The Gimmick: Water is the healthiest beverage on earth, but according to Kraft Foods, it's "like a yawn in a glass." Enter their new product Mio, brightly colored, artificially flavored concentrate that "enhances" your perfectly healthy glass of H20. In addition to petroleum-based food dyes linked to ADHD and allergies, the third ingredient is propylene glycol, another petroleum-based ingredient used, among other things, to make plastics and keep paint from drying out. And sure, it's "calorie free," thanks to sucralose, an artificial sweetener created by processing sugar with chlorine gas.
Eat This Instead: If your water bores you, don't turn it from a natural wonder into a modern-day chemistry experiment. Slice up a lemon, add some frozen or fresh fruits, or brew some iced green tea.
The Gimmick: Back in the day, homemade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches were considered a quick lunch fix, but Smucker's has managed to turn this old favorite into a packaged supermarket product. Uncrustables are premade PB&J sandwiches with the crusts already removed, and they're full of dangerous high-fructose corn syrup and heart-damaging hydrogenated oils. They are devoid of healthy fiber, which makes you want to eat more in the long run.
Eat This Instead: Organic peanut butter and jelly on organic spelt bread. (Your body can process ancient spelt better than modern whole wheat.)
The Gimmick: Most people would agree that it's not too difficult to spread cream cheese on a bagel. The food industry thinks otherwise, and has come out with prepackaged, pre-stuffed bagels. What you might not realize is these are also stuffed with corn- and soy-derived ingredients that come from crops genetically engineered to be doused in pesticides. That winds upinside of your food.
Eat This Instead: Forget the mood-killing engineered breakfast foods and instead, buy pastured eggs from a local farmer who supplements his flock with organic feed. Hens that exercise and eat grass and bugs on pasture produce eggs lower in cholesterol and saturated fat and two times higher in the healthy omega-3s department.
Splenda Essentials with Antioxidants
The Gimmick: The food system has an uncanny ability to jam corn into just about anything, including the nutrient-defunct artificial sweetener Splenda. Adding nutrients like antioxidants is a marketing gimmick, explains food expert and author Michael Pollan. Canada Dry is doing the same thing—adding antioxidants and vitamin C to products.
Eat This Instead: Opt for less-processed sweeteners that actually contain natural nutrients, like honey, stevia.
Yoplait Low-Fat Yogurt
The Gimmick: This yogurt may be low in fat, but it harbors a whopping 26 grams of sugar—that's more than what you'll find in a Twinkie! The sugar overload will cause an energy crash later, not exactly what most people are looking for in something touted as a healthy breakfast food.
Eat This Instead: Stonyfield Greek Oikos yogurt sweetened with a dab of real honey. The high protein content will keep you feeling full longer, and the honey is loaded with naturally-occurring antioxidants.
The Gimmick: General Mills makes a big deal out of a whole grain topping Lucky Charms' ingredients list, but label hype is less explicit when it comes to sugar content, and the fact that the whole grain—corn—comes from genetically engineered, pesticide-doused crops.
Eat This Instead: EnviroKidz Leaping Lemurs Organic Cereal—its sugar content is lower, and the sweetness comes not from factory-made high-fructose corn syrup, but from mineral- and calcium-rich molasses, one of the 5 Best Sweeteners. Genetically engineered ingredients are banned in organics.
Special K Cereal Bars
The Gimmick: This extension brand for Special K cereal is saying, in essence, "Forget the bowl, the milk, and sitting down." What you're really getting is a dose of heart-damaging trans fats and potentially carcinogenic BHT, an unnecessary chemical used to retard rancidity in oils.
Eat This Instead: First, try not to eat on the go in the first place. About 20 percent of meals are rushed and eaten in the car, which leads to poor food choices and bulging waistlines. If you really need to eat on the run, choose an organic BumbleBar—it doesn't contain freaky industrial chemicals, and the sesame seed and nut ingredients pack a protein punch that will keep you feeling full.
The Gimmick: Here's another example of junk food masquerading as health food. Full of injected fiber that your body may not readily digest, this muffin top won't even satisfy your hunger. What's more, the advertising urges you to eat on the go, a big no-no if you're trying to lose weight.
Eat This Instead: Whip up this Yam Spice Muffin recipe. It's balance of naturally-occurring fiber and protein and blood-sugar-regulating cinnamon will leave you feeling fuller longer. Plus, the entire muffin (not just the top) is just 140 calories!
WhoKnew? Nutrition Rich Cookies
The Gimmick: "Nutrition-rich" cookies? WhoKnew the food industry could come up with a way to make sugary, high-carb treats seem healthy? Advertised as being an "excellent source of calcium, iron, vitamins A, B12, C, D and E," they also "have 3 grams of fiber and 20 essential vitamins and minerals." Well, an apple has 4 grams of fiber and 20 vitamins and minerals, as well; as do bananas, blueberries, grapes, nectarines, and dozens of other naturally sweet fruits that come without the refined flour and genetically modified ingredients.
Eat This Instead: Any of the above. Or take WhoNu's marketing claims to heart and eat a bowl of oatmeal or a cup of spinach or cottage cheese, or drink a glass of milk, carrot juice, or tomato juice—all foods that their "nutrition-rich" cookies claim to match.
Chocolate Milk with Omega-3s
The Gimmick: Why get heart- and brain-boosting omega-3 fatty acids from something boring, like healthy, sustainable fish? No, you need to drink them in the form of liquid sugar, according to the growing variety of flavored milk products fortified with the fish oils. Flavoring milk adds 40 to 60 calories per serving and adds 15 grams of sugar to an otherwise healthy glass of plain, protein-rich milk.
Eat This Instead: Get your omega-3s the way nature intended, from sustainable, contaminant-free seafood. Here's why: A single serving of wild Alaskan salmon contains 2,060 grams of EPA and DHA omega-3s. That glass of enriched milk? Just 30.
The Gimmick: Leave it to the food industry to take something that flows freely from your tap, scare you into thinking it isn't safe, then bottle it and sell it to you for a 1,000 percent markup. Most bottled waters are nothing more than tap water that has supposedly gone through extra filtration processes. However, independent testing of bottled water conducted by the Environmental Working Group has found that popular brands contain, on average, 8 different contaminants, ranging from bacteria to fertilizer residues to carcinogenic disinfection by-products, some that exceed legal limits for tap water.
Drink This Instead: Drink tap water, and contact your local water supplier for your annual water quality report. It will tell you if there are any pollutants that could be removed by a filter, which is much cheaper than buying hundreds of bottles.
Fruitless Fruit Juice
The Gimmick: This is a classic move in the juice trickery playbook: Use inexpensive fake food dyes—not actual fruit juice—to give the liquid an appealing color. Here's a sad example: Tropicana Twister Cherry Berry Blast contains 0 percent berry and cherry juice, despite the name of the drink. The color comes from artificial dye Red #40, which has been linked to hyperactivity and other behavioral problems in some kids.
Eat This Instead: Eat actual fruit for a fiber-rich boost that will help you avoid an unhealthy spike in blood sugar and leave you feeling full longer. When you want an occasional juice, look for an organic brand like R.W. Knudsen—organic certification means a maker can't get away with using chemical food dyes. For children, try Honey Kids—it's organic and isn't loaded with excess sugar.
The Gimmick: It's like sunshine in a bottle! Every 14.5-ounce bottle is packed with 1,000 IU of vitamin D3, the "sunshine vitamin" that seems to help everything from your bones to your brain. Except that you're paying roughly $3 a bottle for the amount of vitamin D3—and weird food dyes, artificial preservatives and a nice dose of heart-damaging fructose—that you could get for pennies a pill if you opted for supplements.
Eat This Instead: First off, get your vitamin D levels checked by a physician before you assume you're deficient. The current recommendation for average healthy adults is 600 IU per day of vitamin D, which you can get in supplement form for roughly $8 for a three-month supply. If you are in fact deficient, supplements are still much cheaper than a neon-colored drink; a three-month supply of 2,500 IU tablets on Amazon.com runs for about $12.
Single-Serving Coffee Pods
The Gimmick: Convenient? Yes. Wasteful? Absolutely. Nearly every major coffee brand now sells pods designed for single-cup coffee makers, made from non-recyclable, non-biodegradable plastic. What's more, even though the plastic is polypropylene, a less-toxic plastic, there's growing evidence that, when subjected to heat, all plastics leach chemicals that can interfere with hormonal development.
Use This Instead: Buy yourself a stovetop espresso maker like those sold by Bialetti. They're sold in one- to three-cup sizes, perfect for a single cup of your morning brew.
The Gimmick: Getting your baby hooked on these vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry shakes probably isn't a good thing for several reasons. Although the label claims that they boost nutrition, these shakes feature sugar as the second ingredient. Other additives include vague artificial flavors. "Parents likely perceive these shakes as nutritious when, in fact, they are likely a source of over-nutrition, providing a lot of calories and added sugar," says Andrea Deierlein, MD, postdoctoral fellow of preventive medicine at Mount Sinai School of Medicine.
Eat This Instead: HappyBaby Yogis organic snacks are low in sugar and rich in digestive-system-friendly, yogurt-based probiotics. The fruit is freeze-dried, meaning it's high in nutrients.
Eggland's Best Hard-Cooked Peeled Eggs
The Gimmick: These medium-size eggs are pre-cooked and shelled, then packaged in plastic. Nowhere on the packaging does it mention the hens being kept cage free, meaning the eggs likely come from a warehouse. Beyond that, they're treated with the preservative sodium benzoate, which could cause hives, asthma, or other allergic reactions in sensitive people, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Eat This Instead: For a few minutes' extra work in the kitchen, you can have high-quality, larger eggs you've boiled yourself. For nearly the same price per egg, you can find a local farmer who raises an egg-laying flock on organic grain and outside on pasture. These "gold-standard" eggs from happy hens are much higher in brain-healthy omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin E.
Bisquick Shake 'n Pour
The Gimmick: The plastic container may seem handy. After all, you just add water, shake, and you've got pancake mix. But the problem is you're paying about 2½ times more for the fancier, newer plastic packaging. Whether you get it for less in the traditional box or get the new container, the Bisquick formula contains industrial trans fat, a known heart-disease provoker that could soon by banned by the FDA.
Eat This Instead: Pancakes are ridiculously easy to make from scratch, without all the dangerous man-made added fats.
The Gimmick: You're paying roughly $1.50 for one plastic-wrapped, nonorganic potato, and then instructed to toss it into the microwave, plastic and all. Repeat after us…NEVER heat plastic in the microwave. Our public health experts warn that it causes chemicals to leach into your food.
Eat This Instead: For approximately $6, you can get a whole bag of 12 organic, pesticide-free potatoes, a much better deal. It's important to choose organic potatoes because conventional ones are often sprayed three times with different sprout inhibitors, weed-, and pest-killing chemicals.
The Gimmick: Hey, kids! Come get your morning candy, um, I mean, cereal! Despite big whole wheat claims on the front of the box, this cereal from General Mills touts 14 grams of sugar, fake dyes, and a questionable preservative. It's hard to support this sweet treat disguised as a morning breakfast staple!
Eat This Instead: General Mills also does produce the organic Cascadian Farms line, and the company recently announced it will move in a GMO-free direction with Cheerios. Other makers of organic cereal, such as Nature's Path, are more committed to organic and also produce a children's cereal line.
Gushers Mood Morphers
The Gimmick: Remember mood rings? Now, using an array of potentially toxic food dyes linked to hyperactivity, not a piece of jewelry, but your kids' tongue, could serve as a mood indicator. The box also touts the sugary treat as a good source of vitamin C, but the front of the box fails to mention high-fructose corn syrup and dangerous hydrogenated oils. Gross.
Eat This Instead: If it's vitamin C and a sweet treat you're after, pack an organic tangerine, orange, or strawberry snack in your child's book bag.
Avitae Caffeinated Water
The Gimmick: If you're looking for a buzz, don't rely on caffeine-laced water. It's expensive and uses tons of fossil-fuel energy to ship it around the globe. Plus, a recent study found 24,520 chemicals in bottled water! Yikes!
Eat This Instead: If you're looking for an energy boost, don't crash and burn with caffeine.
The Gimmick: It really doesn't take that much energy to scoop peanut butter and jelly out of individual jars, but this product contains a premixed version, one that contains high-fructose corn syrup in place of some of the fruit jelly.
Eat This Instead: Buy organic peanut butter and organic jelly for a more authentic, less-tainted spin on the classic PB&J sandwich.
The Gimmick: We had to look twice when we looked at the trans fat content in this popcorn. Some flavors contain 4.5 grams per serving. Eat a whole bag, and you're ingesting 13½ grams, an obscene and dangerous number.
Aside from that, most microwavable popcorn bags are coated with nonstick chemicals to keep grease from penetrating the bag. This chemical coating is linked to obesity and thyroid disease.
Eat This Instead: It is SO easy to make your own microwavable popcorn. If you still want the store version, choose Quinn Popcorn. The brand doesn't use trans fats or those nasty chemicals in the bags.
Dole Fruit in Gel
The Gimmick: Fruit seems like a simple, healthy snack. But this plastic-encased creation contains ingredients Mother Nature never intended for you to eat, such as carrageenan, an ingredient linked to ulcerative colitis and digestive disease. Added sugars rank third on the ingredients list, joining other questionable ingredients like Yellow 5, a food dye linked to hyperactivity.
Eat This Instead: Forget packaging waste and dangerous added sugars. Just eat the fruit you're hankering for whole. (And compost the peels, cores, and such.)
The Gimmick: This bird is all about convenience, but some studies suggest it comes with a price—your health. In a recent study, "enhanced" meats sometimes contained levels of potassium that could trigger a life-threatening condition called hyperkalemia in people with kidney disease. The potassium and phosphorous found in enhanced meats can also raise your blood pressure.
This industrially raised bird also shows off a "No hormones or steroids added" label. The gimmick? Farmers raising poultry in the United States aren't allowed to use those drugs anyway. It's antibiotics and additives like arsenic that are really concerning.
Eat This Instead: Save your money and keep chicken for special occasions. That way, it's easier to afford much higher-quality, pasture-raised chicken. (You won't need to use all sorts of additives to give it flavor, which is often what people do to counteract bland, factory-farmed chicken.) Use the bones and leftovers of your organic pastured chicken to create nourishing stock—you'll get about three meals out of one bird.
Mt. Dew Voltage
The Gimmick: This soda may contain natural ginseng, but on the flip side, it also contains a flame retardant that was originally developed to keep plastics from bursting into flames. We don't think that's what marketers meant when they named this version of Mountain Dew "Voltage."
Eat This Instead: Want to get your fizz fix without all of the questionable chemicals? Reach for one of these 8 healthier soda options.
Calavo Avocado Halves
The Gimmick: Because sometimes, it's just too exhausting to cut an avocado in half. (That's what this company is counting on!) We're all about eating avocados—they're full of nourishing, healthy fats and vitamins—but to pay nearly $3 for one cut in half and encased in wasteful plastic and cardboard, well, that's crazy. In an age when Americans create 32 million pounds of plastic waste a year, we can't condone this overpackaging sin.
Eat This Instead: You can get three organic, whole avocados for about $5, making this a better deal than the packaged, nonorganic one.
The Gimmick: We like this product because it's a pizza with fewer preservatives. The problem? We don't advise getting your vitamins from pizza injected with supplement ingredients.
Eat This Instead: Get your vitamins not from enhanced pizza or supplements, but from a diet rich in fruits and vegetables.
International Delight Iced Coffee
The Gimmick: Convenient, yes. This coffee is iced and already contains the cream and sugar. But whoa, does it EVER contain sugar—a whopping 23 grams per 8-ounce serving. That's more added sugar than a grown woman should eat in an entire day!
This product also contains carrageenan, an inflammatory thickening agent that has been linked to IBS and other gut problems.
Eat This Instead: Make coffee the old fashioned way so you can control the sweetening. (We love the organic Birds & Beans brand.)
Uncle Ben's Ready Rice
The Gimmick: Repeat after us: It is NEVER a good idea to heat plastic in the microwave. As we said before, it often causes chemicals to seep into the food you wind up eating. This product is designed to go into the nuke, plastic bag and all.
Eat This Instead: Though Ready Rice is convenient, it's expensive. You can get organic rice and make it yourself for nearly $2 less per pound!
Carnation Breakfast Essentials
The Gimmick: Product packaging says this breakfast pick contains more vitamin D than milk and more calcium than yogurt. The problem is, you might want to consider those more natural breakfast picks, since this once contains excessive levels of sugar (which has been known to create fat around your organs), carrageenan, and artificial caramel coloring.
Eat This Instead: Look to things like organic, plain yogurt, fruit, pastured eggs, and healthy breakfast recipes for a more unadulterated start to your day.