We all think we know which foods are healthy and which we should avoid, but do we really know why? Besides the high fat content and low nutritional value, the world’s unhealthiest foods have some pretty dark secrets. Once you get the low down on the real reasons they’re a lousy choice for your health, you’ll think twice before reaching for that afternoon snack.
Here’s a list of our top nutritional nightmares.
The Unhealthiest Foods
1. Artificial sweeteners
Zero calories yes, zero detrimental effects on your health? Far from it. Hidden in a huge range of products, there’s an increasing catalogue of data to suggest these chemicals are seriously harmful to health. To date the FDA has received over 10,000 complaints in relation to side effects from aspartame consumption alone.
2. Soda and diet soda
When it comes to sugar laden carbonated drinks versus sweetened diet sodas, there’s little difference in terms of the damage they do to your health. Zero calorie drinks increase your chances of developing metabolic syndrome, and studies show that both can increase your chances of going on to develop type II diabetes.
Related: The Dangers of Diet Soda
Candy bars contain large amounts of refined white sugar. Weight gain, tooth decay, and a depressed immune system aren’t your only worries, it’s also highly addictive. People who cut sugar from their diet experience unpleasant withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, headaches and depression.
4. Fried foods
Everybody knows that deep fat fried foods increase your amount of LDL or “bad cholesterol” which can ultimately lead to heart disease. But did you know that starch rich food cooked at high temperatures (for example French fries) creates carcinogenic compounds like acrylamide, which is also found in plastics and cigarette smoke? Nice.
5. Hydrogenated fats
Don’t be deceivedby “healthy, low fat” spreads. After undergoing a lengthy manufacturing process, what was once a natural product (sunflower, olive oil etc) becomes nothing more than a poison more closely resembling plastic than food.
Hydrogenated fats increase the viscosity of your blood forcing your heart to work harder, making them one of the worse foods for raising blood pressure.
6. Processed meats
The World Cancer Research Fund reviewed more than 7000 studies into the links between diet and cancer and found that processed deli meats like ham, bacon, hot dogs and salami were some of the worst offenders. They’re often manufactured with sodium nitrate, a cancer causing nitrosamine.
7. Processed cheese
Processed cheese is an artificial food with little to no nutritional value. In addition to the high levels of salt and fat, it also contains emulsifiers like trisodium phosphate, (commonly used as a degreasing agent.)
8. Cow’s milk
When you drink a glass of milk, you may be consuming more added extras than you bargained for. Non organic livestock are routinely administered antibiotics and growth hormones, traces of which are regularly found in milk. But that isn’t the worst of it.
Due to the sheer volume of milk each animal is expected to produce, many go on to develop udder infections. This means that pus leaches into the milk. In tests, one liter of Californian milk was shown to contain 298 million pus cells.
9. Commercially baked goods
High in calories and fat, commercially baked pastries and donuts may taste delicious but they won’t do your waistline any favors.
Most baked goods are made with refined flour which not only has the majority of the nutrients removed, but what’s left has been treated with harsh, toxic chemicals that may make it look all nice, white and fluffy, but won’t be any good for your health.
10. Movie theater popcorn
Let’s get real, buy a bucket of popcorn at the movie theater and you’ll eat the whole thing (a handful is never enough!) When you realize that just one small bucket contains three times the amount of saturated fat as a Pizza Hut Personal Pan Pepperoni Pizza, it no longer looks like such an appealing option.
11. Commercial cereal
Most commercial, boxed cereals contain extortionately high levels of sugar and corn syrup and are far from the healthy start to your day the big food companies would have us believe.
Many are manufactured using a process known as extrusion, which involves heating the ingredients to extremely high temperatures. Extrusion destroys any essential amino acids and alters the natural structure of the grain rendering it highly toxic.
12. Junk food
Junk food is bad on all counts. High in salt, saturated fats and empty calories, it tops the list of the world’s unhealthiest foods.
Containing everything from genetically modified ingredients, meat from non organic commercially reared animals, and refined, white flour (and then cooked at high temperatures,) if you’ve been paying close attention, we need say no more.
Related: 5 Simple Steps to Healthy Eating
13. Farmed salmon
We’re not disputing the fact that responsibly caught fish is good for you, but when it comes to farmed produce, it most definitely pays to go organic. Studies found highly toxic contaminants in farmed salmon that if consumed regularly could pose a serious risk to health. These included banned pesticides like toxaphene and dieldrin, both of which are thought to be carcinogenic.
14. Low fat food
When you see “low fat” think “high sugar”. Be sure to read the label carefully. Pre-packed diet foods, proclaiming to be low in fat are often nutritionally far worse than their full fat counterparts. Containing everything from MSG, to fillers like methyl cellulose, they’ll give you the illusion of fullness, only to have you reaching for a second helping half an hour later.
15. Soy products
You’re mistaken if you think that soy is only for health junkies. Up to 60% of all supermarket products contain it in one form or another. As it’s mostly sourced from genetically modified crops, it’s a cheap filler for bulking out food, but it’s so heavily processed it bears no resemblance whatsoever to what we think of as the health food staple so highly revered in the East.
Fermented soy like miso and tamari have been eaten here for centuries, without having a negative impact on health. But the further away from its natural state a food is, the more we run into problems. The fact that there’s still no hard evidence that GM crops are safe, and yet we’re eating this stuff in such huge amounts is reason enough to be concerned.
It’s fair to say that most of us could have second guessed the majority of foods on this “world’s unhealthiest foods” list, but not the reasons why they’re so bad for us. When it comes to our health, nature really does have our best interests at heart. Stick to consuming the bounty that Mother Nature provides, and good health will inevitably follow.
Sarah Murphy trained at the College of Naturopathic Medicine in London, England, where she specialized in Western Herbal Medicine and Ayurveda. She writes widely about natural health, and is passionate about empowering people to take better care of their own well-being.
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