There are thousands of different foods available to us, and each one has a unique composition.
Unfortunately, not all of them are a good source of nutrition.
While it’s true that the dose makes the poison, it is better to avoid these 13 unhealthy foods.
Margarine is one of the single worst foods we can eat.
Made from industrial vegetable oils, it is a synthetic imitation of butter.
Margarine undergoes various chemical processes (dying, deodorizing, and flavoring) to make it similar to butter in appearance and taste.
Formerly containing artificial trans fats, margarine has likely played a role in damaging the heart health of millions around the world (1).
Now, with trans fats on their way out, margarine has been reformulated to provide interesterified fats instead (2).
However, the safety profile of these new types of fat is very much unproven. Worryingly, initial studies on interesterified fats show negative impacts on blood glucose, insulin, immune function, and various other health markers (3, 4, 5).
Further, animal studies show that these artificial fats induce inflammatory processes and promote atherosclerosis (6).
2. Omega-6 Seed “Vegetable” Oils
Following close behind margarine are industrial vegetable oils.
These ultra-processed oils include corn oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil, and sunflower oil among others.
Since they are so cheap to produce, we can find them in almost every ultra-processed food product out there.
Because they are extremely high in omega-6, these oils can skew the omega 6 to 3 ratio in the body with excessive intakes. Some research suggests that this can contribute to inflammatory pathways that could potentially raise the risk of several chronic diseases (7, 8).
Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids which our body requires – but the two should be relatively balanced.
Historically, the omega 6 to 3 ratio in humans was around 2 to 1, but at present, the average ratio is over 15 to 1 which is harmful to health (9).
Vegetable oils are predominantly polyunsaturated fat (PUFA), making them prone to oxidation at high temperatures.
3. Fake “Whipping Cream” and Coffee Creamers
Do you enjoy some berries with cream, or perhaps some whipped cream on top of your coffee?
That’s fine, but the problem is that some cafes and processed food companies don’t even use real dairy cream.
Instead, they use a synthetic cream substitute designed to taste like the dairy version.
However, the health properties of such products are vastly different.
The synthetic stuff may contain ingredients such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil, corn syrup, artificial flavors, and colors.
In other words, trans fat, sugar and various chemicals.
These fake creams are some of the most unhealthy products, and they are foods to avoid.
4. Candy / Sweets
Store shelves are full of colorful sugary “treats” which appeal to children and those of us with a sweet tooth.
However, the real problem is that we are eating significant amounts of these sugary foods as a regular part of our daily diet.
Furthermore, sugar is rewarding and consuming these foods often makes us feel good and crave more of them.
As a result, giving them up can be incredibly difficult for a significant number of people.
5. Wheat Flour
Wheat flour is highly processed, high glycemic, and causes large spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels (16).
Perhaps surprisingly, wheat flour is even higher on the glycemic index than Coca-cola (17).
High blood sugar and insulin levels are risk factors for almost every chronic disease.
Wheat flour is a common ingredient in processed foods. Most packaged foods contain it, and we can find it in foods such as bread, cakes, cookies, noodles, and pasta.
These are all foods to avoid; for weight loss, and for long-term health.
6. Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is one of the most misunderstood food products due to the status fruit has as a symbol of health. While a small amount of fruit juice is unlikely to cause harm, more definitely isn’t better.
All fruits are whole foods and combine fructose (fruit sugar) with naturally-occurring fiber. In contrast, when we strip away this natural fiber we are left with only the water, fructose, and a few vitamins and minerals.
As an example, orange juice provides a decent amount of vitamin C and the mineral potassium (22).
However, fruit juice offers an unrealistic amount of fruit sugar compared to whole fruit. As a result, overconsumption becomes much more likely.
Also, a large cohort study featuring nearly 200,000 participants favored whole fruit over fruit juice.
Particularly, there was a higher risk of type 2 diabetes with increasing consumption of fruit juice. On the other hand, greater consumption of whole fruits resulted in a reduced risk (23).
7. Soda and Sugary Drinks
There’s probably no need to go into the effects of soda on health since most people are already aware.
For a quick refresher, it’s full of sugar, tooth-eroding phosphoric acid, and various chemical flavorings and colors (24).
A recent meta-analysis also shows that soda consumption is associated with increased weight, reduced nutrient intake, and increased risk of medical problems (25).
However, it’s not only soda that causes problems.
In fact, many coffee-based drinks sold by cafes contain far more sugar than one can of soda. Blended coffee drinks often include upwards of 50g (12 teaspoons) of sugar per drink in their largest size offerings.
For instance, Starbuck’s Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino and Dunkin Donut’s Vanilla Bean Collatta contain 750 and 860 calories respectively (26).
These drinks are extremely high in added calories from corn syrup and added fats (whipping cream). While a rare drink won’t cause any issues, far too many people consume these sugary drinks on a daily basis.
8. Fast Food Burgers and Pizzas
Contrary to popular thought, it’s often the refined carbohydrates rather than “fatty food” that causes the problems with fast food.
For example, many burgers are 100% beef, which is full of useful protein, vitamins, and minerals.
Likewise, pizza toppings often contain a decent mix of tomato, cheese, meat, and vegetables; hardly unhealthy.
However, most fast food joints use unhealthy bread to make these foods.
Common ingredients include white flour, soybean oil (sometimes margarine), various preservatives, bleaching agents, and other additives.
We should try to eliminate such foods for better health.
They sure aren’t anything our grandparents would consider as bread.
9. Agave Nectar
For some reason, the marketing strategy of agave nectar revolves around positioning it as a “healthy sugar.”
First, the term ‘healthy sugar’ is somewhat of an oxymoron; for the most part, sugar is sugar.
Many companies use sugars as flavor enhancers, and some people find them pleasurable – but they’re not something we should call “healthy.”
Agave nectar’s marketing exhorts that it is low-glycemic compared to regular sugar. However, the reason for this is because agave syrup is much higher in fructose, which is metabolized by the liver.
Too much fructose (especially added fructose) in the diet can lead to the liver turning it into fat, which can raise triglyceride levels. A high triglyceride count is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (27).
There are also claims that agave “is healthier” because it contains antioxidants.
However, studies show that the antioxidant content of refined sugar, corn syrup, and agave nectar are all minimal (28).
Although there are certainly better sources of antioxidants than sugars, honey and maple syrup are much higher in these compounds.
10. Organic, Paleo and Gluten-Free (etc.) Junk Food
Marketing can be persuasive.
Sometimes it makes foods to avoid look healthy.
However, that chocolate cake made with “ancient gluten-free grains” and “organic freshly produced coconut sugar” isn’t what it appears.
The reality is that the above ingredients are just refined carbohydrate and sugar.
Sure, these options may have a few extra trace nutrients, but they’re not a healthy choice.
Nor is a bag of “organic” sugar good for your body.
Further, just because something is low-carb or low-fat doesn’t automatically mean it is good for you.
On the low-carb side, butter is delicious as a condiment – but that doesn’t mean eating a stick of it in your coffee is optimal.
11. Raw Cruciferous Vegetables (in Excess)
Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale are certainly nutrient-dense.
However, eating them raw in excessive amounts may lead to potential problems.
They have goitrogenic properties.
Also, they affect the thyroid’s ability to make use of iodine, which is a critical mineral for good health. While there are no problems with eating some raw veggies, eating large amounts of raw kale and cabbage is ill-advised.
This issue is of particular importance in recent years, with the growing trend of juicing sometimes resulting in huge, unrealistic intakes of raw vegetables.
While cruciferous vegetables are healthy, they are one of the foods to minimize in their raw state.
12. Potato Chips (Crisps)
However, it’s hard to find any positive study on the modern Western diet, which is high in processed fat and carbs.
Potato chips (or any grain chips) are one of the best exhibits of such a diet; incredibly dense sources of starch fried in vegetable oil.
As a result, they provide ample amounts of both carbohydrate and fat.
It’s also worth remembering that producers usually fry them in the industrial omega-6 vegetable oils which we looked at earlier.
In other words, chips are one of the most unhealthy foods in existence and full of refined carbs, vegetable oil, and artificial flavorings.
They should be one of the first foods to avoid for weight loss or simply to improve general health.
13. Cakes, Pastries, and Other Baked Goods
When it comes to cakes, pastries, and various other bakery foods, we often don’t know what we’re eating.
For better health, bakery goods come under the ‘foods to avoid’ tag.
Restricting these foods doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.
Providing you are otherwise healthy, eating a poor choice at a friend’s birthday party or similar isn’t the end of the world.
However, for optimal health, these are all foods to avoid, and they certainly shouldn’t play a regular role in any healthy diet.
For more on nutrition for optimal health, it may be worth reading some of these great nutrition books.