The more we learn about nutrition, the more researchers are finding that the processes we use to produce tasty and durable foods are stripping food of what makes it nutritious.
While occasional consumption of highly processed foods can be offset by a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and protein, some food preparations simply do not bring much nutrition to the table. When the following foods form a primary part of your diet (or you don’t also benefit from lower-fat, higher-fiber foods), they are associated with negative health consequences.
11 foods that can negatively affect your health
While the following foods lack nutritional value, the point of going through this list isn’t so much about eliminating every item completely, but rather realizing how little they contribute to your diet. We don’t recommend that you avoid these foods completely, as restricting food can potentially trigger it disordered eating. The main idea is that it’s okay to eat the foods on this list as long as you also eat nutrient-dense foods that give you the vitamins and minerals you need.
Many of the following foods contain highly refined grains, high amounts of trans fats, or other processed fats that are difficult for the body to use effectively. Food sources simply lack many key nutrients, such as fiber, which support gut health. Over time, depriving your body of many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can cause deficiencies that have health symptoms.
White bread is made from bread flour, which is processed from wheat. Processing removes the bran and germ: parts of the wheat grain. Whole wheat will generally be darker and denser because it contains more nutrients and more fiber. These two aspects are great for your digestion and will give your body the nutrition it needs. White bread has a pleasant light taste, but is made only from the endosperm layer of the wheat grain and contains less nutritional value. Instead, opt for whole-wheat bread, which is packed with essential nutrients.
To learn more about how complex carbohydrates help keep you healthy, take a look why you should eat more carbs, not less.
Many reasons why eating too many chips can be harmful is that they do not provide a balanced source of calories. The amount of oil and simple carbohydrates they contain makes them high in calories, but they are not correspondingly full of useful nutrients such as vitamins. Preservative-free chips are a nice option for the occasional delicious treat, but when you eat nothing but chips in your meal, your body will crave more vitamins, protein, and fiber.
French fries contain many of the same nutrients as French fries, although there are more actual potatoes in the fries. However, the crispness of fries may not be due to deep frying, which has a lot of oils, if you eat them often. In an air fryer, a thin sheen of oil (or even zero oil) can still get you a low-salt, home-made batch of fries made essentially only from potatoes. If your diet already contains enough oil, this can be a good way to get a crunchy treat without going over your daily value.
Chicken is a delicious lean protein, but fried chicken wraps tend to contain a ton of white flour, oil, and salt. These three ingredients are okay in moderation, but opting for grilled or air-fried chicken might help you cut down on the unhealthy ingredients if you’re already getting more than the recommended amount.
In general, processed meat is low in nutrients that have been linked to negative health consequences when consumed in excess. Meat processing sometimes involves the addition of nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to a higher risk of cancer when eaten in moderation. Sodium is also built into processed meat in fairly significant amounts. Cook and eat fresh meat whenever possible.
Like eating candy, sugary cereals are often high in simple carbohydrates and sugars compared to lower in protein, fiber, and vitamins. As a breakfast option, sugary cereal can also cause a drop in blood sugar that makes you feel hungry soon after eating the cereal. Opting for lower-sugar cereals that are higher in protein and fiber, as well as plant-based or dairy milk, can help you feel fuller and more energetic for longer.
Margarine came into use when the saturated fat in butter was considered negative for our health. But margarines vary: in some countries they have harmful trans fats that are difficult for the body to process, and in many cases they have similar amounts of processed saturated fat. Read the label or opt for a less processed oil like olive oil as a bread topping if you really want to eliminate butter from your diet.
Not all frozen entrees are created equal—for example, flash-frozen vegetables and cooked chicken are sometimes low in preservatives and are a great way to eat when you need comfort food. However, with prepackaged meals, check the types of foods and other items in your food, especially if you are concerned about preservatives or dyes in your diet.
Mac and cheese in a box
While some of the leading brands of mac and cheese have been found to be high in harmful chemicals, the main reason they are considered unhealthy is their high amount of simple carbohydrates and fat and low nutritional value. But if you like cheesy pasta, don’t despair: There are now a variety of versions that either contain whole grains, vegetables like cauliflower, and lower amounts of preservatives and fat.
Cakes, donuts and other baked goods can be delicious. But they can also be loaded with simple carbohydrates and saturated fat. In addition, they have very little fiber, protein or vitamins. But if you’re making your own bread, it’s easy to whip up a treat that adds more nutrients, whether it’s substituting wholemeal flour, unsaturated fat for butter, or adding fruit or shredded zucchini for a vitamin boost.
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