Unhealthy junk foods are everywhere in the modern world. From fast-food restaurants to grocery store end caps these tempting foods can be hard to resist. There are numerous health implications associated with eating a diet full of unhealthy foods.
Traditional advice says that all foods can fit in moderation. In truth, its better for our bodies if we completely cut out some of the worst unhealthy junk foods. The unhealthiest foods are full of sugar, high in fat, and provide no health benefits.
Fortunately, there are healthier alternatives that can help with weight loss and play a part in preventing the development of many health problems later in life.
5 Foods You Should Never Eat
The core of a healthy diet should include a variety of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats like olive oil and avocados. These foods do more than provide calories. They are full of the nutrients our bodies need for optimal health.
Unhealthy processed foods do the opposite. They are high in calories, full of added sugar and have little to no nutritional value. Worse, they often replace healthier foods in our diets.
A diet full of processed food has been linked with many chronic diseases including obesity, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease (1).
Most foods, even those that are not always considered a healthy choice can be part of your diet if you are able to limit them to an occasional treat. However, there are some foods that are so unhealthy they are best avoided. With these foods we should focus on healthier alternatives that are better for our waistlines and our long term health.
Here are 5 foods you should never eat and healthier alternatives to include in your diet instead.
1. White Bread
Most commercial breads use refined wheat as the main ingredient. Refined grains are low in fiber and essential nutrients and can cause blood sugar levels to spike when we eat them.
A natural whole grain has three parts:
- The outer covering is known as the bran. This fiber-filled layer contains many B vitamins and minerals.
- The germ is the inner part of the grain. In nature, it has the potential to sprout into a new plant given the right conditions to grow. The germ is the most nutritious part of the grain. It is full of B vitamins, vitamin E, and healthy fats.
- The endosperm is the middle layer of the grain. It contains starchy carbohydrates a little protein and some vitamins. Its job is to provide fast-acting energy to nourish a growing sprout.
Refining grains involves removing the bran and the germ. The remaining endosperm has a much longer shelf life than the whole grain itself. Unfortunately, the refining process also removes the fiber and many of the essential nutrients. What’s left is the fast-acting starchy carbohydrates which are then used to make white flour.
Many refined grains are “enriched.” This process adds back some of the nutrients contained in the bran and germ. However, not all of the nutrients can be added back through this process. One of those nutrients that is not added back is fiber.
White bread is not bad for our bodies because it contains carbs. All breads and grain products contain carbs. What makes white bread so unhealthy is that it contains no fiber.
White flour is made up of the simple sugars from the endosperm part of the grain. These simple sugars are rapidly absorbed and can spike blood sugar levels.
With no fiber, we start to feel hungry soon after a meal that includes white bread. This can then trigger unhealthy cravings and lead to extra calories consumed during the day.
Other white bread products to avoid include whole-grain white bread, honey wheat bread, and cinnamon bread.
Healthy alternatives to white bread include sprouted whole grain bread, sourdough, and rye bread. Ezekiel bread is another healthy option. At the store, be sure to look for breads that have 100% whole wheat flour listed as the first ingredient.
If you see the word enriched in the ingredients, look for another brand.
For those who have problems with gluten or are trying to avoid it, there are also several whole-grain gluten-free breads available.
2. Soft Drinks and Sodas
Added sugar is one of the worst and most unhealthy ingredients in processed foods. It contains no nutrients but adds calories and can cause us to gain weight and increase our body fat.
Many soft drinks contain high fructose corn syrup, a man-made substitute for table sugar derived from corn. It tastes even sweeter than natural sugar making it harder for us to resist.
Because foods with added sugar taste so good our brain begins to crave them. We get caught in a cycle where we eat more and more added sugar and it starts to negatively affect our health.
The worst form of sugar is liquid sugar. Studies show that drinking sugar does not trigger the normal sense of fullness we feel after eating solid food. Research also shows that people tend to eat the same amount of food with a meal whether their drink contains calories or not (2).
Sugar-sweetened beverages provide a lot of calories that our body can quickly absorb. They can spike blood sugar levels but do not make us feel full. Cut sugar-sweetened beverages from your diet and choose a healthier alternative instead.
One 12 ounce can of soda contains 156 calories 37 grams of sugar (3). For reference, one level teaspoon of white sugar is equal to four grams. The average can of soda contains about nine teaspoons of sugar. All the calories in soda come from its high sugar content.
In addition, most sodas and soft drinks use artificial food dyes to achieve their vibrant colors. Mountain Dew contains a food dye known as yellow no 5. Orange and red colored sodas often contain another dye called yellow 6. Both of these food coloring agents have been linked to increased hyperactivity in children (4).
Cutting soda out of your diet can help to reduce your intake of artificial food dyes, reduce your risk of developing obesity (5), lower blood glucose levels and reduce the risk of diabetes (6), and lower the chances of developing chronic kidney disease (7) later in life.
Drink plain water, coffee or green tea instead of soda. There are also many brands of flavored carbonated water that taste great and contain zero calories.
When ordering lunch or dinner, buy a stand-alone entree instead of the combo meal. Then ask for a water cup. You’ll save a little money and avoid consuming a very unhealthy food.
Even diet sodas, while not great for our body, can be a better choice than sugary soda and soft drinks. If you are addicted to caffeine you may experience withdrawals when you remove soda completely from your diet.
Start by switching to diet soda which has the same caffeine content as regular soda. Then slowly replace diet soda with water or another healthy choice.
3. Krispy Kreme Doughnuts
Doughnuts contain high amounts of simple sugar, added fats and refined flour. Many are then dipped in more sugar and deep-fried making them very high in calories. To help manage your weight you should remove doughnuts from your diet.
Because they are so low in nutrients, have a high fat content and contain almost no fiber, doughnuts like those from Krispy Kreme will not fill you up for very long. This means a few hours after eating one you will be hungry again and looking for more food to eat.
Doughnut holes or munchkins contain around 70 calories each and are just as unhealthy as whole doughnuts. Four or five munchkins is equal to one doughnut. If you are not careful you can easily eat a lot of calories to your diet when eating munchkins and doughnuts.
Unfortunately, there are not many healthy breakfast alternatives at doughnut shops. Many breakfast sandwiches are loaded with sodium.
Resist the urge to replace a doughnut with a bagel or muffin. Though they may seem like a healthier choice you are simply swapping one unhealthy food that is full of sugar and fat for another.
Bagels can spike your blood glucose levels after a morning meal even more than a doughnut can. Many muffins contain even more sugar than doughnuts.
Instead, try oatmeal and a piece of fruit for breakfast every day. If you need something that can be consumed on the go, try making a simple yogurt parfait with 1/2 cup granola, a container of low fat yogurt, a handful of pecans or walnuts and 1/2 cup berries. Make this parfait the night before you need it, then grab it and go in the morning.
4. Fast Food French Fries
No list of unhealthy foods would be complete without french fries. They are a common side order at many fast food restaurants. Studies have found a link between regular consumption of fried potato products and weight gain (8).
Not only are they high in calories but they are very easy to over consume. A medium order of french fries from McDonalds has 320 calories, 15 grams of fat and 260 milligrams of sodium per serving (9). And this does not account for the calories and high sodium content of the ketchup that is often added to fries.
Another reason to avoid deep-fried foods is that the frequent consumption of fried foods has been linked with many health risks including an increased risk of cancer (10). This applies not just to fried potato products but all deep-fried food offerings from fast-food chains including fried chicken nuggets, fried fish, onion rings, and even fried calamari.
Potatoes are best consumed boiled or roasted with the skin on, not fried. If you need something crunchy try a serving of nuts or some baby carrots.
Baked sweet potato fries made at home can be another healthy alternative. Although potentially still high in calories and sodium, sweet potato fries have a much higher vitamin A content and are not linked in research to the same long term health risks as regular potato fries. Treat sweet potato fries as an occasional indulgence, not something that is part of your regular meal rotation.
For many years margarine spreads were marketed as a healthier alternative to butter. Margarine was created to look and taste like butter without the high-fat content. Many margarine spreads contain no milk and are in fact non-dairy products.
Unfortunately, margarine was made using trans fat, an artificial fat later determined to be linked with an increased risk of heart disease. Foods that contain trans fats are some of the unhealthiest foods we can eat.
Thankfully as of the year 2020 trans fats and the partially hydrogenated oils they come from are no longer allowed to be used in the food supply.
Modern margarine remains a highly processed food made from vegetable oil (commonly soybean oil, canola oil, palm oil, or palm kernel oil), thickeners, and artificial colors. Vegetable oils are high in omega 6 fats. Some studies suggest that a high intake of omega 6 fats can lead to higher levels of inflammation (11). It is important to point out that not all studies show this link (12). More research is needed in this area.
Butter, when consumed in moderate amounts can be part of a healthy diet. Thought vilified for its fat content studies have found no link between butter and disease risk, especially when consumed in small amounts (13). Butter is still a high calorie food and should be thought of as a flavoring, not a dietary staple.
Instead, use olive oil or avocado oil as your primary fats in cooking. Avocado oil has a higher smoke point and is great for cooking. Both oils are full of heart-healthy unsaturated fats.
What makes processed junk food unhealthy is the fact that it is loaded with added sugar, high fructose corn syrup and lots of saturated fat that can lead to unwanted weight gain, the development of heart disease and potentially many other chronic health conditions.
For each of the unhealthy foods on this list there are many healthy alternatives. Whole grain breads are a much better choice than white bread. There are many great beverage choices that do not increase our sugar intake.
Deep fried foods are high in fat and sodium and another one of the unhealthy foods we should avoid.
Doughnuts and most other convenient fast food breakfast options are unhealthy foods. Your best best is to make your morning cup of coffee and your breakfast at home.
If you find that your diet is currently full of unhealthy food choices, start small and focus on changing one new food at a time. Try a variety of different options until you find a new favorite, then move to another item on the list.
Over time as your diet quality improves you will start to feel better, lose weight, and improve your chances of remaining healthy later in life.
- Srour, Bernard, et al. “Ultra-Processed Food Intake and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease: Prospective Cohort Study (NutriNet-Santé).” BMJ, 2019, p. l1451. Crossref, doi:10.1136/bmj.l1451.
- Pan, An, and Frank B. Hu. “Effects of Carbohydrates on Satiety: Differences between Liquid and Solid Food.” Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care, vol. 14, no. 4, 2011, pp. 385–90. Crossref, doi:10.1097/mco.0b013e328346df36.
- “Soft Drink, Cola”, fdc.nal.usda.gov/fdc-app.html#/food-details/789510/nutrients. Accessed 20 Aug. 2020.
- McCann, Donna, et al. “Food Additives and Hyperactive Behaviour in 3-Year-Old and 8/9-Year-Old Children in the Community: A Randomised, Double-Blinded, Placebo-Controlled Trial.” The Lancet, vol. 370, no. 9598, 2007, pp. 1560–67. Crossref, doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(07)61306-3.
- Bray, George A., and Barry M. Popkin. “Dietary Sugar and Body Weight: Have We Reached a Crisis in the Epidemic of Obesity and Diabetes?” Diabetes Care, vol. 37, no. 4, 2014, pp. 950–56. Crossref, doi:10.2337/dc13-2085.
- O’Connor, Laura, et al. “Prospective Associations and Population Impact of Sweet Beverage Intake and Type 2 Diabetes, and Effects of Substitutions with Alternative Beverages.” Diabetologia, vol. 58, no. 7, 2015, pp. 1474–83. Crossref, doi:10.1007/s00125-015-3572-1.
- Cheungpasitporn, Wisit, et al. “Associations of Sugar-Sweetened and Artificially Sweetened Soda with Chronic Kidney Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Nephrology, vol. 19, no. 12, 2014, pp. 791–97. Crossref, doi:10.1111/nep.12343.
- Mozaffarian, Dariush, et al. “Changes in Diet and Lifestyle and Long-Term Weight Gain in Women and Men.” New England Journal of Medicine, vol. 364, no. 25, 2011, pp. 2392–404. Crossref, doi:10.1056/nejmoa1014296.
- “McDonald’s Nutrition Calculator: Calories and More | McDonald’s.” McDonald’s, www.mcdonalds.com/us/en-us/about-our-food/nutrition-calculator.html. Accessed 19 Aug. 2020.
- Sun, Yangbo, et al. “Association of Fried Food Consumption with All Cause, Cardiovascular, and Cancer Mortality: Prospective Cohort Study.” BMJ, 2019, p. k5420. Crossref, doi:10.1136/bmj.k5420.
- Patterson, E., et al. “Health Implications of High Dietary Omega-6 Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids.” Journal of Nutrition and Metabolism, vol. 2012, 2012, pp. 1–16. Crossref, doi:10.1155/2012/539426.
- Su, Hang, et al. “Dietary Linoleic Acid Intake and Blood Inflammatory Markers: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials.” Food & Function, vol. 8, no. 9, 2017, pp. 3091–103. Crossref, doi:10.1039/c7fo00433h.
- Pimpin, Laura, et al. “Is Butter Back? A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Butter Consumption and Risk of Cardiovascular Disease, Diabetes, and Total Mortality.” PLOS ONE, edited by C. Mary Schooling, vol. 11, no. 6, 2016, p. e0158118. Crossref, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0158118.