients and phyto-nutrients important to good health. There are several confirmed health benefits attributed to old-fashioned oatmeal; as long as it is the unprocessed version. Oats, oat bran, and oatmeal contain a specific type of fiber known as beta-glucan which can enhance the human immune system’s response to bacterial infection, lower blood sugar levels, lower blood pressure, lower risk to several cancers, lower risk to type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, obesity, and lower the risk to cardiovascular disease which reduces the risk to conditions such as atherosclerosis, heart attack and stroke. This soluble fiber helps remove LDL or “bad” cholesterol, while maintaining the good cholesterol that the body needs. An added benefit of beta-glucan, is there are studies that show beta-glucan enhances the human immune system’s response to bacterial infection. Study after study has proven the beneficial effects of beta-glucan on cholesterol levels. Studies show that in individuals with high cholesterol (above 220 mg/dl), consuming just 3 grams of soluble oat fiber per day (an average amount found in one bowl of oatmeal) typically lowers total cholesterol by 8-23%. This is highly significant since each 1% drop in serum cholesterol translates to a 2% decrease in the risk of developing heart disease. The soluble fiber in oatmeal absorbs a considerable amount of water; which significantly slows down your digestive process. This result is that you’ll feel full longer, i.e. oatmeal can help you control your weight.

Higher intakes of whole grains like oatmeal also increase insulin sensitivity by lowering the Glycemic Index (GI). The soluble fiber slows also down the digestion of starch which keeps blood sugar steady. This reduces the risk for type 2 diabetes. Oats are also a very good source of several antioxidants like, vitamin E, tocotrieonols, selenium, phenolic acids, phytic acid and a unique antioxidant compound called avenanthramide. These multifunctional antioxidants come in immediate-release to slow-release forms and thus are available throughout the gastrointestinal tract over a long period after being consumed. These powerful antioxidants prevent free radicals from causing damage to cells in the body, reducing the risk to several diseases, including cardiovascular disease, and for cancer, especially colon cancer and breast cancer. Oats and other whole grains contain many other important micronutrients like: phytoestrogens, plant compounds that may lower the risk to cancers, and positively affect blood cholesterol levels, blood vessel elasticity, bone metabolism, and many other cellular metabolic processes; B vitamins, minerals like copper, iron, phosphorus, zinc, manganese and magnesium, a mineral that acts as a co-factor for more than 300 enzymes, including enzymes involved in the body’s use of glucose and insulin secretion. Oatmeal cooked in milk enhances the food value of the dish, as milk is rich in calcium and protein. Also consider adding a scoop of metabolism-boosting protein.

Instant Flavored Oatmeal: Instant flavored oatmeal is not the same as their 100% Quaker oatmeal natural cousins. Although they have oats in them, they are not as healthy as you may think.

The downside: Most instant oatmeal contains large amounts of sugars and has less fiber than the unprocessed versions.

If you can’t resist: Opt for 100% rolled oats and add in some fruit, or some natural sweeteners

Healthy alternative(s): 100% rolled oats. 100% rolled oats provide all the health effects discussed above.

Muffins. Many people reach for a bran muffin believing that a bran muffin is healthy and large bran muffin is a nutritious breakfast.

The downside: Most bran muffins contain little bran. Additionally many muffins today are HUGE. Years ago, one muffin was approximately 150, 3 to 5 grams of fat and about the size of tennis ball. Today, muffins are supersized! It is not uncommon for a muffin to be 350 to 450 calories, with 15 to 20- grams of fat. They also contain little to no protein. Protein is important to body functions and it also helps increase insulin sensitivity by lowering the Glycemic Index of the meal, and increase fullness.

If you can’t resist: Stick to muffins that are of normal size (or split one with someone). Opt for muffins with a short ingredient list, made from whole grain flour, corn meal or bran. Choose a muffin that has 5 or more grams of fiber, less than 200 calories per serving and no more than 5 grams of fat or added sugars.

Healthy alternative: Try a whole-grain English muffin. Spread a light layer of peanut butter on a toasted half, and then top with fruit. That will set you back only about 150 calories, plus you’ll have some healthy nutrients to show for it.

Bagel with Cream Cheese. Many people grab a bagel, often with cream cheese or jam in the bagels-and-cream-cheese morning. This may be easy and quick, but definitely not healthy.

The downside: A bagel at some of the bagel chains can be four servings of bread. Most also contain processed white flour, and simple carbs that will convert quickly to sugar once in your body. They also contain little nutrition and barely any protein. A bagel with cream cheese can top the calorie charts at approximately 500-700 calories and can contain upwards of 40 grams of fat! The bread is bad enough, containing 300 calories and 60 grams of carbohydrates, but add a healthy serving of cream cheese and your “harmless” bagel weighs in as worse than a Whopper.

If you can’t resist: If you must have a bagel, look for bagels made from whole grains where possible. This would make a slightly better choice, as the added fiber would help slow down the breakdown from starch to sugar. Eat half the bagel and top it with an egg white omelet or some tuna or white fish. This swap will save you nearly 200 calories, plus provide a surge of metabolism-boosting protein. Note: most bagel chains “whole wheat” bagels, are anything but whole wheat. Most “whole wheat” bagels are mostly white flour with a little whole wheat thrown in.

Healthy alternative: Skip the bagel and have a egg white omelet. This swap will save you nearly 300 calories, plus provide a surge of metabolism-boosting protein. And a recent study from the University of Connecticut found that eating eggs can help raise HDL (good) cholesterol.

Yogurt with Fruit at the Bottom. Individually, fruit and yogurt are two of the healthiest food choice at the grocery store. Yogurt is nutrient-rich. Live and active cultures are beneficial for the intestines and immune system. Fruit can provide lots of good vitamins and minerals, and also fiber. But Yogurt with fruit at the bottom does not offer the same healthy benefits of eating these items separately and in their unprocessed form.

The downside: If you are eating yogurt with fruit at the bottom in the morning, you might as well be eating candy. Manufacturers add corn syrup to most of these products; which effectively doubles the amount of sugar. A small cup can contain upwards of 30n grams of sugar! Even the fat free products are not necessarily healthy. They still contain lots of added sugars. The low sugar varieties may also not be so healthy. Most of these varieties contain artificial sweeteners like aspartame suspected to cause health effects.

If you can’t resist: Choose the lower sugar varieties that contain active yogurt cultures.

Healthy alternative: Make your own yogurt and fruit snack. Mix a cup of nonfat plain yogurt with a half cup of mixed berries. This way you minimize the sugar, and maximize the health benefits of the yogurt. Natural unprocessed yogurt contains live active cultures to help your digestive system, as well as metabolism boosting protein.


Store Bought Sandwiches. Most store bought sandwiches are anything but healthy. Even the subway-sandwich sandwiches labeled as healthy, can contain more calories and more fat than a fast food hamburger.

The downside: Most store bought sandwiches contain highly processed luncheon meets (see below) that are full of preservatives. They also often contain sugar-laden salad dressings, little veggies & proteins and too much white bread. The freshness is questionable and you need the foot-long to fill your stomach. The large amount of processed white bread and small serving of protein causes a surge in blood sugar. Because the protein serving is usually small, it does little to lower blood sugar and increase satiety (fullness) levels.

Often labeled “fitness” or “light”, but containing sugar-laden salad dressings, little veggies & proteins and too much white bread. Freshness is questionable and you need the foot-long to fill your stomach. Few things are quite as American as brown-bagging it with a bologna or ham and cheese lunchmeat sandwich. Indeed, refrigerated processed meats, including deli meats, brought in about $17 billion in 2004, according to a report by Packaged Facts. Refrigerated sliced lunchmeats are a $3-billion industry.

If you can’t resist: Look for sandwiches that are fresh, little to no preservatives, low fat dressings (e.g., mustard instead of mayo, or vinaigrette with healthy oils), and containing a healthy serving of low fat protein (e.g., fresh turkey breast).

Healthy alternative: Make your own healthy sandwiches with a healthy serving of low fat protein and healthy serving of vegetables.

Lunch Meats. Refrigerated sliced lunch meats are a $3-billion industry. Luncheon meats are easy; quick and convenient. For many it is a quick way to get needed protein into their diet.

The downside: Many lunch meats, including ham, turkey and roast beef contain added solutions of water, sodium and water or water and spices. Most luncheon meats contain nitrites and nitrates (preservatives), monosodium glutamate (MSG), and other coloring and flavoring additives that have been linked to cancer. Nitrates can lead to the formation of nitrosamines, “which have been identified as carcinogenic substances for quite some time. Cancers of the esophagus, larynx, mouth, liver and stomach seem to be associated with nitrosamines. Monosodium glutamate (MSG has been associated with sudden cardiac death, particularly in athletes, and excito-toxic damage to brain neurons. If this was not bad enough, in August 2006, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved six viruses as a food additive to be sprayed on cold cuts and packaged deli meats to protect against the food-borne-bacteria Listeria monocytogenes that is sometimes found on cold, packaged meat products

If you can’t resist: Choose low fat luncheon meets that do not contain preservatives, coloring and other flavoring additives.

Healthy alternative: Have your grocer cut your luncheon meets directly from freshly cooked whole turkey or chicken breast.

Fast Food Salads. People today want to be healthy, and in an effort to be healthy many people choose unhealthy salads and opt out of the burger and fries at a fast food place and reach for what they believe to be a healthier alternative: a salad. However, all salads are not equal when it comes to nutrition, and just because a salad has a little lettuce and is served in a bowl does not make it healthy. In fact MOST store bought salads, and MOST salads from fast food establishments are anything BUT healthy.

The downside: Often these salads lack the darker healthier vegetables, use iceberg lettuce rather than a healthier alternative. These salads also often come with fattening products already on them, like whole eggs and cheese. Once you add the sugar-laden salad dressings, bacon bits, and the croutons; which tend to be fried or baked in oil, these “healthy” salads can top 800 calories and contain over 65g of fat. This is more calories and fat than a McDonald’s Big Mac and medium fries. A salad like this contains 70 percent of the fat that a man should eat in a day, and almost 100% of the fat that a woman should consume in a day.

If you can’t resist: Order a salad that does not come with fattening cheese and other fattening products on it. Look for a salad with lots of different colors as it’s likely to have one or two of your five to seven vegetables a day. Pass on the sugar-laden salad dressings, the croutons, the bacon bits and most of the other “sides” they throw in.

Healthy alternative: Make your own salads. This way you can control exactly what is in the salad. You can also ensure that you include enough veggies and enough protein and minimize unhealthy fats and toppings that are loaded with salt, sugar, preservatives and unhealthy fats. In regards to dressings, opt for balsamic vinegar. If you are creative, you can also create your own fresh healthy salad dressing, using ingredients like heart healthy olive oil, garlic, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice and Dijon mustard. Beans, raw almonds, and tomato salsa can also make great salad toppers.

“Light and Healthy” Frozen Meals. Frozen meals are quick and convenient. There is no argument that frozen dinners have become less unhealthy over the years with the addition of such options as Healthy Choice, Lean Cuisine, and South Beach. Although these ”healthy” versions include some vegetables and low fat protein, these “healthy” frozen meals are still not all that healthy.

The downside: These frozen meals are processed, high in sugar, and come with sauces and are still usually high in sodium. Many frozen dinners contain preservatives such as BHT, a possible carcinogen in animals, as well as polysorbate 80 and propylene glycol, the same ingredient found in antifreeze. Although consuming these preservatives from an occasional frozen dinner is unlikely to be harmful, combining frozen dinners with other processed foods on a daily basis could expose you to more preservatives than you need. Most frozen dinners also contain a minimum of 600 mg of sodium and may have as much as 1,900 mg of sodium. With these high sodium values, it can be a challenge to stay within the recommended daily sodium intake of 2,400 mg. or less daily. Additionally the entrée in a healthy frozen dinner is often short on protein, and the vegetable sides included are often well under a serving, limiting your ability to consume the recommended five to seven servings of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Eating too many heavily processed foods can also leave you short on key nutrients, fiber, vitamins and minerals.

If you can’t resist: Choose brands like Healthy Choice which have less fat, less sodium, less fats and less calories.

Healthy alternative: A healthier alternative would be to spend a day cooking large batches of your favorite meals; then freezing them in convenient portion-sized containers. The advantages to making your own frozen meals are: you can control what goes in them, there’s no need for preservatives, and they save you money. Another advantage homemade frozen dinners help you use up all your groceries, including canned veggies. This can be a huge money saver if you’re someone who finds food going to waste in your fridge or in your pantry.

Processed Soy Products. While soy may be low in fat and has some cardiovascular and overall health benefits because of their high content of polyunsaturated fats, fiber, vitamins, and minerals and low content of saturated fat, these benefits are not as substantial as was once believed. Emerging science is actually linking processed soy foods like soy milk, soy meat products, soy ice cream, soy energy bars, etc., to a variety of unhealthy conditions.

The downside: Despite the myriad of health claims that surround soy, processed soy foods like soy milk, soy meat products, soy ice cream, soy energy bars, etc., have been linked to:

  • Lower testosterone in males
  • Increased estrogen in males
  • Digestive problems
  • Thyroid dysfunction
  • Cognitive decline
  • Reproductive disorders
  • Immune system breakdowns
  • Heart disease
  • Cancer (Phytic acid, trypsin inhibitors, toxic lysinoalanine and highly carcinogenic nitrosamines are all highly present in soy products).
  • Increased incidences of breast cancer among women

If you can’t resist: If you want to eat soy, stick to the unprocessed versions (tempeh, miso and edamame). Eat all processed soy in moderation.

Healthy alternative: Any high protein whole food such chicken breast, turkey breast, fish, egg whites, low fat milk, goats milk, coconut milk, almond milk, high protein seeds, high protein beans, and lentils. High quality low fat natural protein powders made from whey and egg protein is also a good alternative.


White pasta, white bread, white rice, etc. These products are a staple for many. However, these products through processing have had many health benefits of eating them removed. Most people are unaware of the health implications that consuming too much of them can cause.

The downside: White paste, white bread and white rice have had have been stripped of their outer bran coating and inner germ during the milling process, leaving only the endosperm. This removes the healthy fiber, and many of the healthy nutrients, including the phytochemicals and antioxidants; which help to protect against coronary heart disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. By removing the outer bran coating and inner germ during the milling process, the otherwise healthy lower glycemic foods become higher glycemic foods which increase the chances of developing insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes and several other health conditions including obesity, age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and many more. The bran also contains essential oils; which help lower serum cholesterol; which is a major risk factor in heart disease. Therefore the oil in the bran helps to reduce the risk of heart disease.

If you can’t resist: Eat these in moderation, choose smaller portions and add low fat protein to the meal which will lower the overall glycemic index and not raise blood sugar levels as badly.

Healthy alternative: Choose 100% whole grain versions of rice, pasta and bread, which have more fiber, more nutrients and have a lower glycemic index. Lower glycemic index foods are associated with a slower and less dramatic rise and fall of blood sugar.

Beans packed in sugary syrups (e.g., Boston Baked Beans). Baked beans are good for you because these types of beans are loaded with fiber; however this benefit comes with a number of downsides.

The downside: The sugary syrup that baked beans come in contains as much sugar as in a can of soda. This sugar spikes your blood sugar and insulin levels. This is never good for preventing heart disease or type II onset diabetes. It is also a very high caloric product that can contribute to weight gain.

If you can’t resist: Eat a small portion. Add in some low fat protein which will lower the overall glycemic index and slow the rise in blood sugar levels.

Healthy alternative: Choose red kidney beans or garbanzo beans which are packed with protein and fiber.

Fruit cocktail. Fruit cocktail has made the list for the obvious reasons, sugar and calories.

The downside: Fruit cocktails whether they come with heavy syrup or even in fruit juice are loaded with sugar. Typically there’s more sugar in a can of fruit cocktail than in a candy bar or a glass of soda. As far as nutritional benefits, because the fruit is processed you do not get the fiber and many of the nutritional benefits that you would get as you do with whole fruit. Also many of the brands also contain unhealthy preservatives. Stick to the real stuff.

If you can’t resist: Make your own fruit cocktail using whole fruits.

Healthy alternative: Eat whole fruit including the skin if possible, but limit it to one serving of fruit per meal/snack to avoid insulin spikes.


Granola Bars. Because granola bars contain two healthy ingredients, oats & nuts, people believe that granola bars are healthy. Adding to the confusion is they are often marketed as healthy food.

Last but not least, I actually saw advertised on a box of “Raisinettes,” yeah the chocolate covered raisin…contains Fruit Antioxidants and is 30% less fat.

Boy, they’ll stop at nothing to get customers! Buyers beware!

Thanks and remember we are here to help!

~ Coach Catherine and the Milwaukee Adventure Boot Camp Team


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