Who hasn’t scrolled through Instagram for some healthy diet inspo? Not only do the pics look nutritious and delicious, they’re also just so pretty. And while we’re aware that unicorn Frappuccinos and mermaid toast aren’t giving us any points for nutrition, some other seemingly “healthy” Instagram foods aren’t so great for us, either. We chatted with nutritionists to get the scoop on seven popular Instagram eats that aren’t as healthy as they seem.
Since matcha is a more concentrated version of green tea, it’s packed with antioxidants (and caffeine) that have made it a smash hit. Plus, it’s super pretty and perfect for Instagram, but matcha drinks can also be total sugar bombs.
“All matcha latte recipes that I’ve ever seen contain some form of added sugar,” says Isabel Maples, MEd, RDN, registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “That sweetener might be a more natural source, like agave or honey, but it’s still added sugar. The problem is that added sugar offers extra calories without adding a significant amount of nutrients. (The American Heart Association recommends limiting sugar to about six teaspoons a day for women.) And some matcha lattes are made with a mix, which usually has less tea and more sugar.”
Alternative, more “natural” sugar sources are super popular. But at the end of the day, it’s still sugar. “Coconut sugar may be mildly more nutrient-dense and mildly less likely to spike blood sugar than plain white sugar, but nothing significant enough to impact your health,” says Monica Auslander Moreno, MS, RD, LD/N, registered dietitian and nutrition consultant for RSP Nutrition. “Sugar = sugar = sugar; your body recognizes coconut sugar the same. It’s not a health food, it’s not something to use with reckless abandon; it’s just a little less refined.”
If you (or a friend) is on the keto diet, you’ve probably seen these “fat bombs” come across your feed. And while it can work for those following a strict keto diet, they’re not going to do those of us on a normal diet any favors.
“Fat bombs usually rely on ingredients high in saturated fat, including butter, coconut butter and coconut oil,” says Maples. “Health experts and organizations, including MyPlate and the American Heart Association, recommend minimizing saturated fat (13 grams a day, or 5 to 6% of calories) in the diet to lower the risk of heart disease.”
This is everywhere right now — but it’s not as amazing as some people are touting it to be. “No, drinking a bitter cocktail of pure celery in the morning will not propel you to realize your wildest health dreams, and it will not ‘detox’ your organs, which are already doing so quite well on account of your natural physiology and anatomy,” says Auslander Moreno. “Celery is indeed a nutritious vegetable and may have anti-spasmodic effects on the bowel, but juicing it loses the satisfaction factor of mastication and compromises fiber content. And while it’s probably not harmful to drink celery juice, there is no incredible benefit to juicing anything — especially celery.”
These bright bowls make the perfect brunch snap, but they’re also full of sugar and usually amount to more than one serving size. “Acai is recognized as a rich source of disease-fighting phytonutrients,” says Maples. “But that alone doesn’t make it magical. Treat an acai bowl like you would a serving of ice cream or frozen yogurt—moderate the portion size and the choice of toppings to keep the calories in check.”
Brunch can’t get better than a thick slice of toast with avocado stacked on top. But if you’re eating the whole thing, you’re probably overdoing it on serving size. “Avocados contain healthy fats and are a great swap for other foods high in saturated fat, trans fat and sodium,” says Maples. “However, the calories add up very quickly. One standard serving of avocado is 50 grams (1.8 oz.) and provides 80 calories. A medium avocado contains 3 servings. Adding a large avocado to your toast can bump up breakfast by about 400 calories.”
Maybe you’ve seen activated charcoal soft serve or smoothies on the ‘gram… but it’s really not healthy for you to ingest. “This still baffles me,” says Auslander Moreno. “Activated charcoal is something I used to see when I worked in a hospital, used as an emergency detoxification treatment for severe alcohol or drug overdoses. Eating or drinking charcoal will just cause you to mal-absorb vital, nourishing nutrients your body needs, and it can mess heavily with medications and supplements.”