10 food and drink swaps that aren't as healthy as you think

iStockOrange juice might not be the healthier option.
  • You might be making food or drink swaps that aren’t as healthy as you think.
  • Often times, products marked “gluten-free” have added sugars and are better avoided unless you have Celiac disease.
  • Sweetened milk alternatives are probably not a good choice.

Finding healthy alternatives to some of our favourite junk foods is definitely tempting, as many of our go-to classics contain a high amount of calories, sugar, and sodium. However, while some substitutes may be beneficial to your health, others may not be as helpful, as expert dietitians suggest that some seemingly innocent swaps may be worse than the food you are trying to replace it with.

To help you determine which food swaps aren’t as healthy as you think, we spoke to some dietitians on the subject to help you make the best eating decisions possible.

Below are some of the substitutes they recommend avoiding if you are looking to stay committed to your wellness goals this year.


You are swapping soda for iced tea.

S_Photo/ShutterstockIced tea is often sweetened; read the label before foregoing soda for it.

“When trying to kick your soda habit, choose your substitution carefully,” said registered dietitian nutritionist Kelsey Peoples, MS, RDN.

Swapping soda for a natural iced tea may sound like an upgrade, but she explained that many commercial iced teas have just as much added sugar as your standard cola. If you’re looking for a bit more flavour than plain water, she advised sticking to naturally calorie-free unsweetened iced tea, seltzer, or flavored waters.


You are replacing your morning coffee with orange juice.

Jeremy Keith/FlickrOrange juice contains a surprising amount of sugar.

“Orange juice, although thought to be a healthier alternative, contains too much sugar and no fibre,” said registered dietitian Jackie Arnett Elnahar, RD.

Opting for coffee over any fruit juice is a smart healthy decision, she explained, as coffee has been shown to have heart boosting antioxidants and helps the brain.


You are swapping whole wheat bread for regular bread.

sierravalleygirl on flickrMake sure you’re looking at the fibre content of your bread.

“You always want to make sure that whole wheat bread has fibre, otherwise it is not a much healthier food swap,” Arnett Elnahar suggested.

Your best bet is to look for multigrain bread that has more fibre and minerals for the whole grains that are milled, she explained.


You are eating gluten-free products without having Celiac disease.

“Unless you have Celiac disease, you probably don’t need to avoid gluten,” said registered dietitian Erika Der Sarkissian, RD. One recent study found that gluten-free options are not healthier than regular food, and usually cost more, she suggested.


You are eating fruit-juice sweetened products.

Betsssssy/FlickrEven if your cookies say ‘fruit-juice sweetened,’ they’re still full of sugar.

“While it sounds a lot healthier to eat a cookie that is fruit juice sweetened, the fact is that many of these products rely on highly processed fruit juice concentrates which are stripped of their vitamins, minerals, flavour, and phytonutrients,” said registered dietitian Susan Bowerman, MS, RD, CSSD, FAND, and Director of Worldwide Nutrition Education and Training at Herbalife Nutrition.

“What you are left with is basically a fructose-based syrup – which is what you were trying to avoid in the first place,” she suggested.


You are swapping in ground turkey for ground beef.

Ruth Hartnup/FlickrOpting for a turkey burger isn’t always the best choice.

“Ground turkey isn’t always leaner than ground beef – a lot depends on what products you choose,” Bowerman told INSIDER. Some brands or types of ground turkey products contain both white and dark meat, and may also contain turkey skin, which drives up the fat content, she said.


You are swapping in honey, agave syrup, or other natural sweeteners for sugar.

“It may be appealing to use natural sweeteners like honey, agave, or maple syrup,” Bowerman explained.

The fact is that the amount of any beneficial nutrients in any of these natural sweeteners is so small (especially in the amounts you are consuming them), that there is no real benefit to using them over regular table sugar, she suggested.


You are consuming sweetened milk alternatives.

Vivianna_love / FlickrConsider making it yourself or choosing unsweetened nut milks.

“Milk alternatives can be a great option for many of our egg or lactose intolerant friends, but you need to be careful that the brand you are choosing is unsweetened,” Bowerman advised. Some sweetened almond milks can have up to 13 grams of added sugar per cup, and some oat milks can have up to 19 grams of sugar per cup, she said.


You are consuming meal replacement bars and shakes.

PixabayIf you’re replacing your meals with protein shakes, chances are you’re consuming too many artificial sweeteners.

Any low-calorie meal replacement smoothie, shake, or bar should be avoided,” said registered dietitian Rachel Fine, MS, RD, CSSD, CDN.

These foods are often filled with artificial sweeteners and chemical additives that not only lack evidence of long-term efficacy but also risk driving a deeper craving, she explained.


You are eating organic in place of traditional foods.

Wikimedia CommonsAn organic label doesn’t necessarily mean the food is healthy.

“Organic labelling are standards based on livestock or ingredient sourcing, but not based on nutrition facts,” said registered dietitian Julie Upton, MS, RD. While organic products may have benefits to the planet, eating organic cookies, doughnuts, or soda will not make for a very healthy overall diet, she suggested.

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