By now, you know that certain foods are definite taboos in your kitchen. In almost every case, it’s the processed ones that are the culprits. Seemingly innocent snacks can be sugar or salt bombs, and lunch meats can do some serious damage to your otherwise careful diet. Some of these processed foods are no-brainers to avoid: You know to ditch the sodas and the hot dogs.
In many cases, however, there are other processed foods that creep into your grocery cart without a second thought. Though processed foods are almost unavoidable in some capacity, there are definitely some “normal” foods that should get a second thought. Moderation is OK, but loading up on these foods every week can lead to several problems, including adding extra sugar, salt, and fat to your diet. If you’re looking to get rid of a few pounds or simply feel a little healthier, you might want to consider cutting out these foods.
1. Salad dressing
Nothing says “healthy” like a good salad, but the dressing you choose can totally derail your best intentions. Unfortunately, most store-bought dressings are loaded with extra fat and calories. On top of that, the processing required can mean extra additives that make your salad not-so-natural. The next time you’re shopping, Eating Well suggests taking a look at the ingredients list before purchasing your go-to dressing. “It may alarm you that something so simple has so many ingredients that you’ve probably never heard of,” Eating Well writes.
Some of those ingredients are to preserve the dressing while others are to improve the texture, Eating Well explains. But if you’re really looking to make your salad worth eating, it’s best to choose dressings that are based in olive oil. To ensure freshness (and no added ingredients you can’t pronounce), you can even make your own versions like this Simple Vinaigrette from Serious Eats.
2. Pancake syrup
Nothing is better for a classic weekend breakfast like smothering your pancakes or waffles with sweet, velvety syrup. But if you’re picking up something other than pure maple syrup, you’re basically soaking your breakfast in a chemical bath. As the Fooducate blog explains, those chemicals range from preservatives to potential obesity triggers, none of which you should be eating.
FitDay also explains that the small serving sizes, paired with our desire to ladle the syrup, means we’re getting much more sodium and many more carbohydrates and calories than you want in one meal of the day. One 2-ounce serving of syrup contains about 230 calories, and that’s not taking into account the pancakes themselves or the butter you put on top. It’s also not accounting for the extra syrup you’re drizzling everywhere. Pure maple syrup is a better alternative for your breakfast, and because of some other healthy properties, can also be a good substitute for white sugar.
3. Chicken nuggets
We’ve already covered how some deli meats should be avoided at all cost. Not only do the preservatives spell trouble for your health, but they’re chock full of sodium that can help to skyrocket your blood pressure. Unfortunately, the same issues are true for other processed meats, including chicken nuggets.
Yes, chicken nuggets contain the protein you want. But they’re about 50% fat and include fillers that are packed with carbohydrates, since those additives are more like breadcrumbs than meat. Though it’s not the case every time, chicken nuggets are often fried using trans fats, one of those nasty processing ingredients that can lead to a greater risk of type-2 diabetes and other health issues. About to reach for another kid-favorite, the hot dog? You should know better, but it pretty much sums up the word “processed.” Reader’s Digest reports processed meats that are cured, smoked, salted, or otherwise preserved have been linked to higher risks of colon cancer — not to mention higher levels of fat and sodium.
4. Granola bars
Granola bars seem healthy at first: They’re often made with oatmeal or other grains and seem fairly wholesome. Anything you take on a mountain hike has to be good for you, right? Instead, granola bars tend to have tons of added sugars, which won’t fill you up for long. The simple carbohydrates and the additives on the ingredients list mean granola bars aren’t quite as innocent as they appear, Healthline reports.
You could skip granola bars altogether and opt for a different snack, like fruit or something crunchy. But if you’re used to a quick breakfast on the go or a mid-morning option, you could also try making your own granola bars at home. These recipes are simple, and you can control the ingredients you put in them.
5. Powdered drink mixes
Sure, soda is the big bad monster of the food world these days. If you get tired of straight water all of the time, you might be tempted by powdered drink mixes like teas, lemonades, and other flavors you can add to your water bottle or pitchers in your refrigerator. Resist the bait, if you can. Powdered mixes often contain high-fructose corn syrup (the main bad guy in soda), along with numerous artificial flavors.
The type of mix also determines how many chemicals are added to the mixes. Crystal Light drinks can contain aspartame (an artificial sweetener), potassium citrate, soy lecithin, and other additives only familiar in processing plants. If you’re desperate for a flavored drink, Fooducate suggests selecting mixes that are sweetened with stevia or monk fruit instead of test tube sugars.
For a long time, margarine was thought to be a better alternative to butter because it didn’t contain the same levels of saturated fat that butter does. However, it does contain trans fats, which aren’t present in butter. “Trans fat not only raises your bad cholesterol (LDL), it also lowers your good cholesterol (HDL) and has been linked to a greater risk of stroke, heart disease and Type 2 diabetes,” FitDay explains.
According to The Real Food Guide, margarine also contains free radicals as a by-product of its processing. Those free radicals can change the cellular structure in humans, and can be responsible for aging, along with cancer and heart disease.
Everyone can agree that adding extra fat to your diet is never a good thing — it’s why it has such a marginalized segment in every food pyramid ever created. If you’re limiting the times you pull out a stick of anything to cook with, it might be a good idea to use butter instead.
From start to finish, breakfast is under attack a bit, at least in terms of processed foods. Bagels are high-calorie foods (often about 350 calories before you add any toppings), but their ingredients lists is really what makes them a no-go for healthy eating habits. “Most of them are made with refined white flour, which means all the good vitamins, minerals, and fiber have been processed out of them,” How Stuff Works explains.
Refined white flour is on the hot seat for being a factor in a number of issues, including weight gain, type-2 diabetes, and heart disease. How Stuff Works also said the ingredient makes it more difficult to lose weight, even if the rest of your diet is relatively healthy. Though nixing them altogether is probably the healthiest choice, the site also says choosing a variety that is 100% whole grains is a better alternative.