There is a school of thought that says there is no such thing as ‘bad food’ and that all foods are OK in moderation. The thinking is that, if you deprive yourself of your favourite foods, then ‘being healthy’ becomes something of a chore and you’re more likely to crave those foods and even binge on them. But it has to be said, there are some foods that most nutrition professionals would just NEVER eat.
1) Low fat/ reduced fat/ diet foods
These foods are, by definition, very highly processed. In most cases, when the fat is taken out, then sugar or artificial sweeteners and flavourings go in, to make the food more palatable.
The idea that all fat is bad or leads to weight gain has long been debunked. We now know that sugars (and excess starchy carbs) are usually the cause of weight gain and keep you craving sweet things. Many artificial sweeteners aren’t great for gut health either – they are poorly broken down by the body and just end up feeding the bad bacteria in the large intestine. Some have been linked to cancer.
Always choose the natural, full fat versions of yoghurts, cottage cheese etc..
2) Margarine and butter substitutes
Margarine and vegetable spreads might be convenient because they spread straight from the fridge, but nutritionally they are the poorer relations of real butter, coconut oil and other healthy fats like olive oil.
They are often marketed as being ‘heart healthy’ because of their lower levels of saturated fats. And their ingredients like vegetable oil and sunflower oil fool you into thinking they are natural. But again, they are heavily processed. They are chemically altered to solidify them and this turns them into hydrogenated trans fats that your body cannot recognise. In fact they can actually raise your LDL cholesterol (the ‘bad’ one). These are the fats used in most fast foods and processed foods too.
So bin that tub of margarine and stick to minimally processed fats like butter, ghee and coconut oil, or olive oil for cooking at lower temperatures.
3) Sugar-free fizzy drinks, diet drinks and energy drinks
Many of my clients think they’re being ‘good’ because they choose diet or slimline drinks, to reduce their total calorie intake, but these really are no better for your body.
Most artificial sweeteners still raise your blood sugar levels and condition your body to expect more sweet stuff (as well as potentially being detrimental to your health). Energy drinks have the double whammy of delivering a huge hit caffeine as well as all that sugar or artificial sweetener.
If you’re drinking these to quench your thirst, then infused water is your best alternative. If you need these to boost your energy levels then I would recommend booking a free Health and Energy review call and we can discuss the cause of your fatigue.
4) Processed meat and hotdogs
There is usually very little actual meat in many of these processed deli-style meats and hotdogs. They are often pumped with water, sugar (even if it’s not actually called sugar, look out for anything ending in ‘-ose’ – like dextrose) and preservatives. Some of the additives in processed meats have been linked to an increased risk of colon cancer.
Aim to limit your animal consumption, and choose good quality, organic, grass-fed produce.
5) Shop-bought cereals
Most supermarket cereals are filled with sugar and are very high in starchy carbs. In some cases, one bowl of cereal contains HALF of your maximum daily sugar allowance. These processed cereals quickly spike your blood sugar levels and then send your energy levels crashing, come mid-morning.
Better options include home-made granola, porridge or overnight oats, omelettes or poached eggs (in fact, any kind of eggs) on wholemeal toast.
6) Rice cakes
These are often a go-to snack for anyone counting calories. They are low-fat and low calorie, but also low fibre and low protein. They’re essentially refined carbohydrates that will skyrocket your blood sugar levels.
A better choice would be a couple of oatcakes topped with unsweetened nut butter, hummus or cottage cheese (full fat, of course).
7) Agave nectar/ syrup
Agave syrup comes from the agave plant – the same plant that gives us tequila. It’s often touted as a ‘naturally occurring sweetener’, which makes it sound healthy, right? Wrong! Any health benefits from the original plant are lost during the processing. The end product is a highly refined fructose syrup that is very similar to the (deservedly) much-demonised high fructose corn syrup. HFCS and excess fructose can contribute to insulin resistance, heart disease and type 2 diabetes. Unlike glucose, fructose can only be processed by the liver – creating even more stress for an already over-worked organ.
The very best scenario is to wean yourself off excessively or artificially sweet foods. Your taste buds will adapt and you'll start to enjoy the natural sweetness from real food.
8) Mycoprotein like Quorn
Quorn is a very processed food that comes from the fermentation of a fungus called Fusarium venenatum. It has a lot of other ingredients added, like flavourings, yeast, starches, colourings and gluten, to give it the texture and flavour of meat.
Recent studies have highlighted adverse effects of consuming mycoprotein, including nausea, vomiting and diarrhoea and, in very rare instances, allergic response.
Consider lentils and pulses as healthier alternatives if you’re after vegetarian choices.
9) Fruit Juice
The easiest way to get lots of sugar into your system in a short space of time is by drinking it. And when it comes in as liquid, the body doesn’t register it as ‘food’, so it doesn’t even fill you up.
Fruit juice – particularly when freshly squeezed – certainly contains lots of healthy vitamins and minerals, but it contains just as much sugar as a can of Coke. So don’t kid yourself – it's not one of your 5-a-day (and actually it's more like 7-a-day!).
Eat the whole fruit instead and get the benefit of all that fibre.
Stick to eating REAL, WHOLE foods as much as possible (by that I mean not processed foods).
Eat a VARIETY of different foods, including quality protein and healthy fats to keep your blood sugar levels balanced.
Eat a RAINBOW of colourful fruit and vegetables for a range of health-boosting, disease-fighting phytonutrients.