Wondering what's really bad for you? We asked top nutritionists to point us toward the worst offenders. Give your diet a makeover by eliminating these worst processed foods.
"Many people think cereal is a healthy breakfast option, but they can contain dangerous additives like artificial colors, transfats, artificial flavors and the preservative BHT," says Andrea Donsky, registered holistic nutritionist and editor-in-chief of Naturally Savvy. "Many cereal boxes place big pictures of gorgeous real fruit on the front of the package and claim to have high fiber and protein, but in many cases they don't contain the real fruits in their ingredients and contain many artificial additives as well." Donsky suggests looking for organic cereals that are high in fiber.
Snack bars may seem like a healthy option when you are hungry on the go but many aren't as healthy as they're marketed to be. "Many of the breakfast, snack or energy bars are filled with artificial flavors, transfats, high-fructose corn syrup and other unhealthy ingredients," says Donsky. "Although the nutrition panel reads high in fiber, they are filled with harmful ingredients that can lead to heart disease and obesity."
Candy seems like a no-brainer, but it's still consumed by children of all ages. "Packaged candy is filled with artificial colors and/or sweeteners," says Donsky. "Artificial colors are linked to hyperactivity in children and artificial sweeteners can cause headaches, anxiety and a host of different side effects." If you're really craving candy or it's a candy-related holiday, look for options that are organic and made with fruit and vegetable dyes.
"Margarine is loaded with trans[fat], which raises bad cholesterol, lowers good cholesterol and causes inflammation. This can lead to belly fat and diseases ranging from heart disease to diabetes," says Rene Ficek. Ficek is a registered dietician and nutritionist and serves as lead nutrition expert for Seattle Sutton's Healthy Eating.
Whether you drink regular soda or diet soda, you're not doing anything good for your body. "Research has shown that frequent soda consumption increases your risk of developing pancreatic cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, osteoporosis and tooth decay," says Ficek. "And although the diet versions do not contain sugar, the artificial sweetener can be even worse for you than the real sugar."
Frozen lunches and dinners may claim to be healthy on the packaging, but most are highly processed and unhealthy. "One of the most popular brands of frozen meals provides an average 64 grams of fat and 1,020 calories per meal, which is more fat than most of us should have in an entire day," says Ficek. "And although there are diet frozen meals out there, often they are heavily processed and loaded with sodium and preservatives."
When meat is processed chemically, artificial ingredients are added to increase shelf life and add flavor. The result is a cocktail of salt, fat and cholesterol. "Processed foods like chicken nuggets stand out as one of the worst foods, considering they are jam-packed with these preservatives without providing much real chicken," says Ficek.
Nicholas Morgan, N.D., is a second-year resident at Arthritis Care in Lansing, Michigan, where he also founded The Center for Integrative Wellness. "Things like french fries, potato chips and popcorn are examples of simple carbohydrates combined with denatured oils," says Morgan. "They also have a high salt content, which can rob the body of other minerals." He cautions against food fried in heated oil. According to Morgan, the body needs polyunsaturated fatty acids to decrease inflammation and keep the body's processes running smoothly. "Heating oils while extracting, processing or cooking limits the number of polyunsaturated fatty acids available to your body," he says.
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