The health food industry is a $220 billion behemoth. With consumers increasingly looking for healthier options, companies are clamoring to create and market new products to meet that demand. And while all that competition may seem like a good thing, it can result in the overuse of buzzwords to get the attention of potential customers.

Please don't fall for it.  

Here is our list of the top 5 health food categories that aren't nearly as healthy as we think they are.  

Flavored Water  

Cutting out soda pop and increasing your water intake is, without a doubt, a massive step in the right direction. But beware of the flavored waters. Some can contain as much sugar as that can of pop you ditched (or more!) You are way better off sticking with plain water. If you want to add something to it, here are some tips to add flavor to your water without the unhealthy sugar. Remember, since this stuff will be sitting in your glass or water bottle for quite a while, make sure you rinse it well and use organic if possible.  

  • Add a little bit of fruit. A few slices of lemon, lime, or orange or a few berries (especially raspberries or strawberries) can give your water a subtle, bright taste. Water infusers are great for this! You can also freeze whole berries or slices of citrus (sans peel) and use them as nature's ice cubes.  
  • Cucumbers can give your water a vibrant, fresh taste. The delicate flavor can be very refreshing!
  • Fresh herbs such as mint, basil, rosemary, or cilantro can be delightful.
  • If bubbly is your thing, try sparkling mineral water with a bit of lemon, or look for naturally flavored sparkling water like Spindrift.
  • Have fun with ice. Add any combination of fruit or herbs you like to ice cube trays. Add a little water and freeze. These can lend a fun, easy flavor bomb to your water bottle or glass.
  • Try the Smart Set Go drink mix. Packed with powerful antioxidants, it can help you burn fat, enhance your concentration and focus, and support your immune system.
  • Most teas are just as tasty cold as they are hot. Try Pique Tea for a convenient, powerful boost of catechins, flavonols, and anthocyanins – most of their teas mix well in hot or cold water and are super easy on the go!

Gluten-Free  

Naturally gluten-free items like fruits, nuts, and vegetables are a healthy, easy selection if you need to be gluten-free. Things can get a bit murkier when you start to look at packaged items—”gluten-free” does not always equal “health food.” When avoiding gluten, you need to do more than look for a “gluten-free” banner on the package. You also need to look at the ingredients and any allergen statement. (Most products have allergen statements now; you can usually find them near the ingredient list or nutritional panel.)  

Often, to improve the taste and texture of gluten-free products, manufacturers end up loading these items with sugar, additional fat, and other chemicals. If you need to be gluten-free, stick with foods that are naturally free from gluten. You should also pay extra special attention to the ingredient list and allergen statement of any products you're considering. ShiftSetGo has a growing list of certified gluten-free products you can enjoy when on our program. These products include:  

Fat-Free  

Let's end the debate right now—fat isn't making us fat—and there is no need to be afraid of using healthy fats in moderation. Unfortunately, for the past 40+ years, we've been vilifying fat and have been told we need to avoid it at all costs.  

In the 1980s, the low-fat craze ramped up, with seemingly every product touting “low-fat” or “no fat” on the label. Consumers ate it up, and the reduced-fat products category exploded. However, the problem is that our waistlines expanded right alongside the growing sales, with the number of obese Americans shooting up 8 percent in the 1980s, and it's been rising ever since. According to the CDC, just shy of 75% of Americans over the age of 20 are overweight or obese.  

The problem is that when you remove fat from food or a product, something needs to be added back to make it tasty, and that's usually sugar. A high percentage of fat-free items tend to be overloaded with it. The American Heart Association recommends intakes of just 36 grams per day for men and 25g per day for women, so it doesn't take much to overdo it.  

Your best bet is to look for natural, unadulterated fats. Choose whole-food items with their fat intact over the fat-free versions. It's a much better choice to pick the grass-fed butter than the chemically altered margarine or other “fat-free” alternative.

Low Calorie  

We get it; 100-calorie packs are a handy, pre-portioned snack to grab on the go. But many of these convenience foods are full of empty calories in the form of simple carbs and sugars. Yes, these popular options are low in calories, but they're also deficient in nutrients. On top of that, they are expensive when you compare the number of calories to other, more nutritious options. How much more? Check out this handy comparison chart 

A better way to control your portion size is to grab small packs of fruits like sliced apples or some veggie sticks. If you want your favorite treat in a small package like this, just know it's a treat and not a healthy snack. Some other quick, way healthier 100-calorie options include:  

  • 2oz turkey breast (84 calories)  
  • One hardboiled egg (80 calories)  
  • 1 cup blueberries (80 calories)  
  • ShiftSetGo Pudding & Shake Mix (100 calories)  
  • 1 cup fresh raspberries (60 calories)
  • ½ oz almonds (82 calories)
  • ½ apple with 1 tsp almond butter (80 calories)

Sugar Swaps  

While there are many different opinions on what constitutes a “healthy diet,” we can all agree that we should all eat less sugar. The average person in the US eats over 75 grams of added sugar every day, twice the recommended amount for men and three times the recommended amount for women! Unfortunately, it's much too easy to replace “sugar” with equally unhealthy refined sugar alternatives.  

If you're working to lower your sugar consumption, you need to make sure to get familiar with all of the names of available sugar alternatives. Common refined-sugar swaps include:  

  • Agave  
  • Barley malt  
  • Brown sugar  
  • Coconut sugar
  • Date sugar
  • Fruit juice concentrate
  • Honey
  • Maple syrup
  • Molasses
  • Sorghum syrup
  • Yacon syrup  

Yes, some of these may have some additional benefits that refined sugar doesn't have, like containing some nutrients and antioxidants, resulting in them being called a health food. However, it's important to remember that they are still sugar.  

It can also be easy to be seduced by the seemingly perfect sugar alternative – artificial sweeteners. Marketed as a healthy, no-calorie alternative, these can include sweeteners such as sucralose (Splenda), aspartame (Equal and NutraSweet), and saccharin (Sweet N' Low). Unfortunately, research seems to suggest they are far from perfect, with studies showing “artificial sweeteners may actually be unhealthier to consume than natural sugars.”  

Reducing your sugar intake should be a goal as you work to improve your health. Just remember that no matter what form of natural sugar you choose to use, it should only be used sparingly as a treat.  

With all of the marketing going on in the grocery store, it can be confusing and tricky to find health food items. The key to making your commitment to better health is to go at it in small steps. Start with one food group you want to change and focus on that until it's a habit. Once you've mastered that one, move on to the next. And if you need help at any point along the way, we are here to help guide and support you! 

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