12 “Healthy” Foods That Can Increase Your Risk of Disease
We've come to think of these things as healthy, but they're not. Some so-called healthy foods on your supermarket shelves don't deserve a place in your cart.
When good food goes bad
Remember when the biggest problem with "health food" was that you just didn't like the taste? Today, even so-called health foods can have side effects—and here are 13 healthy food habits you should ditch right now. While most nutrition pros hesitate to demonize any one food, saying what matters most is how much of it you're eating and the composition of your overall diet, they do admit to pet peeves about products that persistently get labeled "healthy," while hiding a less virtuous side—including out-of-control sodium, hidden sugars, and even associations with certain cancers. These are just a few of the so-called health foods you'll want to steer clear of on your next supermarket trip.
Yogurt's healthy rep is justified, for the most part: It's got tons of filling protein, calcium, and gut-friendly probiotics. Maybe that's why a Harvard study found an association between eating yogurt and lower body weight. But flavored varieties pack loads of added sugar, making them about as nutritious as candy, says Lisa R. Young, PhD, RD, author of the upcoming book Finally Full, Finally Thin: 30 Days to Permanent Weight Loss One Portion At a Time (Center Street, January 2019). A diet that contains too much sugar can increase your risk for diabetes, points out Young. "It's a better idea to buy plain yogurt and add your own toppings—things like nuts, hemp seeds, and fresh fruit," she says. Can you spot the added sugar in these other foods?
According to breastcancer.org, soy has estrogen-like isoflavones that can activate genes linked to breast tumors. Although researchers are still exploring this potential risk, there's also the fact that, in Young's view, so much of the soy in supermarkets is overly processed and not very nutritious—think chips, burgers, milk. The added sugar and salt can harm your heart and your waistline. She recommends not eating too much soy, and when you do stick with unprocessed versions like edamame, tofu, and tempeh, a fermented product that has the additional benefit of digestion-aiding probiotics.
Dairy is often demonized, but cow's milk remains a top source of protein, vitamin D, and calcium. Most milk alternatives are fortified to achieve even modest amounts of those vitamins and minerals, and compared nutritionally to cow's milk they come up short. A study from McGill University compared four popular plant-based alternatives (almond milk, soy milk, rice milk and coconut milk) to cow's milk and found that none even came close to moo juice's nutritional profile (though soy milk was the most nutritious of the four). However, many types of plant milk are thickened with carrageenan, an additive that may be linked to irritable bowel disease and even colon cancer.
You may also want to check out how dairy-free milk could be damaging our brain.
Light salad dressing
Bottled dressings can already be high in added salt and sugar. But light versions that skimp on fat tend to have even more sodium and sugar to keep them tasty—two substances that are already way too plentiful in the American diet and happen to be big contributors to high blood pressure, weight gain, and heart disease, says Young. Consider that your body actually needs the good fats in salad dressing to synthesize all the fat-soluble vitamins in veggies like lettuce, carrots, and tomatoes. Avoid all store-bought dressings by mixing your own from olive oil, vinegar or lemon juice, and seasonings. Here are 19 recipes for homemade salad dressing.
Popcorn is a low-cal snack and a whole grain to boot—perfect, right? Well, that might depend on how you pop it. While microwavable bags are convenient, many bags have a chemical coating that breaks down when heated, releasing a substance called perfluorooctanoic that the Environmental Protection Agency has identified as a likely carcinogen. And those chemicals that give popcorn its butter-like smell and taste? The butter flavoring used in some brands may contain Diacetyl, the emissions of which have been linked to a debilitating respiratory disease bronchiolitis obliterans (also called “popcorn workers lung”) in factory workers who inhale an intense amount of the fumes over time. If popcorn is your go-to snack and you eat it a lot of it, best choose an air-popped variety or opt for prepackaged bags made without GMOs or other additives, says Ashley Koff, RD. This is the secret to making the best-tasting DIY microwave popcorn.
Processed lunch meats
A turkey sandwich may sound like a nice light, healthy lunch, but some deli meats contain sodium nitrate and nitrite as preservatives. The World Health Organization (WHO) found a connection between a diet high in processed meats (the equivalent of four slices of bacon a day) and colorectal cancer. This doesn't necessarily mean you have to cool it with the cold cuts. "As long as you're varying your sources of lean protein and not eating it every day, you should be fine," says Angel Planells, RD, a Seattle-based nutritionist and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition & Dietetics. Here are 10 more sickening secrets of processed foods revealed.
Some canned vegetables
Although lots of manufacturers have stopped lining cans with hormone-disrupting chemical BPA, some have not made the switch, because BPA-free cans are more expensive. The issue with BPA is that it can leach into the food inside, especially acidic foods like canned tomatoes; the chemical can interfere with the healthy development of the brains and bodies of children, leaving them susceptible to obesity and cancer later in life, according to the Mayo Clinic. Be sure to look for cans that say "BPA free." And if it's the convenience you like, frozen vegetables may a good option. A recent report found that frozen vegetables are comparable to fresh in terms of taste and nutrition. Here are 10 canned goods that watchdog groups say to look out for.
Tuna is the top contributor of methylmercury to the U.S. diet, and in large doses, mercury can have a toxic effect—potentially damaging the nervous system and the brain, according to the WHO. Still, the fish has plenty going for it—healthy polyunsaturated fats that are good for your heart, skin, and eyes, and lean protein. If you consume the canned variety, that can be hard to beat in a handy, shelf-stable can. Whatever variety you choose, canned or fresh, so long as you're not eating tuna more than two to three times a week, you're okay says Planells.
Research has found that while low-calorie sweeteners have been found to help dieters lose weight, in a perverse twist consumption of low-calorie sweeteners has been seen in recent studies to promote metabolic syndrome and predispose people to prediabetes and diabetes, particularly in individuals with obesity. Also, nutritionists point out, these substitutes have absolutely zero nutritional benefits whatsoever. Here are 7 things that could happen if you stop using artificial sweeteners.
Yes, it's the original crunchy health food, but your hippie favorite is calorie-dense and can be full of added sugar—raising your risk of weight gain and diabetes, warns Planells. That's why a "serving" is only about a quarter-cup—which can lead most of us to unknowingly eat too much of it. Granola is the poster child for so-called health food that you cannot just eat with abandon thinking it's good for you, he says. Here are 7 sneaky ways "health" cereals are making you fat.
Sure, it may seem like a convenient, shelf-stable way to reach your five-a-day produce goal, but dried fruit is not the optimal way for anyone to get your daily servings. First, it's often packed with added sugar—how do you think they make tart cranberries edible? Some varieties have enough of the sweet stuff that they're closer to candy than produce, says Planells. These sugary snacks quickly raise your blood sugar—and then it plummets. This rollercoaster strains your body's ability to process sugar, leading to insulin resistance and pre-diabetes. Plus, when your blood sugar crashes, your body will feel depleted and demand more energy in the form of calories—that's a recipe for weight gain. Stick with fresh fruit whenever possible, or look for dehydrated versions that have no added sugar. Don't overlook these 9 so-called superfoods that can make you gain weight.