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Not-So-Healthy Foods that May Surprise You

August 11, 2020

It’s not surprising that food companies want you to think their newest products are the healthiest options on the market. They understand that consumers increasingly are factoring in nutritional values when making grocery decisions. Their brightly colored labels often use terms like “healthy” and “natural.” But, according to labeling rules, “healthy” may be broadly applied and “natural” is vaguely defined, leaving consumers to fend for themselves in determining the most nutritious choices.

In perusing the grocery shelves, there are a few products that stand out for pushing the envelope when it comes to claims on the label. Check out some of the surprising results when taking a closer look under the hood (or label). 

Breakfast Biscuits

A popular breakfast item, breakfast biscuits claim to provide “4 hours of nutritious steady energy.” Sounds perfect for an on-the-go breakfast to start the day. 

At 230 calories and 18 grams of whole grain, this tasty treat looks like a hit. Although it contains whole grain as the first ingredient, delivering 3 grams of fiber, it does not meet the FDA guidelines for a 100 percent whole grain product. The second ingredient is enriched flour (white flour), followed by sugar, cranberries and canola oil. The 12 grams of sugar eat up 24 percent of the recommended amount for a day based on dietary guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) or 50 percent of the allotted daily sugar when using the American Heart Association guidelines

In many ways, the list of ingredients reads more like a cookie recipe than a nutritious breakfast bite. Compared to a shortbread cookie nutrition facts label, the numbers are not much different. With the exception of the added whole grain, the breakfast biscuit looks more like an English biscuit (cookie), instead of a “nutritious steady energy” food. 

Product (50g)


Fat (g)

Carbohydrate (g)

Protein (g)

Sugar (g)

Fiber (g)

Sodium (mg)


Breakfast Biscuit








Rolled oat, rye flakes, white flour, sugar, canola oil

Shortbread Cookie








White flour, sugar, canola oil, palm oil, corn flour

For a healthy start to your day that may provide hours of steady energy, try overnight oats prepared in a Mason jar. Combine oats with raisins, nuts, chia seeds, the milk of your choice and a drizzle of honey. Leave in the refrigerator overnight. In the morning, find a ready-to-go, guaranteed whole-grain breakfast.

Veggie Chips/Straws 

Veggie chips seem like a great idea in place of regular chips, but the fine print tells a different story. The first ingredient for veggie chips is potato starch, followed by potato flour and cornstarch. The healthy-appearing veggie chip now looks more like a highly processed pressed chip with tomato paste, spinach and beetroot powder, providing more color than nutrition. The list of ingredients continues with salt, sugar, canola oil, seasoning and more, making regular potato chips look more appealing, containing only potato, oil and salt. If you are looking for a chip alternative, try low-salt tortilla chips, which include whole grain corn as the first ingredient, or a black-bean tortilla chip. Remember to always read the label ingredients to confirm that the food meets your expectations.

Healthy White and Honey Wheat Bread

Including whole grains in your diet is important for good health. Figuring out which foods contain whole grain is key, as some product labels may lead you astray. One product whose label declares it as “healthy white bread” is simply — white bread. No added fiber or whole grain, just extra vitamins and minerals, like calcium. The same confusion exists for honey wheat bread. Just because the word “wheat” is on the package does not mean the bread is a whole grain. Many times, unbleached enriched flour is listed as the first ingredient, meaning the flour is not bleached white, leaving the bread with a misleading brown appearance. Look for the label to proclaim 100 percent whole wheat to ensure you are getting exactly what you need for a healthy diet.

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