The 10 worst 'healthy' foods in America

John Edwards, Tiger Woods, Arnold Schwarzeneggar—between them, they’ve got billions of dollars, half a dozen PGA titles, a governorship, and one near-vice-presidency. And it’s exactly their level of success that made their failings so shocking. (Well, that and the mistresses, the steamy texts, and the love children.)

Chalk up our shock to what’s known as the “halo effect,” a psychological phenomenon where our perception of one trait (Edwards’s campaign charisma, Tiger’s on-the-green mental strength, Arnold’s Terminator toughness) influences our assessment of that individual’s other qualities—like believing these men were great family men.

The halo effect influences our dining choices as well. A recent Cornell University study shows that people tend to perceive some not-so-wholesome meals as healthy if they are labeled with buzzwords like “organic.” The so-called health halo also makes us more likely to overeat. (What foods should you avoid? Start with these 25 New “Healthy” Foods That Aren’t.)

To make matters worse, many popular restaurants willfully exploit the health halo, leading us to order healthy sounding dishes that pack insane amounts of calories, saturated fat, and sodium. Want proof? The following are ten wannabe health foods that are worse for you than, say, a 930-calorie Wendy’s Double Baconator!

10. Worst “Healthy” Sub

Quiznos Large Veggie on Wheat (Large)
1,000 calories
54.5 g fat (17 g saturated)
2,300 mg sodium

What does it take to turn a few vegetables on wheat bread into a fat and calorie landmine worse for your diet than a double bacon cheeseburger? A 400-calorie bun, a thick layer of cheese, and a sloppy glut of oil. Don’t let the “small” classic subs at Quiznos fool you—they average around 500 calories, a perfectly respectable lunch portion. You should only order a large if your goal is to be, well, large. To keep your belly in check, choose a lean sandwich like the small Turkey Ranch & Swiss, which has the lowest saturated fat count of all the “under 500 calories” options. (In addition, load up on these 3 Surprising Heart-Healthy Foods.)

Eat This Instead!
Small Turkey Ranch & Swiss on Wheat
395 calories
16.5 g fat (2 g saturated)
1,100 mg sodium

9. Worst “Healthy” Chicken Salad Sandwich
Boston Market Whole All White Rotisserie Chicken Salad Sandwich
1,050 calories
64 g fat (10 g saturated)
1,700 mg sodium

Chicken salad can be a healthy sandwich filler, if it’s prepared with the right ingredients. But many restaurants, like Boston Market, take the cheap and easy route and fill their chicken salad with full-fat mayo and lots of oil, turning this potentially nutritious choice into a diet disaster. Go with the half size of a lighter sandwich like the Rotisserie Chicken Carver and save close to 700 calories. (Sign up for the Men's Health Eat This, Not That! newsletter for smart swaps that can help you lose 20 pounds or more!)

Eat This Instead!
Half Rotisserie Chicken Carver
380 calories
18 g fat (4.5 g saturated)
880 mg sodium

8. Worst “Healthy” Smoothie

Smoothie King Cranberry Supreme (40 oz.)
1,108 calories
2 g fat (0 g saturated)
192 g sugar

A reasonably sized, all-fruit smoothie can be a sensible treat, but when you throw it in a massive cup and toss in 200 calories of extra sugar and some “carbohydrate mix,” this frozen delight can quickly turn into a 1,000-calorie diet destroyer with more carbs than 20 Double Stuf Oreos! A 20-ounce Blueberry Heaven—which contains only fruit, protein powder, and a little honey—will hit the spot and save you two-thirds the sugar and calories. (For more smart power food suggestions, stock up on these 125 Best Foods for Men.)

Eat This Instead!
Blueberry Heaven (20 oz.)
325 calories
1 g fat (0 g saturated)
64 g sugar

7. Worst “Healthy” Appetizer

Red Lobster Lobster, Artichoke and Seafood Dip
1,200 calories
74 g fat (20 g saturated)
1,950 mg sodium

Dips—like this creamy, cheesy concoction from Red Lobster—can be particularly misleading because you don’t feel like you are consuming very much food when you eat them. But trust us: A few scoops of a cream- or cheese-based restaurant dip, and you’re on your way to inhaling a day’s worth of saturated fat well before your meal arrives. The Pan-Seared Crab Cakes will give you pre-entrée satisfaction without ruining your dinner. (Eat 30 percent less with this easy research-proven trick: The Easiest Way to Shrink Your Gut.)

Eat This Instead!
Pan-Seared Crab Cakes
280 calories
14 g fat (2.5 g saturated)
1,110 mg sodium

6. Worst “Healthy” Chicken Sandwich

T.G.I. Friday’s Captain Morgan Caribbean Chicken Sandwich with Sweet Potato Fries
1,250 calories
47 g fat (18 g saturated)
2,900 mg sodium

In a sea of all things battered and deep-fried, the Friday’s Captain Morgan grilled chicken sandwich may strike you as a healthy alternative, but its triple dose of high-fat sauce—the menu lists spicy rum sauce, sour cream, and “extra dipping sauce”—manage to push this meal over the 1,000-calorie mark. Swap it for the Jack Daniel’s Chicken with broccoli and fruit, and it’s smooth sailing for you.

Eat This Instead!
Jack Daniel’s Chicken with Broccoli and Fruit Cup
630 calories
5.5 g fat (1 g saturated)
1,845 mg sodium

5. Worst “Healthy” Burger

Ruby Tuesday Avocado Turkey Burger with Fries
1,313 calories
73 g fat
3,221 mg sodium

When you buy turkey in the grocery store, you see the fat content stamped right on the package. But there’s no such measure of accountability in the restaurant. As a result, it’s not uncommon to find fatty, dark-meat turkey burgers with as much fat as their beefy cheeseburger brethren. Add fries to this meal and you’re facing more than 1,300 calories.

Eat This Instead!
Top Sirloin with Roasted Spaghetti Squash and White Cheddar Mashed Potatoes
669 calories
39 g fat
1,693 mg sodium

4. Worst “Healthy” Salad

California Pizza Kitchen Full Waldorf Chicken Salad with Blue Cheese Dressing
1,347 calories
28 g saturated fat
1,994 mg sodium

This salad seems innocent enough. It contains grilled chicken, walnuts, apples, grapes—what’s not to love? The problem? The jumbo portion size and fattening blue cheese dressing make it a deceptively unhealthy choice. Opt for the half-sized Field Greens salad with grilled shrimp and cut down to a reasonable 498 calories while still retaining a healthy dose of protein and fiber—24 grams and 6 grams, respectively.

Eat This Instead!
Half Field Greens Salad with Grilled Shrimp (Half)
498 calories
5 g saturated fat
521 mg sodium

3. Worst “Healthy” Seafood Entrée

The Cheesecake Factory Herb Crusted Filet of Salmon
1,400 calories
48 g saturated fat
1,240 mg sodium

Cheesecake Factory is known for gluttonous portions, and it remains the last major restaurant chain to keep a tight lid on its nutrition information. (Check out the restaurant’s website and you’ll find nothing about nutrition.) Most of the seafood options are either breaded and fried or covered in fattening sauces, which gives them far more calories than the colossal slices of cheesecake. Fortunately, the chain is beginning to make small strides toward a healthier menu, and it recently announced a low-calorie version of the classic Herb Crusted Salmon. Thanks for the new dish, Cheesecake Factory; now please expand the nutritional prudence to the rest of the menu.

Eat This Instead!
SkinnyLicious Herb Crusted Salmon
570 calories
9 g saturated fat
687 mg sodium

2. Worst “Healthy” Grilled Entrée

Applebee’s Sizzling Skillet Steak Fajitas
1,410 calories
55 g fat (25 g saturated)
5,630 mg sodium

Essentially, what you have here are grilled vegetables and steak. If you prepared this dish at home, it wouldn’t likely surpass 600 calories—even with cheese and sour cream. So what’s the problem? First, the flour tortillas add a few hundred calories of empty carbohydrates. And second (and far more detrimental), restaurants have perverted the grilling process with exorbitant amounts of oil, butter, and salt, a trio that converts both lean meat and diced vegetables into serious waistline liabilities. The result is a meal with well over a day's worth of saturated fat and more sodium than most people should consume in half a week.

Eat This Instead!
Asiago Peppercorn Steak
380 calories
14 g fat (6 g saturated)
1,520 mg sodium

1. Worst “Healthy” Pasta Dish

Ruby Tuesday Chicken and Broccoli Pasta
1,500 calories
96 g fat
2,768 mg sodium

Surprised that a simple-sounding meal like Chicken and Broccoli Pasta could weight in at 1,500 calories? We were, too, and that’s why this dish tops our list of diet busters in disguise. The lesson: Beware of creamy pasta toppers, like this entrée’s fat-loaded “parmesan cream” sauce. Tomato-based pasta sauces, rich with vitamins and antioxidants, are almost always a better option.

Eat This Instead!
Fit & Trim Spaghetti Squash Marinara
355 calories
18 g fat
862 mg sodium