Busted: Healthy Foods That Aren’t

Written By: Sofia Layarda, MPH

Title: Master of Public Health

Alumni: University of California, Berkeley

Last Updated on:

On the lookout for healthy choices for meals and snacks? Find out the truth behind foods that seem healthy but aren’t, and what substitutes to get in their place.

Healthy Foods That Aren’t

Turkey or Soy Hot Dogs

Some hot dog makers loudly advertise the fact that they make their wieners with turkey instead of pork. But the reality is, many types of hot dog, whether made with turkey, beef, chicken or pork, still contain a huge amount of sodium and nitrites as preservatives. If you must have hot dogs, look for producers who make them preservative-free, instead seasoning and preserving with spices, such as Applegate Farms and Coleman Natural.

Frozen Vegetarian Patties

Some may feel rather righteous when they order up a frozen vegetarian patty to go on the grill, but the truth is many of these frozen pre-made patties are no better than the red-meat originals they are supposed to replace. The alternative? Make your own patties using beans, hearty whole grains such as bulgur or wheat berries, mushrooms, herbs, spices, and ground nuts or seeds.

Iceberg Lettuce

While iceberg lettuce is considered a vegetable, it is so tasteless and watery that many of us overdo the dressing when using it in a salad in an attempt to add flavor. Instead of iceberg lettuce, choose red leaf lettuce, romaine lettuce, or go “darker” and get arugula, spinach, or kale. Not only do these alternatives have more flavor, they actually pack a lot more nutritional punch with no significant caloric difference.

Microwave Popcorn

While plain, air-popped popcorn is a great snack choice, microwave popcorn contains many unappetizing ingredients, such as partially hydrogenated oils, artificial flavors or coloring, or loads of salt. Organic brands don’t necessarily fare better; for example, Newman’s Own Pop’s Corn uses palm oil in place of hydrogenated oil, which means replacing trans-fats from partially hydrogenated oils with saturated fats. The solution? Make your own by simply microwaving popping corn kernels in a paper bag.


Plain pretzels are an example of a low-fat food that does not have much to contribute nutritionally: They are usually made with refined flour, and the salted variety tends to be high in sodium. Rather than snacking on pretzels alone, team them up with some nut butter or yogurt.

The Bottom Line

When it comes to foods, it helps to know which of our favorite staples have healthier alternatives. While it’s true you can have everything in moderation, maximizing the nutritional value of what fuels your body on a regular basis is important.


grocery aisle, healthy snacks, hot dogs, lettuce, popcorn, pretzels


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