If certain foods didn’t lead to weight gain, diseases, and other health concerns, there would be no need for diets. Unfortunately, diets exist because we choose way too often to eat foods that are high in fat, sodium, sugar, or additives that should be in spelling bees instead of on ingredient lists.
Having a piece of cake or a soda every now and then won’t be the death of you, and it’s normal to have vices here and there. But if it happens too frequently, you’re asking for a boatload of health issues farther down the road. In some cases, favorite foods you grew up with spell disaster for your well-being, even if they are leftovers from the “good old days.” Just because your family cooked with certain ingredients or loaded up on pantry staples doesn’t mean they’re healthy for you. If you want to live a healthy lifestyle, it might be time to start avoiding these products and ingredients at the grocery store altogether. It’s not really a diet, but it is a choice that could lead to weight loss and other health benefits over time.
1. High fructose corn syrup
At one time it was trans fats, but now added sugar — specifically fructose — is the devil incarnate of the food world. However, it’s not without good reason. Sugar is basically empty calories that will provide you with 2,000 calories in a heartbeat, but leave you hunting and gathering in your pantry for more. That’s because fructose isn’t satiating — food-speak for making you feel full and helping you to voluntarily stop nibbling on everything in sight.
One of the biggest problems with sugar in your diet it how addicting it becomes. Research suggests sugar is eight times more addictive than cocaine, meaning it’s a tough ingredient to cut once you’re used to it. On top of the addictive properties and the unavoidable weight gain with too much sugar in your diet, it can also cause damage to your skin, causing you to age much faster than someone who cuts down on the Skittles and soda they consume.
Another issue with cutting out sugar is that some foods sneakily have way more added sweetness than we might assume. Many foods can have more sugar than soda, especially if you’re eating more than the recommended serving size. If you’re looking to cut down on the amount of sugar you eat, keep in mind that you might experience some withdrawal symptoms. But if you’re serious about fighting your sugar cravings, it can be done.
2. Vegetable oils
It’s common to cook with vegetable oil and to keep a large plastic container of it in your pantry — but that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. For a long time, it was thought that vegetable oils were better than butter in cooking because the oils cut out the cholesterol content that comes from using butter and other animal-derived saturated fats. However, vegetable oils — which can come from corn, soybeans, and seeds like sunflowers and are in forms like liquid oil or margarine — have their own sets of issues.
One of the main problems with using vegetable oils in excess is that they supply too many omega-6 fatty acids to our bodies. You’ve heard of omega-3 fatty acids (the kind found in seafood) — the kind that many people don’t consume enough of. When the amount of omega-6 fats grows too large and you don’t get the proper ratio of omega-3 fats, the increase of omega-6 fats from oils can cause increased inflammation in your body. It can also increase your risk of heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and other maladies. What’s more, a study conducted in 2015 suggests that cooking with vegetable oils can increase the toxins in your food, some of which could lead to cancer.
Extra-virgin olive oil can be a decent substitute, provided it’s actually extra-virgin. Men’s Fitness also suggests substituting with coconut oil. “It’s a heart-healthy fat that has been shown to improve cholesterol profiles, reduce inflammation, and rev metabolism,” registered dietician and New York Rangers nutritionist Cynthia Sass told the publication.
3. Artificial sweeteners
Using artificial sweeteners instead of pounds of sugar is traditionally viewed as a healthy alternative. Diet sodas contain sweeteners such as aspartame, without any of the calories a regular soda does. It would seem like this is a clear choice, but the artificial sweeteners can cause problems as well.
When consumed in moderation they might be a good alternative to loading up on white sugar — but when you’re ingesting them en masse through diet sodas, baked goods, candies, and other means, “moderation” goes out the window. Artificial sweeteners amp up the sweetness level of foods compared to regular sugar, and studies have found that consuming these sweeteners can ruin your calibrated palate, skewing toward more sweet items. If you eat too many sweeteners, naturally sweet foods like fruit become less satisfying, and foods like vegetables become unpalatable, according to a report from Harvard Health Publications.
Those sweeteners could also enhance your sweet tooth, giving you more cravings for sugary foods you don’t need. In addition, some research suggests these sweeteners have some of the same addictive properties that sugar does.
4. Over-processed cheese
If your cheese is individually wrapped after being shaped into squares, comes from a can, or can be stored at room temperature, it’s probably a sign you should avoid it at all costs. Processed foods should always be eaten in moderation, and cheese that isn’t actually cheese is no exception. In this case, it’s in order to avoid the huge amount of preservatives packed into every bite.
“My philosophy of eating is that if it doesn’t grow mold, I don’t eat it,” registered dietician Kate Geagan told Men’s Fitness. “Things should not have that long a shelf life. You want to fuel your body with cleaner foods.”
5. Deli meats
If you’re relying on American cheese and deli ham for your lunches every week, it might be time to rethink what’s in your brown bag altogether. Yes, the protein in lunch meats is good for you, but the added sodium isn’t. On top of that, deli meats often contain nitrates, which are associated with higher incidences of cancer, Geagan told Men’s Fitness.
The sodium content in many deli selections is what can lead to long-term problems. A single slice of ham can contain almost 30% of your recommended sodium intake for the entire day, and other types can contain almost as much. That opens the door to long-term issues like high blood pressure and an increased risk for heart attacks or strokes. In addition, stomach cancer has been linked to diets high in sodium.
6. Frozen entrées
Convenient meals are at your fingertips in the frozen food aisle of the grocery store, where for $2 to $4 you can pick up a frozen entrée in any style of cuisine you choose. The problem is that some of these dishes still contain trans fats — the ones even fast food chains are avoiding.
In addition, the sodium content in most frozen meals is astounding, clocking in between 700 and 1,800 milligrams for each one. (Most adults only need about 2,300 mg of sodium per day, meaning you’ll reach your limit quickly.) Other types of meals can also contain an entire day’s worth of saturated fat — and in many cases they don’t contain the vegetables and grains necessary to keep you full for a long period of time. The bottom line: You might as well be eating a burger (and no, we don’t actually recommend that).