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Many foods earn a "healthy" label because of an association with diets, when in fact they are full of sugar, preservatives, and empty calories. We're speaking here of foods like flavored yogurts, energy bars, and granola. Some of these "healthy" foods are in fact worse nutritionally than junk foods. If you're looking to clean up your diet and reduce the amount of preservatives and chemicals you eat, the best way to take stock of your food is to read labels and clean out your pantry. Here, we give you a head start with a list of foods you should avoid if you're trying to clean up your diet and eat fresh, healthy food.

Katherine Flynn
November 08, 2016

Eating clean is actually quite simple. This eating style embraces simple ingredients and fresh produce, and removes processed foods. A clean diet can fit into anyone's lifestyle. However, in order to fully commit to a clean diet, you will need to avoid many common "diet" foods. These foods are often high in sugar, processed ingredients, and fillers. Avoiding them is step number one toward a healthier, cleaner diet.

1. Trail Mix

It might sound healthy because of its connotation with the outdoors. However, most store-bought trail mixes are full of sodium, sugar, and highly-processed ingredients. You may attribute a health halo to the trail mix's nuts because they contain some healthy fats, but a few handfuls of almonds or peanuts doesn't forgive the chocolate candies or sugar-sweetened dried fruit. But we can't deny how convenient snack mixes are, so we suggest making your own at home, like our Nuts and Bolts Trail Mix.

Photo: Jennifer Causey

2. Granola and Granola Bars

Similar to trail mix, this "health" food is often seen as an all-natural, go-green snack. But when closely examined, some granola bars and bags of granola have more sugar and calories than candy bars. Indeed, many store-bought brands use fillers and poor-quality ingredients that will make you feel more hungry later. We can get behind our Homemade Granola and our No-Bake Chewy Bars, which allow you to control ingredients and the amount (and type) of sweetener you choose to use.

3. Nut Butters

But before you throw away your peanut butter and almond butter, check the labels. It might come as a surprise that we support full-fat nut butters. Reduced-fat nut butters are full of sugar, fillers, and stabilizers. Make sure to read the labels on your nut butters. Only buy brands with an ingredient label that list nuts—no oils, salt, or additional ingredients unless you want natural flavoring and spices. Better yet, make your own nut butters so you can know exactly what you're eating. Our Coffee-Vanilla Walnut Butter, Cumin-Cayenne Cashew Butter, Orange Almond Butter, Pistachio Butter, and Salted Chocolate Pecan Butter are delicious starting points.

4. Yogurt

Many yogurt cups with fruit on the bottom or added mix-ins contain almost the same calorie and fat count as a scoop of ice cream or a candy bar. If you've ever snatched a flavored, fruit-ladened yogurt for a quick breakfast or afternoon snack, you probably felt a jolt of energy, then crashed and felt hungry within the next hour. That's because of all the unnecessary sugar many brands add. Avoid flavored yogurts and opt for a full-fat Greek yogurt instead. Then, add your own toppings like dried coconut flakes, chopped nuts, or fresh fruit.

Photo: Greg Dupree

5. Pre-packaged Deli Meat

A turkey sandwich or wrap may sound like a healthy alternative to a burger and fries, but if that meat came from a plastic container sitting in your super market, it's likely that meat is full of sodium, preservatives, and fillers. Deli meat is an easy high-protein option, but make sure to ask your deli counter or local butcher for fresh turkey, or low-sodium versions. Better yet, roast your own at home to avoid all of the preservatives.

6. Agave Nectar

This trendy ingredient may be associated with all things clean and healthy, but you are better off using real maple syrup or raw honey instead. Agave is highly processed. It goes through an enzymatic process that converts starches to fructose. It has a similar profile to high fructose corn syrup but is actually much sweeter than table sugar. In fact, agave has more calories per tablespoon than sugar (60 calories compared to sugar's 45). However, many people don't know that and think agave is a far healthier alternative. Stick to small amounts of raw honey or maple syrup if you want to add a touch of sweetness to recipes.