When it comes to the foods you shouldn’t be eating, it would be simple for me to point to the obvious. Bacon, for example, regardless of its deliciousness…well, on EVERYTHING, will eventually double your risk of stroke if you eat a lot of it every day. And food experts warn that convenience, deep-fried foods are no better. Donuts, French fries, and chicken wings not only threaten your waistline; the deep-frying process actually leaves food infused with toxic chemicals that put you at risk of chronic inflammatory conditions and certain types of cancer.
Most of us know that we should eat better. But if you think you’re eating healthy yet the following 20 foods make up the majority of your diet—think again! So as much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, it’s prime time you discovered the hidden dangers of these popular North American foods…
Canned Tomato Sauce
You might not associate canned tomatoes and tomato sauces with high fructose corn syrup when you’re making spaghetti and meatballs. However, when it comes to hidden sources of sugar, your favorite canned tomato sauce is likely one of the sweetest culprits, secretly contributing to increased rates of obesity, diabetes, coronary artery disease, and dental decay.
To top your pasta with a healthier sauce, check labels for a low sugar, low sodium tomato sauce or make your own using fresh tomatoes and herbs. You can also find cans of pureed tomatoes with no added sugars or salt to mix with a bit of extra virgin olive oil, fresh spices, or chopped onions and garlic for added flavor. Remember, it’s always best to add your own spices so you know what’s going into your food.
Trust us when we say, sugary soda is not your friend. Not only does it cause weight gain, but it can damage your teeth, wreak havoc on your skin, hormones, mood, and of course, blood sugar levels. Most Americans get the majority of the sugar in their diet from drinking sugary beverages like soda. According to recent government reports, “more than 60-percent of children, 54-percent of adult men, and 45-percent of adult women had at least one soda or sugar-sweetened drink a day between 2011 and 2014,” writes Time magazine.
A lot of people fall victim to the “diet soda” trend because they believe it’s somehow better for them. In fact, there are two separate studies that prove otherwise. The most obvious and well known problem with diet soda is that it contains aspartame, an artificial sweetener. A study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism found that aspartame “raises glucose levels, overloading the liver and causing the excess to convert into fat,” writes Eat This, Not That! There’s also evidence that the coloring in brown drinks like cola can “increase the rate of cancerous and benign tumors in rats as shown by the National Toxicology Program and has been labeled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible carcinogen for humans.”
Not only is there substantial research to link the consumption of soda to obesity and diabetes which then increase a person’s chance of developing heart disease. But Time magazine points out that studies have shown people who drink diet soda are more likely to consume more calories elsewhere and there is evidence that the chemicals in diet soda “may actually alter gastrointestinal bacteria and make people more prone to gaining weight.” Each fizzy can you guzzle down is null and void of nutritional benefits, unless you consider about 10-teaspoons of refined sugar in your best interest. Soft drinks also contain large doses of artificial food dyes and preservatives like BVO (brominated vegetable oil).
Even just the word nitrates sound like a ticking time bomb. This actually isn’t too far fetched considering the levels of sodium, preservatives, and additives that lend deli meats—like ham, salami, and bologna—their rosy shade. Cold cuts and cured meats are also high in trans. In fact, Time points out that even the brands that market themselves as “low-fat” are high in sodium. The American Heart Association points out that just six slices of deli meat can add up to half the amount of daily recommended sodium. Yikes! Adults who eat this type of food increase their risk of developing high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer. Studies also show that kids who grow up eating lunch meat are more prone to learning issues and behavioral conditions.
“The majority of people should be on a salt-restricted diet because of sodium’s link to high blood pressure,” says Dr. Laxmi Mehta, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Health Program at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center to Time. The link between diet and high blood pressure is so strong that sometimes all it takes to cure it is a restricted diet. “Sometimes my patients with elevated blood pressure are able to make significant improvements just by adjusting their diet.”
You might have made the swap from refined white sugar to an artificial sweetener—like acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, or sucralose—because artificial sweeteners contain fewer calories. However, just because the FDA labels them safe for human consumption, doesn’t mean you necessarily should.
Numerous studies have linked low- and zero-calorie foods and beverages to a heightened risk of metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, Type 2 diabetes, weight gain, and cardiovascular disease. In fact, many food scientists consider aspartame “the most dangerous substance on the planet.” If you need a touch of sweetness, use natural agave syrup, honey, or real maple syrup sparingly.
You’ve heard the warnings when it comes to trans fats (or saturated hydrogenated oils). Sure, they’re plant-based oils, but they’re still so highly processed that nutritionists give foods, like margarine, a big thumbs down. Why? Because trans fats increase the risk of bad cholesterol, heart disease, and stroke. Time notes that trans fats are at their highest in those bricks of butter that remain solid at room temperature, and these are the ones that are often marketed as a healthier choice!
So skip the sandwich spread and instead use mashed avocado or extra virgin olive oil for a healthier spread or bread dipper. I like to drizzle toasted pita bread with a bit of olive oil and balsamic vinegar. You can also add a few teaspoons of a favourite heart-healthy oil, spices, and balsamic vinegar on a plate for dipping bread, crackers, and other crudités.
Bottled Salad Dressings
The worst thing you can do to sabotage a fresh, nutritious, crisp salad is by drowning it in bottled salad dressing! Even the fat-free or reduced-fat dressings are packed with sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and artificial colors (i.e., like caramel coloring). Some bottled salad dressings have as much sugar as a Krispy Kreme Glazed Donut! “High fructose corn syrup has been shown to increase appetite and lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes,” says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of The NY Nutrition Group. Of course, the creamy salad dressings are among the worst in terms of fat. Some of them contain up to 30-percent of the daily recommended amount of fat in just 2-tablespoons!
For a healthier salad topper mix a few tablespoons of balsamic vinegar or apple cider vinegar with a few teaspoons of extra virgin olive oil for a healthy salad containing good fats. Depending on the type of salad that you’re eating, using a home made tomato or fruit salsa, homemade guacamole or hummus, or even marinating your meat beforehand, may offer enough flavor that you don’t require salad dressing at all.
Aside from the fact that whole-milk dairy products contain far too many saturated (or bad) fats, they’re also jam-packed with another ingredient that will put you off your cereal—bovine growth hormone (BGH). This synthetic hormone is engineered in a lab to boost the milk production of cows.
Unfortunately, nutritionists say BGH is passed along to humans in milk in the form of childhood obesity, as well as certain cancers, chronic migraines, and rheumatoid arthritis. However, you can opt for organic cow’s, goat’s, or sheep’s milk that come minus the added hormones. Animal milk alternatives, such as almond, soy, and rice milk are also options.
By hot dogs I’m really referring to any smoked, cured, or salted meat that contains chemical preservatives. However, hot dogs carried the brunt of food criticism thanks to medical and media reports. For instance, findings from the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine claimed that processed “hot dogs should carry cigarette-style warning labels!”
It turns out America’s favorite ballpark treat is so full of sodium, chemicals, and toxins that regular weekly consumption can increase your risk of colorectal cancer by about 21-percent. Eat this, Not That! writes that “studies published in the journals FASEB and Aging have connected high levels of serum phosphates (due to dietary consumption) to higher rates of heart disease, chronic kidney disease, weak bones, and accelerated aging.” Luckily, chemical-free hot dogs and sausages are yours for the taking at organic butchers and often straight from the farm.
Medical scientists estimate that potato chips, as well as French fries (they are no better for you), and other deep fried goodies (i.e., chicken fingers and wings) are responsible for a few thousand cancers each year in North America. So the next time you slip into a drive-thru for some crispy-greasy satisfaction, consider the danger to your colon, breasts, bladder, prostate, and rectum. The heightened risk of these conditions comes from acrylamide, a carcinogen created during the deep-fried cooking process.
So rather than buying your chips pre-bagged, opt for baking them at home on your own. Slice white and red potatoes, sweet potatoes, leeks, carrots, beets, and parsnips. Brush with a little bit of olive oil, sprinkle with sea salt (and dill or garlic if you desire) and bake in the oven until crispy.
Refined White Carbohydrates
White breads, white rice, white pasta, pre-packaged chips and crackers, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, and pretty much every single snack food on the market all have one thing in common—enriched wheat flour! That’s why I’m always going on about the type of carbohydrates (complex carbs vs. starchy carbs) that largely make up your diet, and how they determine the way you metabolize food and your level of energy.
Not only are refined grains stripped of most nutrients; they also digest quickly into simple sugars, causing blood-sugar levels to spike and come quickly crashing down in a wave of irritability and mid-day snack attacks. Ultimately, a starchy addition is linked to weight gain, inflammatory conditions (i.e., arthritis), type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure.
We’re often fooled into thinking that fruit juice is good for us because it’s got the word ‘fruit’ in it and some brands even market themselves as being good sources of vitamin C or that they’re made with real fruit. Unfortunately, even if this fruit is made with real fruit, it’s most likely loaded with sugar. For example, Eat This, Not That says a glass of all-natural Welch’s Grape Juice contains 36-grams of sugar which is about the same as four Krispy Kreme glazed donuts!
The source notest that even if the sugar comes from natural sources and not high fructose corn syrup, it’s still processed in the body the same way. Also the Journal of Clinical Investigation points out that most juices contain fructose which has been linked to the development of visceral adipose tissue in overweight people, also known as belly fat.
Industrial Vegetable Oil
A lot of people have made the switch to olive oil in the kitchen and that’s a good thing because vegetable oil is extremely high in omega-6 fatty acids. According to Healthline, “in the last 100 years or so, people have increased their consumption of added fats.” This increased consumption comes from the use of refined oils like vegetable oils, soybean oil, corn oil, cottonseed oil and canola oil.
Healthline points out the number of health concerns related to industrial vegetable oils which includes causing increased oxidative stress in the body and a link to increased risk of cancer.
It’s no secret that fast food, in general, is bad for us, but among the worst offenders are fried foods like French fries. Studies have shown that foods like French fries, fried chicken, and fried snacks increase our risk of heart disease. Also the method in which these foods are made which includes frying them in trans fats tends to raise the bad cholesterol in our body, and lower the good kind, explains Time magazine.
“If you’re making a veggie stir-fry at home and you’re preparing it with olive oil and coconut oil, there’s certainly nothing wrong with that,” says Dr. Regina Druz, associate professor of cardiology at Hofstra University and chief of cardiology at St. John Episcopal Hospital in New York City to Time magazine. “But what most people understand as typical fried food, the kinds you don’t prepare at home, should certainly be avoided.”
Pastries, Cookies, and Cake
I think it’s safe to assume that you probably already knew eating a diet full of processed treats like cookies, pastries, and cake isn’t the best thing to do, but just in case, we’ll discuss it here. Most baked goods that are commercially produced are not healthy.
Not only are they loaded with sugar, but they’ve also likely been made with saturated fats like butter or palm oil, or trans fats like hydrogenated vegetable oil. “You have two ingredients that work with each other to give somebody the worst possible nutritional profile,” says Dr. Regina Druz, associate professor of cardiology at Hofstra University and chief of cardiology at St. John Episcopal Hospital in New York City to Time magazine.
When food feels like rubber…there’s probably something unhealthy about it. We’ve all indulged in some processed cheese here and there. I mean it was pretty much a staple childhood food that was easy to slap onto a grilled cheese or hamburger patty. But when we stop to think about it, there’s nothing healthy about cheese that can last that long without ever going molding and shines like a piece of latex!
The answer is that processed cheese is often packed with additives, some of which can be seriously harmful. “Kraft Singles are packed with sodium citrate, which can cause muscle spasms and may be unhealthy to individuals with kidney health issues. They’re also packed with sodium phosphate, an ingredient used to prevent crystallization of meat and dairy products, which has been linked to an increased risk of bone demineralization, osteoporosis, and kidney health issues,” writes Eat This, Not That!
There’s a lot of talk about saturated fats and heart disease. While the link hasn’t been definitely made and there are definitely some heart-health benefits to be had from eating high-quality grass-fed beef in moderation, in general, fast food isn’t good for our health. Dr. Regina Druz, associate professor of cardiology at Hofstra University and chief of cardiology at St. John Episcopal in New York City told Time magazine that “saturated fats from animals, especially when combined with carbohydrates, appear to have a deleterious effect on heart health.”
There’s no denying that the food we consume at fast food restaurants is often unhealthy. It’s general made with poor quality ingredients (hence why it’s so affordable) and cooked using unhealthy methods. You might not be able to give it up entirely, but cutting back on fast food would be a smart health choice.
Candy bars are something I only indulge in once in a while because let’s face it, they’re like chips, you can’t eat just one! These tasty treats are so delicious, but that’s why they’re so bad for us. There is no nutritional value to them, they’re loaded with sugar and calories, and are designed to leave you wanting more.
“Processed foods like candy bars are generally engineered to be super tasty (so you eat more), and have been designed so that it’s very easy to eat them quickly,” writes Healthline. Basically they’re made to taste good, but they only offer short-term satisfaction. They don’t do anything to fill you up and they’ll just leave you hungry again because “of the way these high-sugar treats are metabolized.”
Fancy Coffee Drinks
Most people like to start their day with a cup of coffee, sometimes this coffee comes in the form of a fancy latte with all the frothy fixings like whipped cream, a little drizzle of caramel, and powdery spice. While these drinks are definitely tasty, they are loaded with sugar and calories. There’s a reason these beverages taste like dessert in a cup.
Coffee on its own without any cream or sugar is totally fine (just be sure to drink it in moderation). Healthline states that coffee on its own without anything added to it actually has lots of antioxidants. The source cites two separate studies which showed that drinking coffee could even lower peoples risk of type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s disease.
For a long time, people were told that fat was the worst offender among unhealthy foods. And while it’s not good for us, there’s actually a bigger problem out there that is sometimes overlooked and that is added sugar. A recent report published in JAMA International Medicine found that past studies that pushed forward the belief that fat is the biggest cause of heart disease were actually biased because they were funded by the sugar industry. According to Time magazine, experts now believe that added sugar is just as big, if not more of a threat than fat. Sugar is responsible for obesity, inflammation, high cholesterol, and diabetes — all of which are risk factors for heart disease.
“The debate in cardiology has pivoted from saturated fat and cholesterol to sugar,” says Dr. Druz to Time magazine. “If there is one ingredient I would say with heart disease or risk for heart disease must avoid, it’s added sugar in any form.”
Not only is sugar bad for our physical health, but it can also be harmful to children’s mental health. Researchers recently discovered that Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 (often found in candies like M&Ms) “promote Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children, according to a study in the journal The Lancet,” writes Eat This, Not That! These artificial colors are so unhealthy that they’re already been banned in Sweden, Norway, and the rest of the EU. The source notes that foods containing these ingredients must advertise with a warning that reads: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
A lot of the sugary cereals we see in grocery stores are marketed towards children who have a sweet a tooth. They’re packaged in bright colored boxes with animated figures on them to make them more enticing to children and let’s face it, they taste good! The reason these cereals taste good is that they’re loaded with sugar.
“Eating refined carbohydrates and sugars in the morning is going to produce inflammation and make blood sugar go up and down, so you’ll crave more sugar throughout the day,” says Dr. Druz to Time magazine. She goes on to offer advice on what to eat instead which would be a much healthier option. For example having some fruit with an egg and avocado on whole grain toast.