Updated 09 January 2017

'Health foods' may be far less healthy than you think

Many so-called health foods only focus on one aspect of health, and are often laden with ingredients like sugar and fat.


There are many food products on the market that claim to be healthy.

These claims vary from organic and low fat to sugar free, carbohydrate free, fat free, gluten free, preservative free and so on. We are however often unsure how healthy these foods really are, as many of them still list for example sugar and/or fat as an ingredient.

If you want to better control your blood sugar levels for sustained energy levels throughout the day or to achieve improved weight control, many of these "healthier" products can be beneficial. It is however recommended that you adhere to the following guidelines:

1. Look for a product with a nutritional label

Don’t buy products that do not provide a nutritional label at the back of the packaging. In order to evaluate the suitability of a product it is vital to have an analysis of its energy (kilojoules) carbohydrate, sugar and fat content.

2. Health claims

It is important to be very careful about believing the numerous health claims made by these products. Although there is legislation in place to prevent this, many manufacturers print unproven or misleading health claims on their products.

Read: How to read food labels

Gluten free flour is refined and no better that white wheat flour in terms of affecting blood glucose levels. This applies to all refined flours – examples are rice flour, potato flour and wheat flour. The glycaemic index of these flours is close to sugar and glucose.

The best way to improve blood glucose levels is therefore to avoid all refined flours.

Many shops and bakeries currently offer carbohydrate and sugar free bakery items made from almond or coconut flour, seeds and nuts. These will certainly contribute to improved blood glucose control, but if you're concerned about gaining weight, be aware that they contain significantly more kilojoules than their floury counterparts.

An investigation resulted in the following analysis that will provide you with the necessary information on the best product to buy. The figures are per 100g.

Sweets (gums and sucking sweets)

All sweets that claim to be sugar free contain artificial sweeteners that do not affect blood glucose levels. Depending on the type of sweetener they contain, some sweets, like hard sweets, are very low in energy, while other products such as sugar free gums and nougat contain more energy due to sweeteners such as maltitol and sorbitol, as well as other ingredients such as egg white and gelatine.

Read: Kids programmed to like sweets


We tend to assume that dark chocolate contains less energy than milk chocolate or white chocolate, but this is not necessarily true. To be on the safe side and control your sugar levels, it is better to enjoy sugar free chocolates.


The nutritional content of biscuits varies significantly depending on the type of ingredients and sweeteners used. The best is to choose the biscuits with the lowest sugar, total fat and energy content.

Potato chips

Vegetable chips and low fat chips tend to contain less total fat and saturated fat compared to "normal" and kettle fried chips.

Read: Potatoes are good for the heart

3. To summarise

Sweets: Choose the sweets with the lowest sugar and energy content.

Chocolates: As all chocolates are equally high in fat and energy, choose the sugar free chocolate

Biscuits: Choose the biscuits with the lowest energy, total fat and sugar content

Chips: Choose the chips with the lowest total fat and saturated fat content.

As all of these products are high in calories they should only be enjoyed occasionally in small quantities.  Another reason to control frequency and quantity of consumption is that theses foods are nutrient poor, and when consumed on a daily basis, they can easily replace foods that provide our bodies with valuable nutrients such as fibre, vitamins minerals and phyto-nutrients.

Alternatively invest in a healthy cooking book, and bake, or let someone bake delicious treats made from dried fruit, nuts, whole grain flour – and apple sauce for a bit of sweetness. 

Read more:

Why 'healthy' food labels make us eat more

Healthy food getting more expensive

Oats: the ultimate health food                                                                                                                                              


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