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'Health' Food That's Actually Junk: The 7 Worst Offenders

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Don't buy the hype about these supposedly healthy foods and beverages.

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MINYANVILLE ORIGINAL As a result of the rising obesity epidemic, many Americans have been reexamining their diets in an effort to reclaim their waistlines. In response, supermarket shelves have been flooded with new "diet" products intended to replace or substitute former junk-food favorites. While most of these foods are geared toward helping to cut calories and improve overall health, a closer look reveals that several of these products may be nothing more than glorified junk.


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Granola
Granola is the perfect on-the-go snack -- quick, easy, and high in fiber and nutrients. What could be wrong with that? While granola is a heart-healthy whole grain, the additives that go into the pre-packaged formulas are not so good for you. The typical granola bar is held together by various oils, sweeteners, and flavorful add-ins such as chocolate, caramel, and dried fruits. These additions may be delicious, but they'll also weigh you down: The average granola contains 597 calories per cup, with an incredible 29 grams of fat and more sugar than a can of Coke (KO). General Mills' (GIS) popular Nature Valley granola bars are a great example. While marketed as a "nutritious snack," the traditional crunchy bar packs 12 grams of sugar into a mere 42 grams of granola. In fact, sugar is the second ingredient listed. And although the bars are only 190 calories, they still contain 10% of your recommended daily fat intake -- seven grams. Additionally, they contain only four grams of protein and two grams of fiber. When it comes down to it, granola is not the worst choice you can make... but it's just not the healthy one it pretends to be.
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Yogurt
Yogurt has long been heralded as a top health food. Greek yogurt in particular is high in protein, low in sugar, and comes in low- and non-fat varieties. Because of this, many have come to assume that any type of yogurt will provide these nutritional benefits. The problem is that Greek yogurt only makes up 15% of yogurt volume sales, meaning that most of us aren't choosing the healthier alternatives. Instead, we're opting for the flavored, sugary products made popular by yogurt giants such as Yoplait (GIS). Although Yoplait had advertised that their light yogurt can help you lose "5 pounds in 2 weeks!," the fact of the matter is even the light varieties contain around 14 grams of sugar per serving. Choose a regular flavored version, and you can easily double that amount, adding an additional four teaspoons or more of sugar. One serving of plain, non-fat Fage yogurt contains 18 grams of protein and only five grams of sugar; the same serving of strawberry Yoplait has a mere five grams of protein while packing a sickly sweet 26 grams of sugar. Judging by recent yogurt sales, however, consumers are starting to catch on: This past quarter, Yoplait sales slipped below popular Greek yogurt brands Fage and Chobani.
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Veggie Chips
You would think anything with the word "veggie" in it would have to be healthy. The reality? Veggie chips are just a hyped-up version of their cousin, the potato chip. When comparing the popular Terra Exotic vegetable chips with the Lay's (PEP) classics, the nutritional information is almost identical. Both are around 150 calories per serving, and both are high in fat and carbs while offering almost no protein. The only difference is that veggie chips have slightly more vitamins and minerals -- and they're able to market themselves as a healthy alternative. As Terra Exotic claims on their website, their chips "allow you to indulge your taste buds without compromising a healthy lifestyle." If you really want a healthy lifestyle, opt for fresh veggies themselves -- au natural.
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Agave Nectar
Agave nectar has long been touted as the ideal sugar substitute, taking the nation's Whole Foods (WFM) grocery stores by storm. It is frequently advertised as all-natural, low-glycemic, and "diabetic-friendly." The reason it is so low on the glycemic index, however, is because it is 90% fructose. To give you some perspective, table sugar is an equal balance of fructose and glucose. High fructose corn syrup is 55/45. That means agave nectar has nearly double the fructose of the diet industry's public enemy number one. The fact of the matter is that fructose is not your friend -- it has been known to wreak metabolic havoc, upset insulin levels, and raise triglycerides. Agave syrup is a champion of good marketing, not of good health.
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Vitamin-Infused Water
"Vitamins + water = all you need." At least, that's the slogan for popular brand Vitaminwater (KO). How can vitamins and water not be good for you? After all, they are two essential components of a balanced diet. The problem with these nutrient-enhanced beverages is that they're basically sugar water with a few synthetic vitamins thrown in. What the manufacturers don't advertise is that the average Vitaminwater contains more than 32 grams of sugar. For some reason, "Vitaminsugarwater" doesn't have the same ring to it. This misleading advertising has gotten Vitaminwater into trouble in the past, as initiatives such as The Children's Health Campaign have taken the brand to task for its misleading health claims.
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Diet Soda
Sodas such as Diet Coke (KO) and Diet Pepsi (PEP) are wildly popular by those trying to trim down -- and with zero calories, who's to blame them? The problem with diet soda is that the artificial sweeteners they're made from are not natural, and their effects are still not entirely understood by the medical community. This might help explain why drinking even one diet soda a day has been linked to obesity. Recent studies have also shown that drinking diet soda can increase your risks of heart attack and stroke.

So what's your best bet when you want to hydrate in a healthy manner? Water. Chances are, you'll still be supporting the same companies; while Coke and Pepsi both experienced shrinking market shares in 2011, Dasani bottled water (a Coke product), experienced an 11% boost. In fact, soda companies have suffered such a decline in sales that they're increasingly turning to other products to pick up the slack. PepsiCo, for example, is currently preparing to sell its very own yogurt brand.
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Non-Fat Salad Dressing
While most people wouldn't think twice about adding a reduced or non-fat dressing to their salad, doing so actually prevents you from gaining leafy greens' full nutritional benefits. Foods high in carotenoids -- such as spinach, tomatoes, and carrots -- actually require some amount of fat in order for the nutrients to be absorbed by the body. In fact, when you lose the fat, you often lose the flavor. How do major manufacturers remedy this? Add sugar. So put down that Kraft (KFT) fat-free dressing -- it isn't doing you any favors. Instead, try making your own dressing with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and fresh squeezed lemon or orange juice. It's not only better for you -- it tastes better, too.

See More: Vindicated: 5 Foods Science Has Rescued from the 'Junk' Label
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