We're all familiar with them — foods that we think are healthy because we heard about them on the news or from a health-conscious friend.
And no matter how much we may dislike them, we keep buying them because we think they're good for us.
Take swapping dairy milk for almond milk. Is liquid from nuts really nutritionally superior to milk from a cow? Or splurging on Himalayan sea salt. Healthy habit or a bit of nonsense?
We asked Andy Bellatti — a registered dietitian and the cofounder of Dietitians for Professional Integrity — for advice about which "health foods" are actually not worth eating.
Many of us take vitamins every day. Yet decades' worth of research hasn't found any justification for this pill-popping habit.
We do need small amounts of vitamins to survive, of course — without vitamins such as A, C, and E, for example, we'd have a hard time turning food into energy, and could develop conditions like rickets or scurvy. But research shows we get more than enough of these substances from what we eat, so there's no need for a pill.
2. Almond butter
Everything from Gwyneth Paltrow's daily breakfast smoothie to the grocery store around the corner now seems to have almond butter, but the stuff is incredibly pricey. We asked Bellatti whether there's any reason to use almond butter instead of plain old peanut butter, which is about four times less expensive.
"It can just be peanut butter!" Bellatti said. "If the only ingredients are peanuts and salt, that totally works. It's still going to have your protein, healthy fats, and vitamin E."
When you juice fresh fruits and veggies, you remove their fiber, the key ingredient that keeps you feeling full and satisfied until your next meal.
What you keep is the sugar. In the short term, a high-sugar, low-protein diet means hunger pangs, mood swings, and low energy. In the long term, you can lose muscle mass, since muscles rely on protein.
4. Gluten-free bread
Studies show that most people suffer from slight bloating and gas when they eat, whether they consume wheat or not. So go ahead and eat that bagel.
5. Almond milk
Dairy alternatives have been surging in popularity in the past few years, especially almond and soy milk. Yet almond milk is practically devoid of nutrients.
By themselves, almonds are protein powerhouses. But by volume, a typical glass of almond milk is only about 2 per cent almonds and contains almost no protein. And all the vitamins in it are added. So if you're looking for a truly healthy alternative, opt for soy, skim, or low-fat milk.
If you're like me, you associate anything crunchy and sold in bags in the health-food aisle with nature-loving hikers — people who get lots of exercise and keep their bodies lean and healthy. But most granola is no health food. In fact, it's packed with sugar and calories — a cup contains about 600 calories, or the same amount as two turkey-and-cheese sandwiches or about four cereal bars.
7. Egg whites
Lots of people began avoiding egg yolks after nutrition experts suggested that eating cholesterol was bad for you because it raised your cholesterol levels.
But there's good news. A growing body of research shows that for the vast majority of people, dietary cholesterol (that comes from foods you eat) doesn't really have much of an effect on your blood cholesterol. So unless you have high cholesterol, ditch those nasty egg-white-only alternatives. Good morning, eggs Benedict!
8. Bottled water
Bottled water is not cleaner or healthier than most tap water in the US. Yet we spend more than $100 billion on the bottled good every year globally.
9. Agave nectar
Once upon a time, many health proponents (including Dr. Oz) suggested swapping your sugar for agave, since it has a low-glycemic index and doesn't lead to the impromptu spikes in blood sugar (aka glucose) that happen after consuming plain white sugar.
But while agave isn't high in glucose, it is high in another type of sweetener — fructose (the same stuff in high-fructose corn syrup). Some recent studies suggest that diets high in fructose are linked with several health problems, including heart disease.
It doesn't so much matter which sweetener you use as how much you're using. "Sugar is sugar is sugar," says Bellatti.
10. Anything that promises to 'detoxify' your system
No one needs to detox. Unless you've been poisoned, you already have a super-efficient system for filtering out most of the harmful substances you eat. That means you don't need to buy any "cleansing" juices or "detox" teas.
"There's nothing about these products that's detoxifying, nor is there any food that’s detoxifying," says Bellatti.
Your built-in cleaning system is made of two toxin-bashing organs: the liver and kidneys. While our kidneys filter our blood and remove waste from our diet, our livers process medications and detoxify any chemicals we ingest. Paired together, these organs make our bodies natural cleansing powerhouses.
11. Coconut oil
Coconut oil is roughly identical to olive oil in overall calorie and fat content.
But as opposed to a tablespoon of olive oil, which has just 1 gram of saturated fat and more than 10 grams of healthy mono- or polyunsaturated fats, a tablespoon of coconut oil has a whopping 12 grams of saturated fat and just 1 gram of healthy fat. Experts suggest avoiding saturated fats because they've been linked with high cholesterol and a risk of Type 2 diabetes.
12. Himalayan salt
The distinctive pink hue of Himalayan salt can be traced to the tiny amount of iron oxide, or rust, in the pebbles. The salt also contains small amounts of calcium, potassium, iron, and magnesium, and fractionally lower amounts of sodium than regular table salt. But is it worth the price?
"Yes, the pink hue comes from minerals but the content is close to nil," says Bellatti. "Nobody should be looking for minerals in things like sugar or salt! Just because it's Himalayan crystal salt, you can't just use more of it or think it wouldn't have the same effects as other salts would. Understand that it's still salt."
13. Coconut water
This £3.50-a-serving beverage is not a panacea for everything from post-workout dehydration to cancer. Yes, coconut water is a great source of potassium and other vitamins and minerals. But it'll do your body just as good to drink a glass of water and snack on a piece of fresh fruit.
14. Low-fat everything
We've been led to believe that low-fat products will lead to increased overall health and weight loss. However, an eight-year trial involving nearly 50,000 women suggested that that's highly unlikely. When roughly half of them went on a low-fat diet, they didn't lower their risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or heart disease. Plus, they didn't lose much weight, if any.
New recommendations show that healthy fats, like those from nuts, fish, and avocados, are actually good for you in moderation. So add them back into your diet if you haven't already.
15. Sports drinks
We've been wrongly convinced that we need sugar water to prepare for a workout and "refuel" after hitting the gym. In reality, exercise scientists recommend drinking water and eating or drinking 20 grams of protein, since studies suggest that helps recondition and build muscles.
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Is coconut oil as good for you as you think? (shutterstock)