Going to the supermarket can often feel like a crazy mind-game if we allow it to. While part of us knows to stick to the “outside aisles” and only buy whole foods, many healthy foods can also be found on the aisles (spices, whole grains, beans, legumes), which can make things a little more complicated. In the midst of shopping for whole foods and trying to buy as little processed foods as possible, we also run into products that may mask themselves as healthy, or just might look downright tasty, tempting us to try them. It isn’t necessary to eat perfectly all the time (because that’s no fun!), but there are some foods that just aren’t beneficial for us no matter how they’re packaged. Not only do many contain GMOs, but some are also filled with other unhealthy ingredients that don’t serve us well.
Let’s take a look at 10 of the worst offenders at the supermarket to avoid and what we can choose instead:
1. Boxed Cereal
Boxed cereal is one of the biggest offenders when it comes to minimal nutrition masked as a healthy breakfast or snack. You likely see labels that shout “whole grain” or “natural” and may initially feel these are good options. Many cereals are even organic and non-GMO, but here’s why they’re generally not a great idea: boxed cereals are highly processed, often filled with added sugars (sugar, evaporated cane juice, barley malt, brown sugar, molasses), preservatives (BHT and refined sources of salt), and they generally just don’t keep you full very long. A much better option would be a fresh bowl of whole grain oats, quinoa, millet, or any other whole grain you enjoy. We have some great recipes you can try that just take minutes to prepare!
2. Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is another food that seems so healthy. It’s made with fruit, right? Actually, no. Most fruit juices are made from fruit concentrate, they are pasteurized which reduces the antioxidants found in fruit, and they offer more sugar than a whole piece of fruit which can spike your blood sugar to unnecessary high levels. Instead of fruit juice, just have some whole fruit, or blend your fruit into a smoothie if you’re really craving a fruity beverage.
3. Diet Products
Fat-free, sugar-free, calorie-free (yes those products actually exist) — these are all common types of diet products you see out there that can be tempting if you’re trying to get healthy fast. But these foods are not real foods and will not serve your body well, especially over the long-haul. It’s important that you avoid diet products and just stick to real food, or foods with ingredients you can actually pronounce. Many diet products are filled with artificial sweeteners, genetically modified forms of corn and soy, hard-to-digest protein and fibers, or may contain chemicals and emulsifiers that hurt your digestive system (and can even lead to weight gain). Here’s how to transition into a whole foods diet if you need some help learning to eat real foods versus trendy diet foods.
4. Flavored Yogurts
Yogurts at the store are another item people often view as healthy, but if you’re choosing a soy, almond, or coconut yogurt that’s flavored, chances are it’s filled with added sugar which just leaves you hungry and craving more sweets. Flavored dairy yogurts are filled with added sugars too, with most options containing more added sugar than a piece of real fruit and very little fiber to slow the release of those sugars into the bloodstream. Try making your own coconut yogurt at home, or choose a plain soy, coconut, or almond milk yogurt and add your own fruit at home, or use stevia if you need some natural sweetness.
5. Lunch Meats
Lunch meats are a top source of carcinogens aside from containing animal protein. They’re one of the top foods linked to cancer, and have been shown to cause other health problems such as diabetes, heart disease, and obesity. Many also contain large amounts of refined sodium, corn syrup or sugar, bacteria, and nitrates (a carcinogen). Try some of these healthy protein options in place of lunch meats — they’re actually much tastier, believe it or not!
6. Bread on the Shelf
Bread is not an evil food like it is often made out to be, but bread on the shelf is one food it’s best to avoid. Shelved bread is a common source of refined grains, added (not natural) fibers, preservatives, sodium, and some even contain hidden sources of sugar, milk, and high levels of sodium. The better option? Head on over to the freezer section and pick up a loaf of the freshest bread you can imagine: sprouted grain bread. Though it’s frozen, it’s never been refined and is actually flour-free, made only of whole grains. You can choose between different flavor options and it will keep in your fridge for at least a month. Sprouted grain breads are also available in gluten-free forms without refined flours and sugars, and can be be toasted just like regular bread.
7. Vegetable Oil
Cooking up some stir-fry? Don’t pick up a bottle of vegetable oil just yet! Choose some coconut oil, olive oil, or just go with vegetable broth instead of oil at all. Vegetable oil is filled with trans fats that provide no health benefits and only empty calories. Though it is a high temperature cooking oil, it’s one of the worst foods linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. Coconut oil, olive oil, and even non-gmo safflower oil are all better options.
8. Calorie-Free Drink Mixes
From little packets of powdered fruit juice to diet-friendly packets of powdered lemonade drink mix, many dieters out there can likely testify they’ve relied on these calorie-free drink mixes at some point. Brand and generic names are commonly available at supermarkets and even drugstores nationwide, but that doesn’t make them healthy for you, despite being calorie-free. Read the label on those foods; you’ll likely see a bunch of chemical nameslinked to cancer, artificial sweeteners linked to weight gain, and even MSG. Choose the best calorie-free drinks instead: water, plain coffee, or herbal tea – they’re always a win!
9. Traditional Ice Cream
Whether you’re dairy-free or not, ice cream is a food we all need to be avoiding at all costs. Not only is it high in cholesterol, unhealthy fats, and sugars, but also contains additives and emulsifiers that can hurt your health. Try making your own dairy-free frozen desserts at home — some can even be made all in the blender, no ice cream maker required!
10. Frozen Breakfast Foods
Waffles, pancakes, and even frozen bagels, oh my! These were likely foods we all grew up loving dearly, but these foods are not items we should be eating first thing in the morning. Most all contain added sugars, refined flour, little to no fiber, additives, and preservatives. Their poor ingredient list is one reason you’re hungry an hour or two after you eat them. The better option? If you’re craving something carb-rich, have some of the aforementioned sprouted grain toast and spread on a nice slather of almond or peanut butter. Top it with some fresh strawberries or blueberries for a truly awesome breakfast delight! Or, if you’re really in the mood for waffles, just go for one of our healthy waffle recipes instead. Easy peasy!
For more supermarket tips, see 9 Hacks to Shop at Whole Foods on a Budget and 20 everyday superfoods to add to your grocery list. Remember to fill up on the good stuff; your health and taste buds will only thank you!
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