I am mainly focusing on foods to avoid for health reasons here. I didn't want to focus only on foods that make you fat, but some of the ingredients you're ingesting through these foods may be causing weight gain. I also didn't mention environmental or ethical reasons to avoid certain things (like bottles in landfills or terrible living conditions at large dairy farms), I am only giving you the lowdown on the way these foods affect your general health.
A note to the Men's Fitness webmaster: I would love to have included your point of view, however, where the hell do you get off telling me I have to watch a video ad before I can read your article? No, I will not watch the video, and quite frankly, I will never click a link that will take me to your website ever again. You know that old saying about fish in the sea? Have you googled any subject on your site recently?Just a note.
This was on every single list I found. You're basically drinking a fantastic cocktail of empty calories, diabetes and tooth decay. All sodas contain phosphoric acid, which can cause kidney problems, muscle loss and osteoporosis. The colas contain an artificial caramel colour that has been shown to cause cancer in animals. Citrus sodas contain BVO which can cause memory loss, nerve disorders, behavioral problems, infertility and lesions on heart muscles. The aluminum cans are lined with BPA which is a well-known hormone disruptor and has been linked to infertility, diabetes, and some reproductive cancers. Most of the ingredients in your soda are made from corn, and most corn is now exclusively GMO. The jury may be out on what effects they have on our bodies, but I'd rather pass if I can. Full sugar sodas can build up fat around your liver and muscles, dehydrates, increases cholesterol and damages the heart with too much sugar, sodium and caffeine. Diet sodas are doubly dangerous due to the addition of artificial sweeteners, which you will read about shortly, and the addition of mold inhibitors and a pH of 3.2 on average, compare that to a lemon which has a pH of only 2.
( includes bacon [sorry!], sausages, hotdogs, cold cuts and any other cured meat)
Although a staple of lunchboxes and the Italian countryside, cured meats are known to cause cardiovascular disease and cancer. There are high instances of bowel cancer in people who consume large amounts over long periods of time. Processed and cured red meats are high in saturated fat, sodium, sodium nitrite and often, MSG. Before you begin to shout about how healthy Mediterranean people are even though they eat large quantities of cured meats, remember that their lifestyle and the majority of their diet is way healthier and more natural than in our Western culture.
Originally I was only going to put margarine in this category, but the more I read about it, the more I realized these had to be put in together because margarine is made from vegetable oil. Wellness Mama has some excellent, eye-opening information and links that I found really interesting.
Vegetable oils often come from GMO crops, contain harmful chemicals and are known to cause heart disease and cancers, among other things. Aside from the vegetable oils they contain, the process that turns margarine into a solid and the fact that even trans-fat free versions can still contain up to 0.5g, studies show that excess consumption is associated with many serious diseases, including heart disease. About 5 years ago I read that margarine was one molecule away from being plastic. That was when I decided to never buy it again. Whether that is true or not is meaningless to me at this point because there are so many other reasons not to have it in the house.
*note, cold-pressed oils such as olive are excluded.
**Flow chart found on youniquenutrition.com
(includes corn/tortilla chips, cheetos, pretzels, etc.)
Aside from the whole 'fried in oil thing', chips may contain chemicals like BHT, transfats, excessive salt content and empty calories - all leading you down a path of weight gain, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Also, new studies are showing that frying potatoes triggers a process which can contribute to cancer - that's whether you're buying them that way or frying them yourself.
(includes milk, cream, cheese, etc.)
In this case I'm just going to tell you why you should be consuming organic and you can draw your own conclusions.
Organic dairy comes from animals that are handled and fed more humanely. There is no risk of mad cow as they're not being forced to eat ground-up chunks of their kin. No antibiotics, pesticides, GMO feed or hormones. Those reasons may make you pony up that extra $2.00 for the organic stuff.
(includes donuts, toaster pastries, anything baked that you purchase in packages and boxes)
They're loaded with artificial colors, preservatives, refined white sugar, enriched flour and in the case of yummy, buttery croissants, tonnes of margarine and/or other highly processed vegetable oils. Do yourself a favor and read the ingredients list on the side of a package, do you really still want to put that in your body?
Processed baked goods have no nutritional value, can be loaded with trans fats, GMOs and carry all the associated health risks such as heart disease, cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's.
First off, anything you're 'cooking' in a microwave is bad for you. I admit that I am guilty of using mine, but I do it sparingly and I always loathe myself during and after. However, microwave popcorn always seemed to me like eating chemical-laced corn - and I was right. The bag itself is coated with a toxic chemical. They often have trans fats, artificial flavors and preservatives. Although the actual corn used for the kernels is most likely non GMO, the oils and additives most likely are. A really great link about the horrors of eating microwave popcorn is written by the food babe.
I was a little surprised to find this one on so many lists. Yes, bagels pack a whole lot of calories, but I didn't really know how many. Anyone realize that the serving suggestion we're basing the calorie total on is 1/2 a bagel? Yeah, seriously. Who eats only half a bagel at a sitting? No one I know. Aside from the high calories, the refined flours bagels are packed with is a no-no and it turns out that even the 'whole wheat' bagel you thought you were being so good switching to contains only about 50% whole grains. The rest are of the refined white kind.
Here we're talking about the bowl-o-sugar types like Honeycomb and even the 'healthy' types like 'Raisin Bran' or Kashi. Aside from the seriously high levels of sugar in pretty much all types of cereal, there's also the fact that they're loaded with GMOs and HFCS. If those two things don't bother you, there's also the process called extrusion - this is how your GMO grains become your morning bowl-o-sugar. The grains are mixed into a slurry with water, then shaped by high heat and pressure (effectively rendering them completely devoid of nutrition and possibly toxic) and coated with oils and sugar to make them keep their shape and stay crispy for those heavenly 30 seconds after you add milk. Although they do add vitamins and nutrients after, that bowl of cereal is not really nutritious until you add your milk and some fruit. You're better off with steel cut oats or home-made granola.
(includes ketchup, mayo, relish, mustard, salad dressings and any other shelf-stable condiments)
This category is filled with high fat, high calories, high sodium, high sugar content (usually in the form of HFCS) and in most cases, preservatives. Even when you see 'low sodium', 'low fat' 'calorie reduced' or any other buzz word for the food processing industry's 'diet' lines, you're often getting more chemicals, preservatives, artificial flavors and you'll probably use more than usual to get the same flavor you're used to. As with the cereal category, you can enjoy alternatives (such as salsa instead of ketchup) or you can try to make your own. Here is a site with an amazing compilation of replacement recipes: divinehealthfromtheinsideout.com
(this is anything labeled 'diet', 'low fat' or anything along those lines)
When manufacturers remove the fat from food in order to make it low fat and/or low calorie, they also remove all flavor. What they add instead is a whole whack of chemicals in order to trick your palate into thinking that you're eating the real thing and trick you into thinking that you're eating healthier. You may actually be sabotaging your diet with these foods because you may be consuming more sugar or salt (in addition to the other additives and preservatives) than with the regular, full-fat version of the same food. You should also be aware that it may be lower in calories because the portion is smaller. Eating smaller portions is a good thing, but you may actually eat more this way, thinking the calorie count is lower, so you can have two packages instead of one. Click here for more specific info.
I wrote this list in order of how often these foods showed up on lists of stuff to avoid. Imagine my surprise when I realized how low on the list artificial sweeteners ended up. I have to admit my bias to this particular one because I have an allergy to it, and it is so prevalent in our (pre-packaged) foods that I often consume it without even knowing (until later, that is) and sometimes I just consume it (gum) and wait for the consequences. The reason I was so surprised that it didn't score higher on this list is that it's just pure chemicals. Studies are showing time and again that the chemicals that make up artificial sweeteners like Equal and Sweet n' Low can cause you to overeat because they mess with our taste buds - they're so overly sweet that you get accustomed to that level and regular sweetness found in fruit and other sweet foods is no longer enough. They mess with our brains and gut - they think that a high calorie, thick and satisfying food is coming their way. When that doesn't happen, they crave more, leading to over eating. They're almost always made from GMOs. They also mess with hormone levels (namely, insulin), leading to diabetes, and diabetics are the ones who use 'fake sugar' as I call it because they think it's better for them than actual sugar.
Image source: authoritynutrition.com
(includes various granola, energy and protein bars)
Many people think that these are a healthy snack for breakfast, pre or post workout, kids lunches or any time we need a quick snack on the go. Unfortunately, they mainly contain much of what you've already heard: HFCS, GMOs, chemical preservatives, high calories, high sugar content, are surprisingly low in nutrition, high in saturated fat, artificial sweeteners and lastly, 'natural ingredients' aren't always what you think. Companies are allowed to put that on the label if an ingredient once came from something that was natural - like, unbelievably, beaver anal glands. Safest bet is to make your own, there are plenty of great recipes online. You can read more about the dangers of eating protein bars at the Globe and Mail.
I know, it's a long list of honorable mentions. You wouldn't believe how much 'food' we really shouldn't be eating to stay healthy.
Until then, take care of your health. I hope that my research has opened some eyes - I thought I knew a lot about this topic, which is why I wanted to blog about it, but I certainly learned a whole lot more!