With so much talk of healthy foods and what you should be eating, the foods that are the worst for us can get overlooked. The reason it’s so hard to avoid these kinds of food is because the things that make them bad also make them taste good. Fatty foods typically taste good, so do sweet and salty ones, which means a lot of the foods you love are likely not the best things you can have.
But you don’t have to resort to living like Tom Hanks in Castaway. There are plenty of foods that you can turn to that taste amazing and won’t jeopardize your well-being. It’s about learning why certain foods are bad, so you can make better choices on a day-to-day basis. That being said, here are some dietary landmines to watch out for, and step around.
This is the most notorious of the unhealthy ingredients put in foods, and has even led for a ban on them in New York City. You’re best off avoiding trans fat-containing foods completely. This is because trans fats are chemically made through the hydrogenation process, and they are hard for the body to digest. Research shows that trans fats are linked to diabetes and obesity. Look for the words “partially hydrogenated” or “vegetable shortening” in your food ingredients, and opt for healthy fat instead, such as those naturally found in animal products and olive or coconut oil.
We all know we shouldn’t eat fast food because it’s bad for us. Part of the reason is because of all the trans fats and other additives they use to make the food taste good. The problem is not just that there is trans fat in the foods, but that the portion sizes quickly multiply those contents and before long you have a week’s worth of trans fat in one meal. Not to mention, there are loads of preservatives, refined sugar, and food coloring to make the food last longer. Do yourself a favor and stay away from all fast food restaurants.
Even the beloved Girl Scout Cookies still sneak some unhealthy ingredients into their products. You may be able to justify those because they only happen a few times per year, but check to see if your favorite store bought cookies are made with partially hydrogenated cooking oils and refined sugars. We bet they are. Keep away from Chips Ahoy and Keebler. Although some brands like Oreos now use “high oleic” oils instead so they can provide shelf-stable cookies at a reasonable cost. The bottom line is it’s best to avoid anything packaged or processed. Try these two-ingredient cookies instead.
The cake itself isn’t all that great for you, but topping it with frosting is worse. That’s because store-bought frosting is made with sugar and partially hydrogenated oils and not much else, which is a disaster for your inflammation levels. Try making a homemade gluten-free cake from scratch and use natural sources of sugar such as raw honey or maple syrup to top your cake with.
Getting your pancakes from a box is the worst way to enjoy this deliciouss treat. Premade mixes are full of refined sugar and partially hydrogenated oils to keep them shelf stable. Not to mention the loads of preservatives they contain, which have been shown to disrupt human hormones. Try whipping together a mashed banana and two eggs for the ultimate two-ingredient pancake recipe you can feel good about. Top it with some raw honey or maple syrup and fresh fruit and your body will thank you for skipping out on the processed stuff.
Most of the popular brands of microwave popcorn have trans fat of some sort in them, which means you’ll want to skip them and look for a better option. Try investing in an air popper at home and make your own popcorn for date night. Check out the local health food store for organic, non-GMO popcorn and use olive oil or coconut oil to pop it in. Top with pink Himalayan sea salt for a delicious topper with antioxidant benefits.
Most people buy frozen dinners for a quick and easy meal, or to help lose weight. But many of them are laden with hydrogenated oils, which in turn means they contain trans fat in some amount. To these types of meals, simply check the label for both hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils. Since you’ll most likely be microwaving these meals, you’re also adding to their unhealthiness, further destroying any nutrients they might contain, and processing the ingredients even further. Try meal prepping instead by making a large batch of chicken and vegetables and freezing them for the week. Prepare some rice and you have your own homemade frozen meals to enjoy without the trans fats, sodium, preservatives, or refined sugars.
High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
This is an ingredient that didn’t exist before 1960, but has a strong appeal to food manufacturers because it’s very sweet, cheap to make, and easy to store. Research shows that HFCS causes metabolic dysregulation and leads to obesity. It also spikes your blood sugr and leads to type 2 diabetes. Keep in mind that fruit doesn’t spike blood sugars the same way as HFCS does, so eat a piece of fruit when you need a sweet treat.
Colas and Sodas
These are the number one offender because they’re so ubiquitous. 7UP once tried to claim that their soda was made with all-natural ingredients, saying that because it comes from corn HFCS is all-natural. They no longer phrase it this way, and other colas blatantly have it listed as the most abundant sweetener. In ordinary Coca-Cola, it’s the only sweetener used. Even the diet options are bad for you. Opt for mineral water instead or try some unsweetened herbal tea for a refreshing way to rehydrate that won’t lead to metabolic syndrome.
Sweetened, Non-Organic Yogurt
Although many dieters add yogurt to their daily menu, they’d better watch out at the sweeteners it contains, with many of the brands using High Fructose Corn Syrup to make them taste good. Going with a light version of yogurt no doubt means you’re getting an artificial sweetener, which can be just as bad. Instead, look for a brand of unsweetened yogurt that comes from organic, pasture-raised cows. This means that the product will be less likely to contain as many bad ingredients. Greek yogurt is a great way to enjoy yogurt without all the sugar or whey.
Most ketchup ends up on french fries, and few stop to consider that it’s actually acting to make the fries more unhealthy. That’s because it uses High Fructose Corn Syrup as it’s #3 ingredient – at least in a bottle of America’s #1 Bestselling ketchup: Heinz. There’s 4g of sugar total, and the majority of that will come from HFCS. Do yourself a favor and stay away from the fries altogether. Try adding anti-inflammatory spices and herbs to your food for seasoning instead of condiments.
Many people turn to cereals as a healthy start to their day, or as a nutritious breakfast for their children. Kelloggs is a big offender with several popular brands containing HFCS including Froot Loops, Apple Jacks, Corn Flakes, Frosted Flakes, Frosted Mini-Wheats, Smorz, Rice Krispies, and Special K. Kelloggs is not the only one in on the act, with General Mills adding it to Trix, and Post adding it to Oreo O’s. Try a big bowl of oatmeal instead and top it wil blueberries and flaxseed for a heart-healthy breakfast.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
MSG has been shown to promote obesity, liver inflammation, headaches, allergic reactions, and even heart palaptations. You’ll have to familiarize yourself with the other names that MSG can hide behind, including glutamic acid, monopotassium glutamate, natrium glutamate, monoammonium glutamate, yeast extract, gelatin, calcium glutamate, magnesium glutamate, soy protein, calcium caseinate, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, and textured protein, just to name a few. The most dastardly way to disguise it: “natural flavors.”
It’s America’s favorite dressing and dipping sauce, but ever wonder why you can’t get enough of it, and why it makes so many things taste better? One of the most popular nationwide brands, Hidden Valley Ranch, has it in its ingredients, as well as Maltodextrin, Modified Food Starch, and other artificial flavors and sweeteners. If you must dip your foods, try using hummus or guacamole instead.
Set aside the high amounts of trans fat, saturated fat, calories, and cholesterol that comes with frying foods, since that’s been covered many times before and most of us already know about those dangers. Another reason to avoid eating fried foods is that most of them will contain MSG. One of the easiest ways to get fried food with MSG in it is to stop into KFC and order anything fried from their menu. They’re not the only culprit, not by a long shot. MSG is prevalent in so many packaged foods that it’s almost a given that if it comes from a major food supplier, is fried and comes in a package, it will contain some amount of MSG.
The more flavoring a chip has, the more MSG and other artificial ingredients you can expect it to have. We recommend making your own homemade chips using organic sweet potatoes. Slice them thin, coat them in olive oil and your favorite spices, and bake them in the oven for a perfect crunchy snack you can feel good about. Also, try some kale chips, too.
Artificial sweeteners have been under the spotlight for decades now as health food advocates point out that they can come with a list of side effects, much like a drug. The side effects that are claimed by those against sweeteners like aspartame include some really severe conditions, such as depression, insomnia, blindness, tinnitus, hives, and a contributing factor to things like Alzheimer’s and MS. It’s best to stay away from all types of sugar- both real and artifical sweeteners.
Light Foods and Beverages
If you’re calorie conscious you might be attracted to foods that are advertised as Lite or Light, since they’ll have fewer calories than their regular counterparts. But what you’re trading the calories for is typically artificial sweeteners that might be calorie-free but have their own side effects and health hazards. Always remember that real, whole food is best.
Diet Colas and Sodas
Diet sodas don’t contain High Fructose Corn Syrup, but in its place are sweeteners like aspartame. Research shows that aspartame is linked to a higher risk of dementia and stroke. Forget the soda and diet soda altogether and stick with water or unsweetened herbal tea. Check out our article on how to stay hydrated without soda.
Packaged Diet Snacks
Many of these snack packs come in 100 calorie sizes, which appeals to many dieters. But you should always choose whole foods over packaged or processed foods. This is because they are higher in nutrients to heal the body and promote weight loss. Even at 100 calories, you are still putting junk in your body when you choose packaged diet snacks.
High levels of sodium, or salt, can really wreak havoc on your body. Not only does it cause you to retain water, but it also increases blood pressure and can lead to complications with the heart. Almost all heart patients are put on a low-sodium diet, whether they suffered a heart attack, stroke, or are at risk for them. It makes sense to watch your sodium levels long before it reaches the point of a doctor telling you to do so, or forcing you onto a diet to help save your life.
As a general rule of thumb, it’s a good idea to stay away from cheese because it’s highly inflammatory. This is especially true if you have an autoimmune disorder. Processed cheese contains a ton of sodium, which is also problematic for your health. Be sure to stay away from Cheez Whiz, as that has almost a quarter of the RDA of sodium in one serving. Stick with hard cheeses that are naturally sourced from pasture-raised cows that contain no antibiotics or hormones.
The problem with salty snacks is that the salt makes you keep eating them. Once you have the salty flavor on your taste buds you automatically reach for another chip. And the sodium is only one concern, as these snacks are usually cooked in partially hydrogenated oils giving them trans fats, and use artificial seasonings and flavorings. We recommend making your own vegetable chips at home using olive oil and sea salt.
Because of the processing they go through most lunch meats are packed with extra sodium as well as nitrates. There are plenty of reasons to take a pass on lunch meats, or at least to read the labels before you buy in order to make sure that you are getting meat that isn’t loaded with fillers and additives. Some other top concerns are the bacteria listeria which can pose a problem for pregnant women, sodium nitrate, which could potentially be cancer-causing, and added oils and sweeteners, which add to the fat and carb count.
One slice of delivered pizza can contain a full day’s worth of sodium depending on the toppings and type of crust you order. It’s mostly because of the high cheese content, but also because there’s salt and MSG in the dough, and if you’re getting toppings like pepperoni, sausage, ham, and any other cured and processed meats, you’re going to be doubling down on your sodium intake. Try making your own pizze at home with 100 percent whole grain flour, homemade tomato sauce, and plenty of veggies.
The foods below will get you to your daily limit of cholesterol quickly, especially if you eat more than the recommended serving size, which is pretty easy to do in most cases. Not all cholesterol is bad for you, so be sure that you’re differentiating between the good kinds and the bad kinds, and not cutting out all foods that contain any cholesterol. These foods will increase your levels of LDL cholesterol, aka the bad kind, and are best avoided or consumed in limited quantities.
Anything that tastes as good as ice cream does can’t be good for you, and as it turns out one of the reasons to avoid it is the high levels of cholesterol it contains. While one serving might not get you there, many of us don’t stop at one serving, and it’s very to overeat when it comes to ice cream, especially if we’re eating it due to emotional reasons.
Eat a pint of Ben and Jerry’s Dublin Mudslide because you’re feeling blue, and you’ll stack up 240mg of cholesterol, nearly a full day’s worth. If Haagen Daaz is your choice you and you decide to go healthy with their “5” line-up that uses just five ingredients, you’re still looking at nearly 235mg if the taste moves you to finish the pint. Try freezing some bananas, blending them in a high speed blender, and topping with more fruit for a healthy, dairy-free snack.
If you’re like Homer Simpson and have a close relationship with bacon and pork chops, you might want to think about breaking things off. The amount of cholesterol in many pork items makes them something to avoid, although each cut is not created equally. Ribs have a higher cholesterol count than a pork chop, and one good sized strip of bacon can have 13mg of cholesterol, not to mention plenty of saturated fat and calories. If you’re truly in love with the stuff, consider cutting back or sticking with leaner varieties.
OK, so we all know that donuts won’t show up on any lists of the healthiest foods, but what ends them up on this list is a combination of fat, sugar, and cholesterol, as well as MSG and trans fat in some cases. The cholesterol levels are also pretty high, and are concern enough to avoid eating doughnuts as a regular breakfast item, reserving them to perhaps a monthly treat.
Saturated fat has been the topic of discussion recently. With the Paleo and Ketogenic diets coming forward, many studies have debunked the claim that saturated fat is bad for you. Still, if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition, your doctor may recommend that you skip out on the animal fats and stick with healthier options, like monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Many times, they’ll ask if you want whipped cream on your hot chocolate or coffee drink. Other instances where whipped cream pops up is on top of pies, or on an ice cream sundae. You might think you’re doing better by opting for Cool Whip at 1.5g of saturated fat per serving, but the trans fat and High Fructose Corn Syrup make it a worse choice. Reddi Wip makes the case that it’s a good choice because it’s made with cream and not oil, and comes in at 1g of saturated fat per dollop.
If you don’t opt for a lean cut of meat you’re likely to end up with plenty of saturated fat. When it comes to saturated fat, it doesn’t matter if it comes from natural sources, like a well-marbled piece of beef, or if it’s the kind you get from pre-packaged desserts or snacks. Your doctor may have you cut these out if you’ve been diagnosed with a heart condition. Meats like sausage are big culprits when it comes to saturated fat, with a serving of bratwurst at the big game putting you at over half the daily allowance, over 12 grams of saturated fat.
Milkshakes are harder to control because they’re in liquid form so you don’t even have to chew. In a few minutes, you can suck down half a day’s worth of saturated fat and not even realize it since it tastes so yummy. McDonald’s strawberry milkshake has 8g of saturated fat in a large sized serving, a whopping 40% chunkof the 20g you’re allotted per day. Try drinking a healthy smoothie instead. We have tons of recipes to get you started!
Specialty Burgers, Whoppers & Big Macs
Unfortunately, getting a fancy burger at a restaurant is just as bad for you as the fast food baddies. For example, the Jalapeno Smokehouse Burger w/ Ranch, a Chili’s Big Mouth Burger contains 34g of saturated fat. The Big Mac from McDonald’s clocks in at 10g, and you can nearly double that with their Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese at 19g. Burger King’s Whopper by comparison has the same 10g.
Foods high in calories can really add to your waistline in a hurry if you’re not careful. The reason they’re so sneaky is because you can consume hundreds of calories quickly and not even be aware of it. A popular dieting theory is that the fewer calories taken in the more weight you’ll lose, all else being equal. That’s why you see people going on low-calorie diets and trying to burn calories in the gym. You don’t have to go to extremes, but minding the calories you consume will lead to a healthier you.
A plain bowl of pasta won’t ruin your day, calorically speaking, but pasta often serves as the foundation for more calorie-laden dishes. A nice slab of Lasagna Classico from Olive Garden for example can tip the charts at 850 calories, more than half of the calories allotted to some dieters. That doesn’t leave much for the rest of the day. Also consider a small serving of Spaghetti with Meatballs from Buca di Beppo that tips the tables at 916 calories.
Dark chocolate is making a surge as a health food, but milk chocolate still rules the market and is the most easy to come by. The only problem is that it’s not as healthy for you as dark, and it’s easy to ramp up the calories if you have a chocolate binging episode. There are 3.4 calories in each M&M, 73 in each piece of Godiva chocolate, and 23 in each Hug version of Hershey’s Kisses. If you must indulge in chocolate, try using raw cacao powder in your homemade baked goods for a healthy swap.