4 foods that people THINK are healthy but are actually no better than candy or soda

I wanted to clear up something that has bothered me for a while. Large food producers seem to have done a very good job at creating and perpetuating a public perception of certain types of foods as being “healthy”. The manufacturer’s success in promoting packages of sugar and fat with product labels that allude to health is a big win for the packaged food manufacturers and a loss for consumers. These products will have labels such as ‘low in sugar!’, ‘all natural!’, ‘high in Vitamin C!’ and a certain type of design, imaging, and font on the front that will try to deceive consumers into believing that this a nutritious, healthy snack that they’re spending their money on. The prevalence of this practice is something that plays a part in our nation’s rising obesity epidemic.


1. Fruit Snacks

Make no doubt about it- This is a bag of candy. plain and simple. Parents, especially, take note. These are simply balls of high fructose corn syrup, with artificial flavorings, synthetic vitamin fortification, and a drop of fruit juice to allow the company to legally say that these are ‘made with real fruit’.

The package is designed in such a way, with the fruit all over the front, as to make an implication that this is a health food and is an attempt to mislead the consumer. Something I find to be especially disconcerting is their claims about the product having the following “healthy ” attributes: “100% of the daily value of Vitamin C, 25% of the daily value of Vitamin A and E, fat free, gluten free, no preservatives, and made with real fruit.” I could literally take a bag of sugar, crush up a multivitamin into the mix, and add a drop of fruit juice  and make all these exact same claims.



2. Granola


This is a particularly daunting one, in terms of how it came to be known as one of the quintessential health foods. It’s basically a bag of crushed up cookies. These granola products are plastered with claims of being “all natural” and often come in “natural” looking packaging that conjures up thoughts of being a all-natural, wholesome food straight from mother nature without any processing. However, they have about the same macronutrient, and micronutrient breakdown as cookies. They are extraordinarily high in calories and sugar content while providing minimal nutritional value and completely lacking in protein and quality fat sources.

Here is what half a cup of typical granola contains:

300 calories
15 grams of fat
3 grams of saturated fat
32 grams of carbohydrate
12 grams of sugar
5 grams of fiber

As opposed to three medium sized cookies:

234 calories
13.5 grams of fat
6 grams of saturated fat
28 grams of carbohydrate
16 grams of sugar
2 grams of fiber


3. Clif Bars (or other similar ‘sports bar’ products)


This product is a Snicker’s bar, except with each ingredient switched out for an organic, more ‘natural’, and therefore innocent sounding ingredient. The macronutrients still come out to be the same as a Snicker’s bar. For example, the first ingredient is brown rice syrup. This is just sugar, but they derive it differently in order to have a more natural sounding name on the ingredient list.

Don’t get me wrong, if you’re truly a marathon runner or participate in other extremely long endurance sports then this product is a fine snack to keep your energy up during your workouts… but a Snicker’s bar would also have the same effect in giving you a rush of glucose. Although to be fair, in that circumstance, this would make a good alternative to the Snicker’s bar. However, I’d wager to guess that the majority of people consuming these products are not running marathons.

The problem is, again, that due to the packaging and the perception of health that their marketing team works so hard to perpetuate, the uninformed consumer is again left mislead.

Nutritional Facts (grams)CLIF BARSNICKERS
Total Carbohydrates4135
Sodium (milligrams)200140
Size (Grams)6858.7

Chocolate Chip Peanut Crunch CLIF BAR ingredients:

Organic Brown Rice Syrup, ClifPro® (Soy Rice Crisps [Soy Protein Isolate, Rice Flour,Barley Malt Extract], Organic Soy Flour, Organic Roasted Soybeans), Organic Rolled Oats, Organic Toasted Oats (Organic Oats, Organic Evaporated Cane Juice), Organic Evaporated Cane Juice, Organic Peanut Butter (Organic Peanuts, Salt), Chocolate Chips (Evaporated Cane Juice, Unsweetened Chocolate, Cocoa Butter, Soy Lecithin, Natural Flavors), Peanut Flour, Peanuts, ClifCrunch® (Organic Oat Fiber, Apple Fiber, Inulin [Chicory Extract], Psyllium, Organic Milled Flaxseed), Organic Date Paste, Natural Flavors, Sea Salt.

SNICKERS bar ingredients:

Milk chocolate (sugar, cocoa butter, chocolate, lactose, skim milk, milkfat, soy lecithin, artifiical flavor), peanuts, corn syrupsugar, skim milk, butter, milkfat, partially hydrogenated soybean oil, lactose, salt, egg whites, artificial flavor.



4. Fruit Juice

This may be a slightly more controversial one, but fruit juice is a product that we are typically taught as kids that this is a healthy alternative to soda. However, fruit juice that you buy at the store is usually not pure fruit juice. It, more often than not, has added sugar or high fructose corn syrup, along with other nasty things.


In the end, the fruit juice usually sold at most supermarkets, even the fresh squeezed, usually has as much, if not more, sugar than Pepsi. The spike in blood sugar that consumption of fruit juice causes still contributes equally to diabetes and creates the same increased risk of obesity that traditional soda does. Parents take note here again, and think twice before giving your child a box of fruit juice as a healthy drink. I will say, though, that the fruit juice does win in one category when compared to soda. It does contain the vitamins that come from the fruit (assuming the product in question actually contains all or mostly fruit juice, which many do not). However, I would say that the negatives far outweigh this small positive. I would recommend glass of water and a multivitamin any day of the week over a cup of fruit juice. Or even better yet, just drink a glass of water and eat an actual piece of fruit. Your body will thank you!


Benjamin Sherman

Benjamin Sherman is a junior year Computer Systems Engineer at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. He has been involved in numerous projects related to his major that contribute to his ever-growing experience in his major. Benjamin Sherman's interests include swimming, fencing, running, reading, and knitting just to name a few! Sunderland, MA Bedford, MA

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3 Responses

  1. Jesse says:

    This article is pretty ignorant.

    1. You compare the cheapest fruit snacks brand you can find to candy. Why not try fruit snacks that are actually made with real fruit? They exist. Its called being smart as a shopper.

    2. You seriously compared Granola to a cookie? Have you ever eaten granola? Granola is typically used to accentuate raw fruit and yogurt, both of which are extremely healthy. Even if you compare it 1:1 with a cookie it has significantly less sugar and saturated fats while having significantly more fiber than a cookie. Also, using the term “cookie” and providing nutrition facts is pretty vague. They are some very healthy cookies and very unhealthy cookies that all different greatly in nutrition facts.

    3. Snickers bars have hydrogenated oils and several other processed or refined ingredients that your body has issues digesting. A cliff bar, while I do not advocate for them, has much more natural ingredients that your body can more easily digest and produces less of a toxic load. They are super convenient energy boosts while hiking, canoeing, etc. without eating a bunch of processed, toxic junk.

    4. I actually agree. Get a juicer and make juice at home!

    • Benjamin Sherman says:

      Thanks for reading my article and taking the time out to write a response, Jesse!

      Clearly, you are an informed consumer who knows whats what in terms of healthy eating. The target of my article was your average American who makes their choices based simply on whats on the front of the product at the grocery store. The point of my article was to make a statement about how food manufactures use misleading tactics to attempt to persuade consumers into purchasing junky food that is passed off as health food.

      1. I chose the fruit snacks brand that I did because it is one of the brands that the majority of Americans purchase. Once again, my article was was not targeted towards those that go out of their way to purchase fruit snacks from health food stores, whom you refer to as “smart shoppers.”

      2. Granola could be used to accentuate fruit and yogurt, but so could a cookie. In terms of comparing them 1:1, I agree that granola would win in terms of overall healthiness, but the point was that they’re not far off. This is compared to an average cookie. However, you really only stand to gain weight by eating granola, on its own.

      3. I stated that Clif bars certainly have their place in strenuous activity and they’re great for that. Again, the target of this article was the average American who does not engage in strenuous activity.

  2. Ange Finn says:

    Good for you for raising consciousness on what’s really healthy! The nutritional facts panel isn’t a sexy read but it is the go-to place for learning what you’re really getting for the $$$ you invest and calories you ingest. You don’t even necessarily need to read the ingredients–just look at 4 things, protein, carbs, fiber and sugar. For a healthy snack look for more protein and fiber in ratio to fewer carbs and sugar. And if you hate deciphering that little panel, there’s an easier way out–eat fresh fruit, no reading necessary. Great post!

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