Nutrition is full of all sorts of lies, myths and misconceptions.
What people believe to be true is often the exact opposite of the truth.
Here are 11 “diet” foods that are actually making people fatter.
1. Breakfast Cereals
So-called “healthy” cereals are the worst foods you can possibly eat at the start of the day.
They are usually loaded with sugar and refined carbs, which are some of the most fattening ingredients in existence (1, 2).
Starting your day off with a processed cereal will spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. When your blood sugar crashes a few hours later, your body will call for another snack high in refined carbs (3).
This is the blood sugar roller coaster that is familiar to people on high-carb diets.
Seriously… READ the label. Most breakfast cereals, even those with health claims like “low-fat” or “whole grain” on the package, are usually loaded with sugar.
If you’re hungry in the morning, eat breakfast… but choose something unprocessed and that has protein in it (like eggs and veggies).
If you really must eat cereal for breakfast, find one that doesn’t include sugar or highly refined grains.
Bottom Line: Most commercial breakfast cereals are high in sugar and refined carbs, which are highly fattening and extremely unhealthy.
2. Agave Nectar
Agave nectar (or Agave syrup) is often marketed as a natural alternative to sugar and high fructose corn syrup.
The problem with Agave, is that it is not healthy at all. If anything, it is even worse than sugar.
One of the main reasons sugar is so unhealthy, is that it contains excessive amounts of the simple sugar fructose.
Whereas sugar contains 50% fructose, Agave contains as much as 70-90%!
Of course, small amounts of fructose from fruit are fine, but consuming excessive amounts from added sugars can have devastating effects on metabolic health (4).
High amounts of fructose can cause insulin resistance and chronically elevated levels of the fat storing hormone insulin (5, 6).
It can also cause high triglycerides, elevated blood sugars, harmful effects on your cholesterol, abdominal obesity and a ton of other metabolic problems (7).
If you think you’re doing your body a favor by replacing sugar with Agave, think again. You’re actually making things worse.
Instead, use a natural sweetener that is low in fructose.
Bottom Line: Agave is even higher in fructose than sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Excessive fructose consumption is strongly associated with obesity and all sorts of metabolic diseases.
3. Whole Wheat Bread
Whole wheat is often recommended as a healthy alternative to refined wheat.
Well… it’s true. Whole wheat is, at the very least, “less bad” than refined wheat.
But one of the main problem with most whole grain foods, is that they aren’t made from actual whole grains. It is a marketing ploy.
Almost without exception, the grains have been pulverized into very fine flour that is just as easily digestible and spikes blood sugar just as fast as the refined grains.
In fact, whole wheat bread has a glycemic index (a measure of how quickly foods spike blood sugar) that is just as high as regular white bread (8).
Whole wheat bread might contain a little more fiber and some more nutrients, but there really isn’t much difference when it hits your system.
Plus, there really is NO nutrient in wheat (whole or refined) that you can’t get in even greater amounts from other foods.
There are some grains out there that seem to be healthy for people who can tolerate them, but wheat definitely does NOT belong in that category.
Many studies show that wheat (even “heart-healthy” whole wheat) can lead to health problems, especially in people who are sensitive to gluten (9, 10, 11).
Bottom Line: Whole wheat bread is usually not made with actual whole grains. It spikes blood sugar just as fast as white bread and can contribute to various health problems.
If granola is made with real ingredients, it certainly can be healthy.
But it suffers from the same problem as most other “health foods.”
When the food manufacturers start mass producing them, they alter them in a way that they aren’t healthy anymore.
Granola contains some healthy ingredients like oats and nuts, but when you add sugar and oil to it and combine it in a package that encourages overconsumption, then it isn’t healthy anymore.
Bottom Line: Granola is often highly processed and contains added sugar and oil. It is very energy dense and easy to overconsume.
5. Low Fat Yogurt
Yogurt is often considered to be a healthy food… and it is.
But the problem is that most yogurt found in stores is low-fat yogurt… which is highly processed garbage.
When food manufacturers remove the fat from foods, they taste terrible. That’s why they add a whole bunch of other stuff to compensate for the lack of fat.
In the case of yogurt, they usually add sugar, high fructose corn syrup or some kind of artificial sweetener.
But new studies are showing that saturated fat is actually harmless… so low-fat yogurt has had the good stuff removed, only to be replaced with something that is much, much worse (12, 13).
There is also no evidence that dairy fat contributes to obesity. In fact, one study showed that people who ate the most high-fat dairy products were the least likely to become obese (14)!
So… eat real, full-fat yogurt, but avoid low-fat yogurt like the plague.
Bottom Line: Low-fat yogurt is yogurt that has had the good stuff (saturated fat) removed, only to be replaced with something much worse, like sugar.
6. Commercial Salad Dressings
Vegetables are very healthy. They’re loaded with nutrients, antioxidants, soluble fiber and various goodies.
For this reason, salads are usually very healthy meals.
However, a lot of people don’t like the bland taste of vegetables, so they add dressing to their salads.
The problem with most commercial dressings is that they’re made with nasty ingredients like soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup.
It is much better to make your own dressing. Something with extra virgin olive oil, vinegar and some spices is a much healthier option.
Obviously, salad dressings can also be very high in calories and it is easy to consume a lot of them, which can be a major problem.
Bottom Line: Most commercial salad dressings contain unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and soybean oil. It is much better to make your own.
7. Fruit Juices
Fruit juice is often perceived as healthy… it comes from fruit, right?
Well, not always. Sometimes “fruit juice” is actually just fruit flavored sugar water.
There may not even be any actual fruit in there… it may just be water, sugar and some chemicals that taste like fruit.
But even IF you can get your hands on real, 100% fruit juice, you still shouldn’t be drinking it (or at least not much).
The problem with fruit juice, is that it’s like fruit except with all of the good stuff taken out.
Whole fruits do contain some sugar, but it is bound within the fibrous cell walls, which slows down the release of the sugar into the bloodstream.
But fruit juice is different… there’s no fiber, no chewing resistance and nothing to stop you from downing massive amounts of sugar in a matter of seconds. One cup of orange juice contains almost as much sugar as two whole oranges (15, 16).
The sugar content of fruit juice is actually very similar to sugar-sweetened beverages like Coca Cola.
So… eat whole fruit, but avoid fruit juice if you’re trying to lose weight.
Bottom Line: Fruit juice is high in sugar, but has no fiber. It is very easy to consume massive amounts of sugar from fruit juice.
8. Diet Soft Drinks
One of the easiest changes for many people to make, is to replace sugar-sweetened beverages with diet soda.
This is an effective way to reduce both sugar and calories in the diet.
However… the studies don’t support that this leads to actual weight loss. People who replace sugary soda with diet soda don’t end up weighing less (17).
The reason may be that artificial sweeteners can stimulate the appetite in some people. Even though the sweeteners themselves are calorie free, they may make you eat more of other foods (18, 19, 20).
That being said, a lot of people can lose weight drinking diet soda, but that’s probably because they’re changing a bunch of other things as well.
As with most things, this depends on the individual. On its own, just switching to diet soda is unlikely to help and may even make things worse for some people.
Bottom Line: Artificially sweetened beverages contain no sugar and no calories, but some studies show that they can stimulate the appetite.
9. “Organic” Processed Foods
Organic whole foods are excellent, but processed organic foods are not.
When you look at the ingredients labels for many of these organic, “healthy” meal replacement bars, crackers, snacks, etc… then you see that they really aren’t that much different from other processed foods.
Sure, they might contain Organic Cane Sugar instead of regular sugar… but organic sugar is just as bad as regular sugar. Your liver won’t tell the difference.
So… eat whole, single ingredient foods (organic if you can afford it) but avoid organic processed foods.
Bottom Line: Even though organic whole foods are healthy, a lot of organic but processed foods are made with unhealthy ingredients like sugar.
10. Trail Mixes
Trail mixes usually contain dried fruit, nuts or peanuts, sometimes along with some chocolate and grains.
This is a very energy dense snack. The dried fruit has a lot of concentrated sugar and the nuts are loaded with fat in a dense package.
For this reason, it is excellent when you need a lot of energy… such as when you’re hiking.
However, most people today are NOT suffering from a lack of energy.
Trail mixes are high-carb AND high-fat at the same time, which is a terriblecombination if you are trying to lose weight.
That being said, trail mixes are fine if you don’t consume too much at a time.
Bottom Line: Trail mixes are very energy dense and are an excellent snack for people who need energy. However, they are high in both carbs and fat at the same time, which is a bad combination if weight loss is your goal.
11. Gluten Free Junk Foods
Gluten free is very popular these days.
According to one 2013 survey, a third of Americans are actively trying to reduce the amount of gluten in their diets.
The food manufacturers have jumped on the bandwagon and brought all sorts of gluten-free replacement products to the markets.
The problem is that they are usually just as bad as their gluten containing counterparts.
These foods are usually made with highly refined carbohydrates, sugar and various chemicals.
If you’re going to eliminate gluten, then choose foods that are naturally gluten free (like plants and animals)… NOT processed gluten-free foods.
Junk food with “gluten free” on the label is still junk food.