The 35 Worst Foods You Can Eat and Why Slideshow
September 26, 2017
These are the worst of the worst
The 35 Worst Foods You Can Eat and Why
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.
For a while, this sweet-tasting compound was paraded as a healthier alternative to sugar. However, it’s actually way higher in fructose than your typical white sugar, meaning that its effect on your blood glucose and other metabolic functions is drastically worse. Agave is even higher in fructose than the dreaded high-fructose corn syrup — we think they should rename agave to “extremely high-fructose syrup.”
Canned meat should be avoided unless you’re stocking your basement in preparation for the apocalypse. A standard 12-ounce can of fully cooked corned beef contains 90 percent of your recommended daily allowance of saturated fat and 96 percent of your recommended daily allowance of sodium.
French fries are far from nutritious, but when topped with melted cheese sauce, they become one of the most caloric foods you can eat. In addition to French fries soaking up all the oil from the deep fryer, the cheese sauce splattered on top adds another layer of saturated fat and salt. Of course, now we know that saturated fat isn’t all that bad — and neither is salt. But in excess, anything can be harmful. As long as you’re not eating cheese fries for dinner every day, you should be in the clear. Eat them when you want to and you likely won’t crave them all the time.
Many brands of cheese puffs are high in calories, sodium, and fat, but this common snack food’s paltry 1-ounce suggested serving size distorts its truly unhealthy nature. One particularly popular brand of cheese puffs contains a total 1,200 calories in an 8-ounce bag, providing more than 100 percent of the recommended daily value of both sodium and total fat. Due to the effect of “vanishing caloric density,” it’s very difficult to eat only one serving.
If you swallow one whole, you’re in the clear. But break one of these open and you’ve just released a chemical storm of cyanide into your body. There’s enough cyanide in a cherry pit to take out a full-grown man. Consume cherries with caution.
Aspartame is not and won’t ever be good for you — regardless of the zero-calorie label. The fake sweeteners wreak havoc on your blood sugar and can cause all kinds of metabolic abnormalities. The chemical compounds could even increase your risk of brain degeneration and Alzheimer’s. If you’re looking for a zero-calorie drink, consider one with no sweeteners or another more natural option.
Despite the World Health Organization’s blatant warning that the drinks “may pose danger to public health,” energy drinks still thrive on the shelves of convenience and grocery stores. Alarmingly, the European Food Safety Authority estimates that 30 percent of adults, 68 percent of adolescents, and 18 percent of children below 10 years consume energy drinks despite their health risks.
Many shelf-stable types of bread are often fluffed up with various preservatives, additives, and even sweeteners. Some bread contains the compound potassium bromate, an emulsifier that has been linked to kidney and nervous system damage, thyroid problems, and stomach pain. You’re much better off with a freshly baked variety or an alternative with fewer ingredients. However, the potassium bromate content in the bread being sold is so minimal that it likely won’t make much of a difference.
Pizza isn’t the worst thing for you — after all, it’s just bread, cheese, and tomato sauce — but fast-food pizza crosses the line. A small cheese pizza from one of the leading brands equals 1,080 calories, 36 grams of fat, and more than 100 percent of your recommended daily allowance of sodium. The high salt content and low dietary fiber makes it difficult to eat just one or two slices, setting you up for a binge worthy of concern — but eating pizza mindfully and not thinking negatively of it can make such a binge less likely to happen. Trying not to take that extra slice primes you to experience irrational temptation.
An iced Frappuccino is the perfect drink for a hot summer day, but it won’t necessarily keep you hydrated. Sugar can actually dehydrate you even more, which is why you should take caution to wash down a sugary cookie with milk. A 16-ounce Caramel Frappuccino with whipped cream and whole milk contains 420 calories, 9 grams of saturated fat, and 66 grams of sugar. When you do indulge, consider it a sweet treat rather than a casual coffee beverage.
While diet-friendly freezer meals seem like a good idea for a healthy dinner, they’re usually the complete opposite. Brands like Lean Cuisine and Amy’s Light & Lean use buzzwords to lure you in to their low-calorie product, but the reality of the meals is dismal at best. Not only are the offerings usually bland and lacking taste, they also load on preservatives, useless fillers like corn starch or other emulsifiers, and added sugar. You’re much better off either cooking a five-minute meal yourself or ordering in.
Frozen Chicken Pot Pie
This frozen entrée is one of the worst things you can eat. One popular brand’s 16-ounce chicken pot pie contains an astounding 900 calories and 26 grams of saturated fat: That’s 130 percent of your recommended daily intake. Chicken is a low-fat protein source, so the fact that this frozen chicken pot pie contains so much saturated fat can be attributed to the high amount of cream and hydrogenated vegetable oils. Those hydrogenated oils often come with trans fat, which is actually dangerous. Try making these healthier home versions of this comfort food staple.
If you eat one hot dog, will you die? No, probably not. Unless you have this rare, genetic disease. But processed meats, such as hot dogs, have been identified by the World Health Organization as containing probable carcinogens. Processed meats contain chemicals called heterocyclic amines, which have been found to be mutagenic, meaning they alter DNA and may increase the risk of cancer.
Instant ramen may have been named by the people of Japan as their greatest invention of the twentieth century, but it’s far from a complete meal. A standard, individual pack of ramen contains 400 calories, 14 grams of fat, and 66 percent of the daily recommended allowance for sodium without providing any of the protein you need from your dinner. Since the instant noodle soup doesn’t provide any fiber either, you’re almost guaranteed to still be hungry after you eat it. Upgrading your noodles can take this carb-heavy meal and transform it into a healthy dinner.
Popular gelatin brands such as Jell-O use hefty portions of colorings and artificial ingredients to enhance the look of their bone-based product. Despite the calorie disparity, you’re better off with a whole-food-based, caloric dessert.
Juice boxes have always been considered acceptable school lunch fare, but these cute little cardboard rectangles contain almost as much sugar as a can of soda. Juice boxes might be “100 percent juice,” but they fail to provide the nutrients or fiber that’s found in the physical fruit.
Yogurt makes for a perfectly healthy snack filled with protein, probiotics, and vitamin B. However, when companies try to transform yogurt with natural milkfat into a low-fat product, they often compensate for the lack of fat flavor with a bunch of sweeteners and sugar. The resulting snack is often worse for you than regular, fat-filled yogurt and leaves you feeling unsatisfied and exhausted once the sugar crash ensues.
Hydrogenated vegetable-based oil like margarine used to be a popular butter replacement, but scientists later discovered that high levels of trans fats raised LDL (bad cholesterol) levels and lowered HDL (good cholesterol) levels. In 2013, the Food and Drug Administration declared that artificial trans fats, like the ones found in margarine, were no longer generally recognized as safe (GRAS) food additives.
Meal Replacement Bars
Just because the packaging says it’s a meal doesn’t mean it should be. A meal replacement bar just doesn’t feel as satisfying to eat as a whole, complete meal. If your brain isn’t satisfied with the experience of eating, you’re likely to crave snacks all day and eat bigger meals later on. Additionally, many of the meal replacement bars on the market aren’t nutritionally equivalent to a complete meal. They often lack calories, complex carbohydrates, and protein, instead loading up instead on additives, sugar, and oils. If you’re eating a meal on-the-go, consider a portable healthy breakfast instead.
Movie Theater Popcorn
Movie theater popcorn has capitalized on the concept of the “bliss point.” A tub of the perfectly fatty, salty, and crunchy popcorn can easily exceed 1,000 calories. Many theaters allow you to get free refills on large popcorns, which can lead to a lot of mindless movie munching. That overpriced popcorn doesn’t even come with butter. That yellow stuff that you drip all over the kernels is actually artificially flavored, non-hydrogenated soybean oil. How’s that for a spoiler?
Non-dairy creamer raises a lot of questions: Why doesn’t it need to be refrigerated? Why is it so white? How can something be non-dairy and a creamer? The short answer is that the majority of it is made from partially hydrogenated soybean oil, which contains dangerous trans fats. You should probably leave it out of your next cup of coffee.
Like shortening, palm oil is often laden with heart-clogging trans fats. In its liquid form, it’s completely okay and is actually a common component in a lot of healthy foods such as peanut butter. However, when it’s hydrogenated and morphed into a solid, the trans fats conglomerate and harden. The result is a dense, deadly substance you want to avoid.
The homemade stuff is fine. It’s the frozen, overly processed versions you want to stay away from. Some varieties with trans fats somehow still survive on the shelves, despite the nutritional warnings. Check the ingredients label for hydrogenated oils before purchasing a pie crust instead of making a healthier version.
Powdered Drink Mixes
These solutions you’re meant to pour into water are adding three unsavory things to your drink: sugar, artificial sweeteners, and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). These powders often contain BHA to extend their shelf life — but at a potential cost. The Department of Health and Human Services warns consumers to avoid BHA, as some studies have shown that it's potentially dangerous for consumption.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Peanut butter is one of the healthiest things you can spread on toast — rivaled only, perhaps, by the beloved avocado. The fats in peanut butter are the good kind, and taking them out makes no nutritional sense. When companies take the fat out of peanut butter, they add in a bunch of sugar or artificial nonsense instead.
Vegetable shortening is another ingredient containing trace amounts of trans fats. The American Heart Association has identified these fatty acids as a risk to cardiovascular health. Butter is high in saturated fat, which might not even be bad for you — so it’s still the healthier alternative for baking.
Inexpensive snack cakes use all the worst chemical additives to improve shelf life and palatability, including corn syrup, bleached white flour, and partially hydrogenated soy bean oil. These cheap, individually packaged desserts contain no nutritional value and are deceiving in their advertising because it is mostly directed at children.
Tile fish are the most uncommon food on this list, but they’re native to the waters of the Gulf of Mexico and can easily make their way into the food system. They make the cut because their flesh contains the highest mercury level of any commercial fish or shellfish.
Be very wary when taking that first bite — undercooked, pink chicken can be immediately repulsive, sure, but it’s also dangerous. Chicken is one of the foods most likely to give you salmonella. Consume poultry undercooked and you’re setting your stomach up for disaster.
Before hitting grocery store shelves, produce is exposed to pesticides, manure, and preservative chemicals to keep it from going bad. Then, once produce hits the shelves, it’s pored over by other shoppers’ grubby fingers all day long. And you want to put that in your mouth before even rinsing?
It’s always a bad sign when a company needs to invent a name for a product because it doesn’t fit the Food and Drug Administration’s standard of identity. Whipped topping is not called whipped cream because it isn’t primarily made from dairy. The first ingredient listed is actually partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, closely followed by corn syrup and high-fructose corn syrup.
Yellow Cake From a Mix
Though almost all fats have been deemed A-OK for regular consumption, trans fats have some very real health complications. Intake of trans fats has been linked to heart disease and even death — prompting the strict rules the Food and Drug Administration has put forth on processed foods. Yellow cake mix, specifically the kind from Duncan Hines, reads 0 trans fat on the label but actually is hiding small amounts of it. The FDA permits the 0 on the label if less than 0.5 grams of trans fat is present. Vegetable oil shortening, one of the ingredients in the mix, usually contains trans-fats. Avoid that stuff if you can — homemade cakes taste way better, anyway.