13 Grocery Store Staples Experts Say to Skip Buying Forever

Eunice Park | Jun 28, 2016 Healthy Living
13 Grocery Store Staples Experts Say to Skip Buying Forever

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Grocery shopping is tricky business. Many of the foods found at grocery stores can be pretty deceptive, especially if you're trying to switch to a healthier diet and lifestyle. What you may think is healthy is loaded with sugar, sodium, and other unnatural ingredients. Who would think that granola bars have three different kinds of sugar? Or almond milk has fillers? Did you know fruit yogurt has more sugar than a candy bar? 

Even when we try to read the back of a package, it can be misleading and confusing. Like, what are those ingredients we can't even pronounce? What does "non-fat" mean? And how are we supposed to know which foods to trust? (Does anyone else have a headache right now?)

To debunk tricky grocery store foods, we spoke to several experts who gave us the skinny on what foods to simply avoid buying during our food shopping trips. Many foods seem harmless (even good for you) and appear to be healthy with labels saying "natural," "no sugar," or "low fat" -- but these items aren't what you think or what they pose as.

You can create the same product yourself and have it actually be good for you, or you can buy a true healthier alternative. Here are 13 food items that experts say you should stop wasting your money on.

Sorry, granola bars. See you never, yogurt with fruit. It's over between us. We know better now.


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  • Vegetable Oil Spreads

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    Vegetable oil spreads offer a low-calorie alternative to butter, but the trade-off for fewer calories isn’t worth it. These spreads contain trans fats that raises both LDL and HDL cholesterol and increases risk of many chronic diseases, says Deana Gunn, author of Cooking with Trader Joe's: The 5 Ingredient CookbookGunn recommends using extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil, and organic butter. Wow, can’t believe we can use butter!

  • Premade Nutrition Shakes

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    Liz Palmieri-Coonley, owner and personal chef at Provisions, discourages buying pre-made meal replacement shakes because of high sugar and addition of vegetable oils. While the shakes seem like a good substitute for a meal, there isn’t any nutrition. You’re drinking water, corn product, sugar, whey protein, and vegetable oils. Imagine that sitting in your stomach -- that's why you feel full! 

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  • Granola Bars

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    Many of us assume that eating a granola bar is healthier than a cookie. Sadly, it ain't so. Palmieri-Coonley says granola bars are an excellent example of a food-like item found in a grocery store aisle that she would never buy because they tend to contain multiple versions of sugar -- and a healthier version can easily be made at home. A typical bar has 11 ingredients, and three of those are in a form of sugar. 

  • Powdered Drink Mixes

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    Those quick powdered drinks -- such as Country Time Lemonade and Kool-Aid –- are loaded with sugar and other chemicals, says Misty Shaheen, a health and wellness coach. Shaheen suggests making your own juice such as lemonade or fruit-infused waters because it's less expensive and tastes much better. Who doesn't like fresh juice? 

  • Frozen Dinners

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    How many times have you popped a frozen dinner into the oven thinking it was healthy because it had four food groups? Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Those frozen dinners are high in sodium and too many of those simple dinners can cause cholesterol levels to rise, says Shaheen. She suggests making a pound of chicken and fresh vegetables that will feed two to four people for under $10.

  • Flavored Instant Oatmeal

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    Instant oatmeal has the same nutritional value of regular oatmeal, except it's chock-full of sugar in addition to being expensive because you're paying for the convenience of having an instant breakfast. Old-fashioned oats take only five minutes to cook, and if you add your own fruit and natural sweetners, you can concoct something really delicious, says Shaheen

  • Soda & Energy Drinks

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    Think again before you reach for that cola. Soda and energy drinks are high in sugar, containing high fructose corn syrup that is a cheap way to sweeten drinks, says Zoe Martin, nutritionist at Discount Supplements. Martin says the way the corn syrup is metabolized in the body increases the risk of metabolic diseases such as diabetes and obesity.

  • Yogurt With Fruit

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    Yogurt seems like a good choice if you’re hankering for something healthy. But some yogurt, especially the kind with fruit (yes, the convenient kind), has more sugar than a candy bar, says Shaheen. If you want the benefits of yogurt without the sugar, go for plain Greek yogurt and add in fruit, nuts, and honey to sweeten it, says Shaheen.

  • Almond Milk

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    If you think you are getting good nutrition by consuming almond milk or other healthy alternatives to traditional cow milk, you may want to reread the label. Marra St. Clair, lead editor of Ritual Wellness and founder of Project Juice, says these milks aren’t giving you the purest and cleanest nutrition as they contain unnecessary ingredients such as locust bean, which is a thickening agent. St. Clair says that if lots of real nuts were being used, the milk would be creamy and thick on its own.

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  • Processed Meat

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    Who doesn't enjoy a deli sandwich stacked with cold cuts? Unfortunately, you may want to cut them out of your diet. Processed meat undergoes several processes before it reaches your plate, which includes smoking, curing, salting, and the addition of fat, says Martin. She also explains that these meats also have chemical preservatives that have been linked to some cancers, such as colon cancer. Many of these meats are reconstituted and reformed, and often contain leftover parts such as tongue and heart tissue and are very high in salt. 

  • Bottled Salad Dressing

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    If you’re having a healthy salad, it seems like bottled salad dressing would be healthy, too. Wrong. Store-bought dressings are usually made with high fructose corn syrup, extra sugar, sodium, and preservatives, says Shaheen. But it’s simple and inexpensive to make salad dressings with ingredients that are probably already in your pantry such as vinegar, olive oil, onion, garlic, and spices.

  • Potato Chips

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    Who doesn’t like potato chips? They're crunchy, they're full of fat, and you can’t eat just one. But you might want to refrain altogether because potato chips are high in fat, high in salt, and very caloric, says Martin. She says to opt for baked potato chips because they contain less acrylamide, a substance that can increase the risk of cancer and formed during very high temperature cooking such as frying. 

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  • Catfish

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    Catfish seems like a healthier food option (hey, it's fish), but you may want to check out your catfish whereabouts. Nearly 90 percent of catfish imported to the US comes from Vietnam, which has been linked with contaminated water, outdated facilities, and the use of antibiotics that are banned in the US, according to Amy Cramer and Lisa McComsey, authors of Seagan Eating: The Lure of a Healthy, Sustainable Seafood + Vegan Diet.  Two varieties, Swai and Basa, aren’t technically considered catfish by the federal government and so are not subject to the same inspection standards as other imported catfish, say Cramer and McComsey. Yikes. So what are you eating?

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