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Diet & Nutrition

10 Healthy Foods That Are Unhealthy In Disguise

Dt. Parvathy Menon

The greatest tool for nutrition you have is knowledge of what you're eating.

Eating healthy, staying fit and not being overweight are all common aspirations that most of us harbour. At the same time, giving in to cravings and indulgences are also natural and a part of us being human. Amidst the divide between this tussle exists a host of food items that are conveniently labelled as healthy but may not necessarily be so. Here are 10 options often touted as healthy options or alternatives and their lesser-known facts that are sure to be an eye-opener.

Diet Drinks

Enjoying a beverage with zero calories might be a tempting alternative to aerated beverages, but they are often made of artificial sweeteners like aspartame. Researches show that consuming artificial sweeteners for an extended time may cause internal inflammation leading to higher risks of weight gain and obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and other health issues. So leave out the diet drinks and have water. Water is all you need.

Dried Fruits

Dried fruits are an excellent substitute for candy and other sugar-laden snacks. But most commercial dried fruits are filled with sugars and preservatives to augment the sweetness and increase shelf life of the product. Although some quality dried fruits are free of chemicals and added sugars, fresh fruits would still be a healthier option.


Customary checks of the ingredient label on a pack of cornflakes, you would find “high fructose corn syrup” which is an artificial form of sugar, apart from artificial flavours. This form of simple sugar gives you energy for a very short duration of time and spikes your insulin levels leading to fat storage. It is always better to switch to healthier whole grain options such as whole wheat, dalia, oats, millets.

Energy Bars

It was originally intended for long-distance runners and endurance athletes, to provide them with a quick burst of energy to enhance their performance. So, most of the carbohydrates from these bars come from simple sugars. It is not meant for people who do moderate to low to no physical activity, as their body cannot utilize all these sugars and thus leads to spikes in insulin levels, which would ultimately result in fat storage. Instead of energy bars, having peanut jaggery chikki/ dry fruit jaggery laddu is a better option.

Brown bread

Check the ingredient list on a packet of brown bread, it is most likely that you will find refined wheat flour as the first item, followed by wheat flour. In any product, the first ingredient listed on the label would be present in a larger quantity. Hence we can deduce that brown bread has refined flour (maida) as its major ingredient, with key nutrients often stripped off from the bread. If it isn’t 100% whole wheat, this bread would contain enriched flour, which gives you a sugar high and crashes without any nutritional value. You can swap it for fibre-rich bread that is 100% whole wheat. Other bread like multigrain and sprouted are good options too, as long as you find this as the majority ingredient listed on the package. 

Peanut Butter

Key health benefit of peanuts is that they are full of monounsaturated fats, aka good fats. The commercially obtainable peanut butter contains hydrogenated oil. Food manufacturers use the method of hydrogenation to save cost and improve the shelf life of the product. Hydrogenation is the process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat/trans-fat by adding hydrogen. These trans-fats increase the risk of heart attacks, stroke and type 2 diabetes. Trans-fat also has an unhealthy effect on your cholesterol levels. Apart from hydrogenated oil, commercially available peanut butter also contains processed sugar and salt. Enough reasons to ditch the commercial ones and make all-natural peanut butter at home.

Instant Soup 

Soups are one of the best low-calorie starters making it a healthy and filling option that also inadvertently aids in portion control of your main course meal. However, packet soups contain a lot of ingredients that are harmful to our body including taste and flavour enhancers, artificial colours and they are laden with a lot of sodium. Excess of sodium intake leads to water retention which can add up kilos and can increase your risk of stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, and kidney diseases. So, it is always recommended to make soups at home with fresh ingredients so that you get the benefits that it is meant to provide. 

Processed meat

Here, the meat is chemically altered to increase the shelf life, enhance the flavour and to make it more stable. Meats undergo a lot of processing like curing, salting, fermentation, smoking etc to get the desired results. Such meat variants have been listed by various health organisations in potential cancer-causing food category groups. So make sure that you avoid bacon, ham, sausages and other forms of processed meat as much as possible. For the meat lovers, do check if your local meat shop can provide you with unprocessed options of these. You might just get lucky.

Masala oats

When people hear oats, they automatically relate it to being healthy. Yes, of course, they are a great source of complex carbohydrates as well as both soluble and insoluble fibre which helps in weight loss, managing conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular disorders, and for a healthy gut. However, the packaged masala oats are often full of unwanted additives, preservatives, flavour and colouring, just like that in instant soup packets. Hence, it is recommended that you buy the whole oats and customize it by adding your favourite vegetables and spices to make your version of masala oats at home.

Packed fruit juices

Whole fruit contains fibre, vitamins and minerals – most of which is lost in the juicing process. And, the packaged juice is even worse as they’re sugar-packed. The fructose-laden sugar can be stored as fat in your liver. So make a healthy choice by consuming whole/ cut fruits rather than packet juices. For the juice lovers, blend fresh fruit without sugar and drink it unstrained. 

Hope this has been a revelation of sorts for you. You would also be able to find the hidden answers to questions that often nag your mind like – “Gosh, why am I gaining weight even though I am eating healthy” or “Why are my health check results subpar even though I avoid fats and sugar.

Going back to the human cravings to indulge in your favourites, it is important to do so with awareness and control. Indulge mildly and with strict portion control. If you crave for a cola, have one in a month. Make a Sunday breakfast English with a couple of sausages and a ham sandwich, but ensure you limit the quantity and treat yourself to this once every fortnight. Slowly you will start seeing your cravings diminish as your body adapts to having more healthy food. And finally, these would remain as occasional indulgences in small portions to satiate the taste buds as they cease to be cravings. 

For any queries related to food or diet, you can reach out to our dietitians on the MFine app.

The email ID needs to be in the form of xxx@yyy.zzz

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