From daily probiotics to things like millet falafel with avocado relish, we’re endlessly fascinated by the foods nutritionists eat. They’re the ones who know the effect foods can have on their bodies after all, so we can only assume they choose to eat only the best and healthiest. On the flip side, we’re just as—if not more—fascinated by the foods nutritionists won’t eat. A splurge is a splurge, but what indulgences are 100% off limits because they’re just that bad? Curious, we spoke with three certified nutritionists—Elissa Goodman, Meryl Pritchard, and Kelly Leveque—and asked them to share a few of the foods on their “do not touch with a ten-foot pole” list. Keep scrolling to see them all!
“Soda is not a food, and is way over-consumed in today’s diet,” Pritchard says. “There are about 40 grams of sugar in one single can—anything that contains over 8 grams of sugar is too much for me!” Goodman agrees, saying that that the artificial sweeteners in soda (and other junk food) actually contribute to obesity and diabetes, even though they were created to solve those issues. “Basically, artificial sweeteners trick your body into believing you’ve just consumed sugar,” she says. “This has dramatic effects on both your waistline, as well as your insulin sensitivity. Artificial sweeteners have been linked to infertility and cancer as well.” She says to read labels and be cautious of ingredients like neotame, sucralose, advantame, saccharin, and acesulfame potassium (acesulfame K).
Leveque she says she avoids this ingredient commonly found in junk foods and condiments “like the plague.” She explains that fructose is 100% metabolized in your liver and undergoes something called the Maillard reaction, which leads “to the formation of superoxide free radicals…that can result in liver inflammation.” It also turns into fat faster than any other carb, and is linked to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance, she says. And if you reach for agave because you think it’s healthier, it’s time for a wake-up call. “I avoid agave because it’s 90% fructose and the closest thing to high fructose corn syrup,” she warns. “It’s used as a sugar a lot in ‘health’ foods.”
Industrial seed oils like soybean, safflower, corn, and cotton are called that because they’re highly processed and chemically extracted, and usually need to be deodorized in order to be edible. Yikes. “They oxidize quickly, which create loads of free radicals,” Leveque says. “They’re also full of Omega-6, which further throws off the imbalance of omega fatty acids in the body.” Instead of industrial seed oils, try oils that are high in omega-3 and monosaturated fats, like coconut, olive, macadamia, and avocado oil. And in case you were wondering, yes, industrial oils are the ones used for all your guilty-pleasure deep-fried dishes. "The oils in deep fried foods are usually cheap and full of trans fat, which is the worst type of fat you can consume," Pritchard say. "It can cause heart disease among many other health issues. I stear clear of this fat at all times."
Soy has been both celebrated and shunned over the years, but Leveque says the processed version is definitely on her “avoid at all costs” list. “Free glutamic acid, or MSG, which is a potent neurotoxin, is formed during soy food processing,”she says. “Soy phytoestrogens are potent antithyroid agents that cause hypothyroidism and can lead to infertility and promote breast cancer in adult women.” She notes how the FDA never approved GRAS (generally regarded as safe) status for soy protein isolate, because of concern regarding the presence of toxins and carcinogens in processed soy. “And the FDA approves everything, so that should tell you something!” she says.
“Processed meats typically come from animals which are held in confined spaces, spreading disease and being exposed to a number of hormones and antibiotics,” Goodman says. “They’re also filled with sodium nitrate, which is used to chemically flavor, preserve, and add color.” The downside? When your body is exposed to nitrates, Goodman says it converts them into cancer-causing chemicals. Processed meats include salami, sausages, deli ham, and yes, bacon. Sigh.
Are you ready for this news? (Probably not.) Your favorite at-home movie snack is straight up dangerous to your health. “Perfluoroalkyls are synthetic chemicals that are added to wrappers, especially in the fast food industry, to prevent grease from leaking through,” Goodman says. “Microwave popcorn bags are lined with these chemicals. Once heated, these chemicals leach into the popcorn itself. This creates highly damaging effects on your endocrine system, creating both developmental and reproductive risks. Researchers have also linked these chemicals to cancer, increased LDL cholesterol, decreased immune function, thyroid disease and infertility.” Looks like we’ll be making our popcorn fresh from now on…
“Margarine is highly processed vegetable oil, which is packed with trans fats,” Goodman says. “In fact, it's made from the cheapest, lowest quality oils.” Remember our previous slide about industrial seed oils? Well, margarine is made with them. During this high heat process of turning liquid oil into a solid, free radicals are formed, which can increase your risk of cancer, heart disease, and hormonal imbalances. Margarine and other butter substitutes contain a high number of additives and chemicals, Goodman says, as well as omega-6 fatty acids, which off-sets the ideal omega-3 to omega-6 ratio.
Here’s the thing about fat-free foods—you might feel like you’re making a healthier decision because in most people’s minds, “fat” equals “bad”, but in reality, these overly-processed foods are actually quite damaging to your health. “The food industry began replacing animal fats with unsaturated vegetable oils, which has led to an increased consumption of trans fats.” Goodman explains. “In order to compensate, manufacturers add high concentrations of sugar as well. These highly refined sugars cause your blood sugar to spike, increasing your risk of weight-gain, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.”
Were you surprised by any of these foods? Sound off below!