Many of the products we've come to associate with health are only categorized this way thanks to a combination of good timing and clever advertising.
A lot of what's in your grocery's "health foods" aisle doesn't really belong.
In fact, many of the products we've come to associate with health are only categorized this way thanks to a combination of good timing and clever advertising.
Here's a look at a few products you might assume are good for you that really aren't so healthy.
The problem: Juice has been portrayed as a healthy addition to any meal, but that ignores the fact that juicing removes the fiber in fruit, the key ingredient that keeps you feeling full until your next meal. As a result, you get a high-sugar, low-protein beverage that would be better swapped with water.
How it happened: Shortly after biochemist Elmer McCollum gained notoriety by warning against the dangers of vitamin deficiency, the California Fruit Growers Exchange created a campaign painting orange juice as the easiest way to get these nutrients.
The problem: Many popular cereals are high in sugar and simple carbohydrates (the stuff that gives you quick energy but can lead to later mood swings and hunger pangs) but very low in protein (which keeps you feeling full and helps strengthen muscles). Not exactly the best way to start the school day.
How it happened: It all started with Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, writes Jaya Saxena for Serious Eats. Kellogg, of Kellogg cereal, was a Seventh-day Adventist health resort manager who encouraged his followers to avoid meat in favor of yogurt, nuts, and grains. C.W. Post of Post cereal was a former client of Kellogg's.
The problem: Close to half of American adults take vitamins every day. Yet decades' worth of research hasn't found any justification for them, so long as we eat a balanced diet. Studies also suggest getting vitamins from food makes them easier to absorb and are less risky than pills.
How it happened: Biochemist Elmer McCollum warned against vitamin-deficient diets in the 1920s, and juice companies as well as vitamin manufacturers hopped on the bandwagon to peddle their products.
The problem: Unless you're one of the 1% of Americans who suffer from celiac disease, eating gluten probably won't have any negative effects.
How it happened: While the origins of the gluten-free craze remain disputed, it's been largely consumer-driven, Saint Joseph’s University marketing professor John Lang writes in The New York Times. Whether the "reasons for demanding more gluten-free products are medically or nutritionally justified doesn't ... matter," writes Lang. "More consumers want more of these products."
Seems he's right. By 2020, the gluten-free market is projected to be valued at close to $24 billion.
The problem: Bottled water isn't cheap. At an average cost of $1.22 per gallon, we spend 300 times more on packaged H2O than we'd spend to drink it from the tap. In most cases, this expense is far from worth it, since both types of water are equally safe, taste identical, and in some cases even come from the same source. There are exceptions, however — people living near private wells do not enjoy the same rigorous testing as those whose water comes from public sources, and some public sources are not properly screened, as was recently seen in Flint, Michigan.
How it happened: The first documented case of bottled water being sold was in Boston in the 1760s, when a company called Jackson's Spa bottled and sold mineral water for "therapeutic" uses. Companies in Saratoga Springs and Albany also appear to have packaged and sold water. Today, popular soda companies like Coca-Cola and Pepsi-Co own many bottled water companies.
The problem: We've been led to believe that low-fat products like margarine are healthy, but a large, long-term study suggests that's not true, as the participants on a low-fat diet didn't lower their risk of breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or heart disease, or lose much weight, if any.
How it happened: Headlines of the 1980s and '90s were filled with missives that fat was killing us, leading food makers to replace fat with sugar. New recommendations show that healthy fats, like those from nuts, fish, and avocados, are healthy.
The problem: Just because they pack lots of fruit, bottled smoothies aren't necessarily healthy, and sometimes they're very high in sugar and calories.
How it happened: The first blender was invented in the late 1930s, and Steve Kuhnau, who was reportedly experimenting with blending fruits and veggies to combat some of his own allergies and health problems, founded the first Smoothie King restaurant in Louisiana in 1973.
The problem: We've been led to believe that this $4-a-serving beverage is a panacea for everything from post-workout dehydration to cancer. It's not that coconut water is bad for you — it's high in potassium and healthier than soda — it's just that it's not worth the money we're spending.
How it happened: Since taking off globally in the mid-2000s, the coconut-water business has mushroomed into a $400 million industry dominated by just three giant companies. Ads featuring glowing celebrities like Rihanna relaxing on beaches helped push the trend into high gear.
The problem: The ubiquitous PB&J is a less-healthy alternative to sandwiches made with hummus and veggies or lean meats.
How it happened: The Great Depression popularized peanut butter on bread as a cheaper-than-meat substitute for protein. When it was combined with Welch's Grapelade — one of the first iterations of jelly — in the rations of WWI soldiers in the US, the PB&J became an official hit.
The problem: For decades, we've been led to believe that eggs are bad for us because they're packed with cholesterol, but studies suggest the cholesterol in eggs doesn't significantly raise blood cholesterol for humans. (Most studies that initially portrayed it as dangerous were in rabbits).
How it happened: Until recently, US Dietary Guidelines urged Americans to avoid eggs and strictly limit their intake of cholesterol from food.
The problem: We tend to associate fresh air and exercise with granola, but it's typically packed with sugar and calories — sometimes as much as the equivalent of 4 cereal bars.
How it happened: 1960s' America and the resurgence in the popularity of the "all natural" lifestyle helped granola blossom, according to Rolling Stone.