6 Foods That Companies Hype to Make You Think They Are Healthy


There’s nothing inherently wrong with high-calorie foods. We should all be able to eat whatever we want, and no one should ever be shamed for occasionally going to town on some junk food. Still, there are plenty of bad foods that are marketed to mislead consumers into thinking they’re one thing when they’re actually something else.

It’s especially unfortunate when companies market foods as healthy when in fact they aren’t. Unfortunately, that’s the world we live in, though, so we all have to become a bit savvier about how we make healthy food choices. 

1. Smoothie King’s Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie

This product came to our attention via Center for Science in the Public Interest’s 2013 Xtreme Eating Awards. In CSPI’s words:

Smoothie King combines peanut butter, banana, sugar, and grape juice in its Peanut Power Plus Grape Smoothie. Some may think that sounds healthy, but a 40-oz. large size has 1,460 calories and three-and-a-half days' worth of added sugar (22 teaspoons). Make that six-and-a-half days' worth, since the 17 teaspoons of naturally occurring sugar in the grape juice aren't any healthier than added sugar. There's an additional 12 teaspoons of sugar coming from the banana and nonfat milk.

That is...a lot of sugar, especially considering that one of these smoothies is likely purchased as a snack, or at most one meal. I wonder how many people know just how much sugar they’re getting?

2. Applebee's Oriental Chicken Salad

We picked just one salad for this article’s purposes, but you should know that as of last summer, there were at least 15 salads for sale at major chain restaurants that were unhealthier than a Big Mac (which has 550 calories and 29 grams of fat).

But let’s talk about this Applebee’s salad in particular. Chicken plus salad plus what sounds like some sort of Asian cuisine-inspired preparation might lead many customers to think that this salad is one of the healthier options on the Applebee’s menu. But no. The salad has 1,380 calories and 99 grams of fat, of which 15 grams are saturated. That’s almost impressive for a dish whose most fundamental ingredient is lettuce.

3. Yoplait’s 99% Fat-Free Cherry Orchard

Oh, the irony of this yogurt having “fat free” in its name! Men’s Health named this product “worst yogurt” in its Supermarket Survival Guide, and it’s easy to see why: it has a whopping 27 grams of sugar. That’s more than the daily recommended amount for the average woman (20 grams) – all in one “99% fat-free” snack.

4. Red Mango Mixed Frozen Yogurt

With the frozen yogurt fad in full force, it’s worth noting that fro-yo, while a delicious treat, is not necessarily a whole lot healthier for you than ice cream. I’m not trying to take your Pinkberry away -- by all means, eat it to your heart’s content -- just have all the facts before you do.

At the popular frozen yogurt chain Red Mango, you can buy a mixture of flavors (plain tart, pomegranate, blueberry, and white peach) that, swirled together in the smallest cup, contains 85 grams of sugar. That’s still less than most ice cream, but it’s a far cry from “healthy,” if that’s what you think you’re getting with a small cup of fruit-flavored fro-yo.

5. McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal

Mark Bittman wrote a widely shared takedown of McDonald’s Fruit and Maple Oatmeal when it was introduced in 2011, so let’s take it from him:

A more accurate description than “100 percent natural whole-grain oats,” “plump raisins,” “sweet cranberries” and “crisp fresh apples” would be “oats, sugar, sweetened dried fruit, cream and 11 weird ingredients you would never keep in your kitchen”....

Incredibly, the McDonald’s product contains more sugar than a Snickers bar and only 10 fewer calories than a McDonald’s cheeseburger or Egg McMuffin. (Even without the brown sugar it has more calories than a McDonald’s hamburger.)

That’s pretty astounding since, in Bittman’s words, “real oatmeal contains no ingredients; rather, it is an ingredient.” An ingredient that takes just a few minutes to make and costs close to nothing. Unless you get it at Micky D’s.

6. Quaker’s 100% Natural Granola, Oats, Honey & Raisins

Here’s another company taking a wholesome product – granola – and making into something deceptively unhealthy. Just how unhealthy? The good folks at Men’s Healthnote that one cup of this granola contains “the caloric equivalent of eight chicken wings -- and, for the same amount of sugar, you could have a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles more than twice the size.” Also, “with the Cocoa Pebbles, you'd get more fiber and save about 60 calories in fat.” Yikes.

In this case, the “100% natural” part of the product name is nothing but a red herring.

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