Food fads come and go, but a healthy diet is forever. Eating good, healthy, wholesome foods can not only help you keep your weight in check, but it can help you feel your best and even help you avoid some pretty serious diseases and ailments. Here we are in 2016: we’ve been monitoring food and diet long enough now to know which fads are truly healthy and worthwhile, and which ones are full of (pardon the pun) beans.
So this begs the question: which foods should we avoid? We’re glad you asked. There are probably some foods that you’ll want to skip if you have certain conditions. Anyone with food allergies, for example, should avoid foods that trigger any sort of reaction; anyone who suffers from celiac disease need to take careful measures to avoid anything with gluten. And of course, if you’re a vegetarian or vegan, you’ll need to take a pass on meat or any products that are animal based.
However, no matter what type of diet you do or do not follow, there are some foods that, to be quite honest, no one should eat. Here are the 20 foods you must avoid in 2016.
1. Fast food burgers and fries
Look: it’s 2016, and if you’re still eating cheap sloppy hamburgers, super-sized French fries, and gummy chocolate shakes on the regular, it’s time to stop. If you maybe eat this once in a great while, it’s possibly acceptable, but overloading your body with absurdly high levels of saturated fat, sodium, and sugar does you absolutely no good. Plus, the food is cheap for a reason — it’s highly processed from some of the lowest grade raw materials available. That means beef loaded with hormones and antibiotics, potatoes doused in pesticides, and dairy products produced with bovine growth hormone. What you save in costs, you pay for later in medical issues like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity.
2. Farmed fish
Fish has a reputation for being brain food, but not all fish is created equal. In recent decades, the global demand for fish has led to the creation of fish farms to produce more of it for human consumption. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, it’s a bit of a disaster. Farmed fish are raised in horrible conditions: they’re fed an odd diet of pellets that doesn’t come close to resembling what they’re supposed to eat, and to counter the diseases that crop up as a result of overcrowding, they’re given antibiotics as well. They also have lower levels of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and higher levels of inflammation-causing omega-6s. Farmed fish also have higher levels of cancer-causing substances like PCBs and dioxins. The bottom line? Avoid farmed fish and go for wild caught instead.
3. Unfermented soy
Soy products like edamame (or steamed soybeans), soy milk, and tofu had a good run of popularity in the 1990s, but in 2016, the dangers of consuming even moderate amounts of soy are well documented. For starters, an overwhelming amount of soy in the US is genetically modified, and while GMOs are categorized as GRAS, or generally regarded as safe, there’s lots of anecdotal evidence that GMOs are not, in fact, good for you. In addition to that, soy has been found to contain compounds that do everything from inhibit your body from absorbing essential minerals to make your blood cells clump together. There’s also a link between soy consumption and an increased risk of breast cancer. The only truly safe way to eat soy is fermented; fermentation destroys the toxic properties of soy and makes its nutrients more available to your body.
4. Microwave popcorn
It may smell good while it’s cooking, and that pop-pop-pop sound is immensely gratifying to hear, and it’s totally convenient, but there are several reasons to avoid microwave popcorn. For starters, the flavoring used to make the popcorn taste good and buttery is almost always 100% artificial and full of preservatives and GMOs. There’s also a chemical in microwave popcorn (called diacetyl) that, when inhaled, can cause a condition known as popcorn lung, which restricts your ability to breathe properly. Plus, the bag itself contains a known carcinogen. If you’re having a movie night at home, skip the bag and pop your own on the stovetop.
5. Store bought canned tomatoes
Tomatoes are delicious and good for you, and when they’re canned at home in glass jars, their sweet summery taste can last all year. The problem arises when tomatoes are canned in actual cans, like the pantry staple that you get at the grocery store. These cans are almost always lined with BPA, a chemical that is murder on your endocrine system and has been linked to certain types of cancer. Plus, the acid in the tomatoes pulls the BPA out of the lining more than other, less acidic foods. Some companies that are more health conscious have removed the BPA from their cans, so those are safe to eat, but the majority of store bought canned tomatoes should be avoided in favor of fresh tomatoes or tomatoes preserved in jars.
6. Sweetened yogurt
Plain ordinary yogurt is actually quite good for you: it’s got protein, but more importantly, it’s full of beneficial probiotics that promote good gut health. The problem is that most Americans don’t like plain yogurt. It’s just so…plain. There’s no flavor, and the tanginess can be off-putting to some. Rather than add their own flavoring, many people simply buy flavored yogurt. It sounds like a good idea, but flavored and sweetened yogurt is positively loaded with sugar, as much as 30 grams per serving. For comparison, a 39 gram Hershey bar has 17 grams of sugar. If you love yogurt, buy it unflavored and unsweetened, then add some fresh fruit or a small amount of honey.
7. Hot dogs
Hot dogs are never made with the best cuts of beef or pork, but that’s the least of the reasons why you should avoid them. Let’s see: they’re a veritable sodium bomb, they’re full of fat and nitrates, and that fluffy white bread bun it’s served in is also a health nightmare. Like ketchup on your hot dog? You’ve now got added sugar on top of it all. Yes, organic and nitrate-free hot dogs are somewhat better for a once-a-summer treat, but if you absolutely must have your meat in tube form, try a minimally processed chicken sausage with mustard and kraut.
8. Processed deli meats
A deli ham or turkey sandwich may make for a quick and easy lunch, but the meat you’re sticking between your slices of bread is a real problem. It’s so heavily processed that it’s really more of a meat-like product. Deli meat is high in sodium, high in fat, and high in nitrates and other preservatives. Instead of resorting to deli meat for your lunch, go for real meat instead: you might roast a chicken and use slices of that between your bread for the next few days.
9. Corn fed beef
Cows are meant to eat grass, but when you’re dealing with a giant worldwide demand for beef, grass just won’t cut it (pun not intended). Instead, many cattle farmers feed their cows corn-based feed: it makes them grow faster, it’s a heck of a lot cheaper, and they don’t have to worry about maintaining a steady supply of fresh grass for grazing. Unfortunately, that corn feed is often GMO corn and full of pesticides. Grass fed beef also has more omega-3s and fewer omega-6s. You’ll pay more for grass fed beef, but you’ll probably have to pay less for healthcare as a result.
10. Stick margarine
Margarine was long heralded as a healthy alternative to butter, but we know now that this claim is the exact opposite of the truth. Margarine is full of trans fats, which carry with them all sorts of negative health implications. It’s also a totally processed product, whereas butter is natural. While some brands of margarine in tubs are free of trans fats and are at least somewhat better for you, stick margarine is still full of them. If you’re making recipes that call for butter, use butter rather than this artificial version.
11. Nonorganic apples
Is there anything better than a fresh, crispy apple in the fall? If that apple isn’t grown organically, then yes, just about anything is better. Apples are among the most heavily sprayed fruit crops, and the residues from those pesticides don’t exactly wash off, which means you’re eating them. What does eating pesticides do to you? We’re not completely sure. Organic apples are easy to find, they’re not overly expensive, and when you choose them over non organic varieties, you choose better farming practices.
12. Nonorganic potatoes
Much like apples, conventionally grown potatoes are full of nasty pesticides. What’s more, potatoes tend to absorb many of these toxins, so even if you peel your potatoes, you’re still likely ingesting all sorts of undesirable synthetic chemicals. Also like apples, organic potatoes are easy to find and not overly expensive, making them the obvious choice when you’ve gotta have some spuds.
13. Diet sodas
Their claims of zero calories and no sugar may seem innocent enough, but diet soda is anything but innocent. They’re loaded with artificial sweeteners; studies show that your body reacts to these in much the same way it reacts to an onslaught of real sugar. Specifically, drinking them can actually increase your risk for developing type 2 diabetes. What’s more, diet sodas are horrible for your teeth, they contain zero nutritional value, and consuming a lot of them has been linked to depression in some people. Need something to drink? Try water! Don’t like water? Unsweetened or very lightly sweetened iced tea should do nicely.
14. Drinks that contain brominated vegetable oil (BVO)
If you love Mountain Dew, Squirt, Gatorade, or other citrus-flavored soda or sports drink, we have some bad news for you: you’re drinking BVO. That might not sound so bad — BVO is just a vegetable oil that’s used to keep certain beverages homogenized. However, consuming large quantities of BVO (even over time) can lead to an increased risk for some types of cancer, nervous symptom issues, and mental health problems. It’s no good for your thyroid gland either. Ditch the drinks laced with BVO and drink water instead.
15. Processed foods that claim to be low fat
First of all, we can dispel with the myth that fat is bad; your body needs some fat to function properly. Cutting out fat entirely can lead to brittle hair, dry skin, and a host of other issues. Plus, when you remove fat from foods, those foods lose much of their flavor. To replace that flavor, companies need to add copious amounts of sugar or salt (or both), which is worse for you than a little fat. It’s probably wise to avoid as many processed foods as possible, but you especially want to avoid those that make claims of low fat.
16. Sugary breakfast cereal
Starting off your day with a big bowl of sugary breakfast cereal is probably a mistake. Sure, it tastes good, and it’s usually colorful, but overloading your body with so much sugar, especially so early in the day, will lead to nothing but a big sugar crash just when you need to focus. Tomorrow morning, skip the frosted sugar puffs and go for fresh fruit to satisfy your sweet tooth, plus some protein and whole grains for energy that won’t cut out at a moment’s notice.
17. Pancake syrup
Pancakes with real maple syrup are delicious. Pancakes with pancake syrup are decidedly less tasty. The difference is that real maple syrup is, as the name implies, made from real maple sap, whereas pancake syrup is usually just corn syrup with some maple flavoring and caramel coloring — three heavily processed ingredients that can never add up to the wonderful flavor of the real thing. Plus, pancake syrup is typically derived from GMO corn, and there’s lots of anecdotal evidence to suggest that caramel coloring is especially bad for you.
18. Big brand peanut butter
Peanut butter should be made from peanuts and salt — that’s it. However, in an effort to cut costs, some cheaper big brands of peanut butter contain ingredients like added sugar and soybean oil. The added sugar is totally unnecessary, of course, and the soybean oil is almost always derived from GMO soy. If you love peanut butter, check your ingredient labels, and try to buy peanut butter that’s just that: peanut butter. Otherwise, it’s sugary peanut spread.
19. Processed cheese
We’ve all seen those bricks of fluorescent orange cheese food on the shelves of the grocery store. They’re not even in the refrigerated section! If the concept of shelf-stable cheese alone doesn’t turn you off, there are other reasons to avoid this cheese-like food product. Mostly, it’s full of additives and preservatives, whereas real cheese is milk and some cultures. Beyond that, it’s also full of artificial colors and flavors, and again, it’s cheese that requires no refrigeration. That’s just wrong.
20. Foods with artificial colors
Brilliantly colored food looks appealing: bright red strawberries, lush green spinach, beautifully vivid oranges. However, when those colors are produced through artificial means, there are a few problems. Artificial colors have been banned in many countries around the world, but most artificial colors are 100% allowed in the US. This isn’t good, as they’ve been shown to cause certain kinds of cancer and tumors, increase allergic reactions, and even lead to hyperactivity in kids. For an additive that has absolutely no nutritional value, artificial colors do a lot of damage. Seek out foods that are colored naturally.