Determining the worst foods you can eat is not a simple task. In order to identify which foods are the worst of the worst, some parameters must be set — a method to the madness, if you will. Though nutritional research is always vulnerable to a degree of subjectivity, there is still consensus among the scientific community on a handful of connections between the food we eat and its effect on our health. These pillars of academic agreement will serve as the foundation of this list.
Sugars, calories, saturated fats, trans fats, refined carbohydrates, and heavily processed foods have all been cited by dietitians, doctors, and scientists as potential sources of major problems in public health. These conclusions have been questioned, so nothing is absolutely certain when it comes to nutritional recommendations. However, processed meats, for example, have been found to contain known carcinogens when cooked at high temperatures. In some cases, science reveals some danger to certain foods.
The food industry has developed methods to mask or disguise food’s true nutritional value. A company might try manipulating serving sizes, swapping in different oils and fats, and incorporating zero-calorie sweeteners — all to trick the customer into buying their food instead of a potentially more nutritious option. For example, an 8-ounce bag of cheese puffs technically contains eight servings, but the food industry takes advantage of an effect known as “vanishing caloric density,” in which foods that quickly melt in the mouth are not recognized as calories by the brain. If the brain doesn’t recognize that the body is consuming calories, then it won’t signal the body to stop eating.
Another food industry secret is the “bliss point,” a term used by food scientists to describe the perfect ratio of salty, sweet, and fat that keeps consumers going in for bite after bite. For a perfect example, just think about that perfectly crispy and salty French fry, dipped into just the right amount of sweet and tangy ketchup. And before you know it, the fries are gone. Therefore, the list of the 25 worst foods is not based solely on their nutritional content — it also incorporates our susceptibility to overeating.
However, eating these foods won’t actually kill you. And if you eat intuitively and without fear of certain foods or food groups, you’re likely to be healthier in the end. Cutting out foods or fearing fatty, calorie-dense, or other supposedly “unhealthy” foods leads to a deprivation mindset that sends your brain into a cravings frenzy. But if we must choose, here are the foods you might want to be mindful to avoid.
Michael Serrur contributed to this article.