With so many ‘healthy’ brands and products on the market, it’s hard to know what’s truly best for your body — or your health. Sugar-free, fat-free, gluten-free, vegan… don’t let these labels fool you! While food labels can certainly help guide your choices, they don’t always provide the full picture. A product may be ‘vegan,’ but the better question to ask is, “What is it made of?” Is it full of whole food nutrients — like nuts, seeds, and veggies? Or is it jam-packed with artificially processed ingredients that you can’t even recognize or pronounce? The same goes for sugar and gluten-free foods, or any other ‘healthy’ food label for that matter. The takeaway? Ingredients should be your guiding force! Reading the ingredient label will give you the best insight into what’s inside your food — and what shouldn’t be there. Unfortunately, sneaky ingredients are hidden in more products than you think. They can easily wreak havoc in the body and trigger a whole host of issues, such as digestive upset and inflammation. So what are these sneaky inflammatory foods? Good question.
Ahead, we’re sharing the most common (and surprising) foods with hidden inflammatory ingredients. Learn what ingredients to avoid and how to be a conscious consumer with these simple tips.
How to Spot Inflammatory Ingredients
If you want to bust inflammation, your diet is a great place to begin. Take a deep dive into your pantry, fridge, and kitchen, and start reading the ingredient labels.
Here are some common inflammatory ingredients to avoid:
- Artificial sweeteners and sugar alcohols, such as aspartame, sucralose, and xylitol
- High-fructose corn syrup
- Sodium nitrate
- Trans fats and partially hydrogenated oils
- Artificial flavors
- Refined oils such as canola, soybean, and vegetable oil
Sneaky Inflammatory Foods: What To Avoid & Healthier Swaps
You may think your favorite snack is healthy, but have you taken a look at the ingredients? Ahead, some of the most common foods that seem healthy but actually aren’t! That said, it’s not a black-or-white matter. All of these foods can be nutritious — if they are made and prepared with wholesome nutrients. Unfortunately, this isn’t the case for many store-bought products. So, we’re here to shed some light on those sneaky products and misleading labels! Find out the top foods secretly triggering inflammation and healthier ways to enjoy them.
#1 Frozen Yogurt
Yes, frozen yogurt can be a healthier alternative to ice cream, but not all brands are created equal. And despite (sometimes) being lower in calories and fat, many brands add sneaky ingredients in place. Some of the most common? Artificial sugars (such as maltodextrin and sugar alcohols) and gums and fillers — many of which cause GI upset and inflammation. Plus, many brands contain dairy, which can be inflammatory for those who do not tolerate it well. Make sure to read the ingredient label! Take note of the sugar content and calorie count while you’re at it — even a pint of froyo can contain upwards of 500 calories (or more).
The fix: Make your own! It is SO simple to blend up a homemade froyo or ice cream alternative. Think: banana nice cream, avocado or coconut-based ice cream, thick and creamy smoothie bowls — the options are endless. If you’re reaching for a store-bought brand, look for brands made with wholesome ingredients.
Check out our healthy ice cream guide for all you need to know! We’ve laid it all out for you — healthy homemade recipes and the best store-bought brands.
#2 Crackers & Crunchy Snacks
Chips, pretzels, veggie sticks, crackers, all those savory snacks. They may be marketed as ‘healthy,’ but you’ll want to do your due diligence and read the ingredient label. Branding can be misleading — even if they’re made with veggies or gluten-free flour, that doesn’t mean they’re void of inflammatory foods.
Check the ingredient label for inflammatory oils like vegetable oil. You’ll also want to check the sodium content. You might even find sneaky sugars like cane sugar or maltodextrin in the mix!
The Fix: Stick to brands made with minimal whole-food ingredients. You should be able to recognize and pronounce everything on the label!
Some brands we love:
- Hu Kitchen Crackers
- Siete Foods Chips
- Lesser Evil Popcorn
- Mary’s Gone Cracker
#3 Veggie Burgers
Don’t worry, plant-based eaters — there are plenty of healthy burger options on the market! That said, you’ll find sneaky inflammatory ingredients in countless brands, so beware! But, with a little know-how, it’s easy to find good-for-you options. Look for (and avoid) excess sodium, fillers, and inflammatory hydrogenated oils like canola and soybean. Instead, stick to burgers made with whole food ingredients. Ideally, you’ll want your burger filled with ingredients like quinoa, lentils, and veggies versus things like soy protein or other processed foods.
The Fix: Try making your own! For an easy-prep option, you can even substitute hearty veggies like mushrooms or sweet potatoes in place of your burger. Get creative!
For a healthy and wholesome option, try this FitOn PRO Double Bean Veggie Burger.
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp olive oil
- ¼ cup breadcrumbs (optional)
- ¼ cup onion, minced
- 3 garlic, minced
- ⅛ tsp Worcestershire sauce
- 1 egg white
- 15 oz white beans
- 1 tsp salt
- ½ tsp grill seasoning
- 15 oz canned black beans
- ¼ cup cilantro, minced
Step #1: Drain and rinse the beans well. Add them to a bowl with the garlic, cilantro, onion, bread crumbs, salt, and steak seasoning. Mash together the beans using a fork, masher, or food processor.
Step #2: In another bowl, whisk together the eggs and Worcestershire sauce. Add to the beans, and using your hands, combine. Divide the bean mixture into six patties.
Step #3: Heat a large frying pan over medium heat. Add 1/2 tbsp oil. Place three of the patties in the pan, moving them around in a circular motion as you put them down (to prevent them from sticking to the pan). Cook for four to five minutes on the first side and then flip and cook for another four to five minutes. Remove to a plate. Add the other 1/2 tbsp oil and repeat for the other three patties.
#4 Trail Mix & Granola
If you’re not careful, your store-bought trail mix or granola may as well be candy. Many brands add (a lot of) sugar and sodium to their blends. Plus, many roast their nuts, seeds, and oats in hydrogenated oils. On top of that, there are the add-ins to consider: dairy and sugar-filled chocolate chips, sweetened dried fruit, and other sugary additions.
The fix: Look for brands made with raw ingredients or without hydrogenated oils. You’ll also want to avoid excess and artificial sweeteners — stick to natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup, or dates. Better yet, choose an unsweetened brand!
You can easily make your own DIY trail mix, too. Combine your favorite dry-roasted or raw nuts and seeds with a mix of healthy add-ins like cacao nibs, unsweetened coconut flakes, goji berries, and freeze-dried fruit.
#5 Flavored Yogurt
Unless it’s naturally sweetened with real fruit, honey, or other whole-food ingredients, you’ll want to avoid flavored or sweetened yogurts. And don’t let a “sugar-free” label fool you — there could be sneaky artificial sugars hidden in the mix!
The fix: Stick to unsweetened varieties (whether it’s Greek yogurt, coconut yogurt, cashew yogurt, or the like) and flavor it at home. Mix in fresh fruit or any other mix-ins of your choice! This way, you’ll have control over both the ingredients and serving size.
#6 Protein & Granola Bars
Sounds like these foods would be healthy, right? Well, not always. Granola bars, protein bars, and energy bars are often candy bars in disguise! The not-so-healthy bars on the market are full of sneaky inflammatory ingredients like added sugars (high fructose corn syrup or cane sugar) and refined oils (like palm, soybean, peanut, and canola oil). Plus, many are dipped in chocolate, infused with ‘healthy’ cookie or brownie crumbles, and contain more saturated fat than fast food burgers. So much for healthy, right!?
The fix: Pay attention to both the ingredient list and label. LaraBars, Elemental Superfood Bars, and Papa Steve’s Raw No Junk Protein Bars are healthy store-bought brands made with wholesome ingredients!
#7 Whole Grain Cereal
Traditional cereals and granolas are essentially packaged sugar. Plus, some brands are also made with synthetic food dyes that have been linked to health concerns.
So what about whole-grain cereal brands? While these can be full of satiating fiber and make a healthy addition to your diet, it all comes down to the ingredient label. Look for brands rich in fiber with no more than 6-7 grams of sugar per serving.
The Fix: Use our healthy cereal guide and load up on all the good-for-you brands made with wholesome ingredients!
#8 Seasoning & Flavor Mixes
Sadly, even seasoning and flavor packets — like taco or chicken and poultry spices — may contain ingredients like sugar, MSG, sodium, and “natural flavors.” Look out for synthetic food dyes, too. And to avoid pesticides and other chemicals, it’s best to buy organic.
The Fix: Make your own blends from fresh or dried herbs, or grab a healthy brand like Siete.
#9 Deli Meat
Aside from the excessive amounts of sodium and nitrates, cured and packaged deli meats often contain dextrose or other sugars. If you’re going to enjoy deli meat, opt for sodium and nitrate-free options that are grass-fed and organic.
The fix: If available to you, get your meat from a local source! The farmer’s market is a great place to find local products that are fresh and minimally processed. For a trustworthy store-bought brand, try Applegate Naturals Oven Roasted Turkey Breast.
#10 Pasta Sauce
Yep, even your pasta sauce may be filled with pro-inflammatory ingredients like sugar and refined oils. If you’ve ever had a fresh, juicy tomato, you know it’s already sweet enough! There’s really no need for unhealthy additions. But sugar is addictive, and processed oils are cheaper than high-quality ingredients, like cold-pressed olive oil. That’s why it’s important to be your own advocate when it comes to choosing your food!
The fix: Look for store-bought pasta sauce made with real, simple ingredients. Ideally, just tomatoes, veggies, spices, and maybe a little olive oil.
#11 Salad Dressing
And we’re not just talking about thick and creamy dressings like ranch and caesar. Sneaky sugars, hydrogenated oils, and inflammatory ingredients are lurking in all types of dressings — even balsamic and other light vinaigrettes. Countless brands contain canola oil and sugar as their main two ingredients. Plus, they’re typically high in sodium and calories.
The fix: Look for brands with no added sugar and made with heart-healthy oils like olive or avocado oil. And rather than artificial flavor, find brands that flavor their products with whole food ingredients like fresh or dried herbs!
Try this Creamy Avocado Greek Yogurt Dressing. It’s protein-packed and goes with just about everything!
- ½ cup Greek yogurt
- 1 garlic
- ½ cup cilantro
- sea salt & black pepper
- 1 lime, zested and juiced
- 1 avocado
- ¼ cup water
Step #1: Add everything to a food processor or blender. Puree until smooth, adding water as needed to reach desired consistency. Taste test and adjust any ingredients. Enjoy!
#12 Dried Fruit
Dried fruit is highly concentrated in sugar, calories, and carbs. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if you enjoyed a few pieces every now and then. But let’s be honest, how often do you really have a single serving? Which for dried mango is ¼ cup, by the way. Even when dried without added sugars (which is rare), a ¼ cup serving contains nearly 130 calories and 30 grams of sugar. Imagine eating half (or the whole) bag. Plus, many dried fruit blends contain additional added sugar.
The Fix: Keep it fresh! There are so many yummy ways to snack on fresh fruit. Make a colorful fruit salad, add it to a smoothie, dip it into coconut or Greek yogurt — you can even grill it!
#13 Instant Oatmeal
Don’t get us wrong, oatmeal is one of our favorite healthy foods! Overnight oats, baked oats, microwave oatmeal mugs — you name it. But instant oats are another story. Those pre-packaged store-bought oat packets may seem quick, convenient, and healthy, but they’re usually loaded with sugar.
The takeaway? Be mindful! Read your labels. Stick to whole-food sources. Meal prep your own food when possible.
The Fix: Grab a single-serve instant oatmeal that’s unsweetened! Or, if you’re an overnight oats fan, grab a ready-to-go Mush Overnight Oats. It’s sweetened with real fruit and makes the perfect healthy meal for busy mornings.
The Secret’s Out! These Sneaky Inflammatory Ingredients Are Exposed
Now that you know which foods to steer clear of, you can shop (and eat) with confidence! No more sneaky inflammatory ingredients or wondering if your “healthy” foods are actually healthy. As always, there’s no one-size-fits-all answer. While the aforementioned foods commonly contain sneaky ingredients, there are certainly healthy alternatives on the market! Remember to read the ingredient label — always! And, when in doubt, know you can easily whip up your own homemade recipe. Sign up for FitOn PRO and gain access to our recipe box! You’ll find tons of healthy inspiration for all your cravings and more.