Nobody's perfect—we all hit up McDonald's when we're in the middle of a long drive and desperate, or we throw pizza rolls in the oven when we just want a comforting snack. But according to the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB), 60 percent of the calories in items we buy are from highly-processed foods, which tend to have more fat, sugar, and salt than less-processed choices.
Money may be tight, but your jeans will be even tighter if you continue to buy these no-good cheapo foods. If you don’t believe your buck can stretch all that far, check out How a Nutritionist Spends $100 on Groceries. To help you put it in perspective, the entire list below adds up to around $91, but is void of nutrition and instead packed with junk that will make you fatter and sicker.
Prices are estimated and will vary by store.
Kraft Singles American, 16 Oz: $4.79
Per slice: 60 calories, 4.5 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 220 mg sodium, 1 g carb, 0 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 4 g protein
If you need some cheese, you’re better off buying a block or wheel and cutting it up yourself. This “pasteurized prepared cheese product” has an ingredient list that’s 16 items long. By the FDA’s standards, Kraft is not permitted to actually label these slices as cheese because they contain less than 51% of the real thing.
Oscar Mayer Bologna, : $2.29
1 slice: 90 calories, 8 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 240 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 3 g protein
Almost all cold cuts are processed, and this cheap choice is no exception. Honestly, what is corn syrup doing in the top three ingredients anyway? If you want to keep artificial preservatives and sodium to a minimum, it’s worth spending a few extra dollars on real, lean meat that you can cut up yourself.
Classic Spam, 12 Oz: $3.29
2 oz: 180 calories, 16 g fat, 6 g sat fat, 790 mg sodium, 1 g carb, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 7 g protein
Mmm, canned meat. Anyone salivating yet? Yeah, we didn’t think so. Organic chicken breasts may run at a steep price, but there are plenty of healthy, fresh meat alternatives to this tin-trapped, sodium blunder. Consuming too much salt can increase blood pressure and put you at greater risk for heart disease. Most grocery stores sell larger packs of meat like chicken or beef for discounted prices, so take a moment to scan for those.
Arizona Lemonade, 23 Oz: $0.99
316 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 29 mg sodium, 78 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 75 g sugar, 0 g protein
You may think you’re getting your money’s worth when you spring for those big cans of iced tea and lemonade, but what you’re really getting is a sugar shock to your system. “Ten grams of sugar or less is considered a lower amount of sugar, so it’s a good number to shoot for,” says Jessica Crandall, a Denver-based RD, Certified Diabetes Educator, and National Spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. These 23-ounce cans each contain around 70 grams on average! Skip these and opt for unsweetened iced tea and add your own squeeze of lemon to taste. Even if you add in a few teaspoons of sugar yourself, it won’t even come close to what you’re getting with these. (Psst! Discover The #1 Way to Stop Sugar Cravings!)
Coca Cola, 2-liter: $1
12 oz: 140 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 45 mg sodium, 39 g carb, 39 g sugar, 0 g protein
The majority of this soft drink is made up of high fructose corn syrup, which explains why the sugar levels are so high. Even when you try to look passed the sugar, Coke offers your body absolutely no nutrition whatsoever. Research conducted at the Harvard School of Public Health linked the consumption of sugary drinks like soda to the obesity epidemic in the United States—so go for flavored seltzer if you need a little carbonation!
Welch’s Grape Juice, 24 Oz: $2
8 oz: 140 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 15 mg sodium, 36 g carbs, 36 g sugar, 1 g protein
This fruit juice tastes fruity but doesn’t have any of the filling, waist-whittling fiber that real, whole fruit offers. Drinking high sugar drinks like soda and processed fruit juice won’t do you much good in the weight loss department. Downing just one 12-ounce can of a typical sweetened beverage daily can add 15 pounds in a year, according to Harvard University Researchers.
Domino White Sugar, 4 Lb: $2.99
1 tsp: 15 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 mg sodium, 4 g carbs, 4 g sugar, 0 g protein
Sugar is everywhere. Purposely purchasing more of it—especially refined, white, processed sugar—can only worsen the havoc being wreaked on your body. According to a study published in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, a diet high in sugar may increase your risk of dying of a heart disease—even if you aren’t overweight. White sugar may be the cheapest, but if you spring for something like raw honey, you’ll at least be able to reap some small health benefits.
Nissin Top Ramen, Chicken Flavor, 6-pack: $1.79
Per serving: 190 calories, 7 g fat, 3.5 g sat fat, 910 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 2 g fiber, <1 g sugar, 5 g protein
Bear in mind that there are actually two servings per package! So if you devour the whole bowl (as most people do), you’re fast-tracking nearly 2,000 mg of sodium into your body, which is close to the suggested maximum (2,300 mg) for most people per day. According to research conducted at Harvard University, almost 80 percent of salt in the American diet comes from processed foods like this one.
Campbell Soup, Creamy Chicken Noodle: $1.99
Per serving: 120 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 870 mg sodium, 12 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 3 g protein
If it comes in a can, it’s almost safe to say whatever you’re eating is pretty high in sodium. While you may think canned soups like this one are much better for you than instant Ramen noodles—they’re really not. Again you have to be aware of how many servings come in each package and in this case there are two, bringing the sodium total to over 1,700 mg, which can send your blood pressure soaring. When in doubt, homemade is the best way to go. We think you’ll love these 15 Homemade Swaps for the Worst Ultra-Processed Foods!
Oreos, 14 Oz: $3.39
Per serving: 160 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g sat fat, N/A sodium, 25 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 14 g sugar, 1 g protein
“Milk’s favorite cookie” may appear to be harmless with only 160 calories per 3-cookie serving, but unfortunately, the classic snacks are not doing your body any good. Oreos are simply a combination of processed flour, oil, sugar, and corn syrup and offer no nutritional benefits at all. If you need to quell your chocolate craving, you’re better off reaching for the real thing with at least 70 percent cacao.
Nabisco Easy Cheese, 8 Oz: $4.59
2 tbsp serving: 80 calories, 6 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 450 mg sodium, 1 g carb, 0 g fiber, 2 g sugar, 5 g protein
Spray cheese? Let’s get real. First of all, no food being sprayed out of a can is ever going to be good for you—it’s just the way it is. Not to mention this little contraption packs a whopping 450 mg of sodium in just two wimpy tablespoons. Any health benefits cheese might exhibit is certainly not going to be found here.
Double Chocolate Donut: $0.99
350 calories, 20 g fat, 9 g sat fat, 440 mg sodium, 39 g carbs, 2 g fiber, 18 g sugar, 4 g protein
Whether you grab one from Dunkin' (which is what this nutritional info is from) or your grocery store, this is one sugar bomb that blows up your belly without ever actually helping you feel full. By the time you get to work in the a.m., the donut will already have digested because they are low in fiber and high in simple carbs—and your stomach will be grumbling faster than a New York minute.
Sour Patch Kids, 14 Oz: $3
Per 16 pieces: 150 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 25 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 26 g sugar, 0 g protein
They make your taste buds dance and squirm, but after a few bites, they make your body scream for something real it can actually use as fuel. (We recommend a high fiber food!) As if the candy label didn’t tip you off, the first three ingredients listed on this package are sugar, invert sugar, and corn syrup, which explains that steep 26 grams rocketing into your system. Sometimes sour cravings do hit but avoid these babies at all costs.
Lay's Potato Chips Classic, 10 Oz: $3.88
1 oz serving: 160 calories, 10 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 170 mg sodium. 15 g carbs, 1 g fiber, <1 g sugar, 2 g protein
Potato chips will give you a little crunch with a whole lot of nothing. The only two things this snack are high in is calories and fat (and not the good kind)—neither of which are going to fill you up. If you need something to crunch on, reach for veggie sticks or seaweed snacks, which can help satisfy your urges in a healthier way.
Smucker's Strawberry Jelly, 12 Oz: $3.19
1 tbsp: 50 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 12 g sugar, 0 g protein
If you want your English muffin with a side of sugar, then this is the jar for you. Between the strawberry juice, high fructose corn syrup, and regular old corn syrup, just one tablespoon packs in 12 grams of sugar—and who really stops at just one small spread? Instead, choose a more satiating spread like nut butters or avocado, which will actually fill you up, thanks to their healthy fats and fiber.
Hershey's Cookies 'N' Creme Bar: $.89
Per 1.55 oz bar: 230 calories, 12 g fat, 7 g sat fat, 105 mg sodium, 28 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 21 g sugar, 3 g protein
News flash—white chocolate isn't actually chocolate at all. Its main ingredient is cocoa butter, which is a type of vegetable fat that comes from the cocoa bean (but contains no cocoa whatsoever). To make that cocoa butter palatable, a ton of sugar and milk fat is added, and the final product is a nutrient-void, sugar-dense candy. The only traces of cocoa you'll find in this processed bar are in the small bits of cookie. If you want some real, healthier chocolate, skip the white stuff and grab a bar of 70% dark or higher.
Doritos Nacho Cheese Flavored Tortilla Chips, 15.5 Oz: $4.99
*11 chips: 140 calories, 8 g fat, 1 g sat fat, 190 mg sodium, 16 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 2 g protein
Who eats only 11 Doritos? Each two servings worth (22 chips) and you've consumed as many carbs as a bowl of pasta. And don't even get us started on the artificial flavors and ingredients in this bag of chemicals. Steer clear of this "party snack" and serve your guests something that you wouldn't want near your white furniture anyway.
Frito Lay Cheetos, Crunchy, 8.5 Oz: $3.49
21 pieces: 150 calories, 10 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 250 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 2 g protein
Chips, Cheetos, pretzels and most other crunchy snacks have three main things in common: They're full of sodium, crafted mostly with artificial ingredients and are generally pretty cheap. This small bag of fake cheese-dusted snacks is not only low in nutrition, but contains 100 mg more of the recommended amount of sodium for snacks. "When it comes to sodium, for a snack you're looking for 150 mg or less per serving. For a meal, aim for less than 500-700 mg," says Crandall.
Frito Lay French Onion Dip, 8.5 Oz: $2.99
2 tbsp: 60 calories, 5 g fat, 0.5 g sat fat, 240 mg sodium, 3 g carbs, <1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, <1 g protein
Regardless of whether you're dipping carrot sticks or salty chips, the only thing this dip is offering up is a load of calories. It only takes a few scoops to surpass that two tablespoon serving, too. While the combination of canola oil, modified corn starch, onion, and sugar may be tasty (yes, that's what you're actually eating) this dip is worth passing up altogether. Spring for healthier options like hummus, guacamole or salsa instead.
Ken's Steak House Buttermilk Ranch Dressing, 16 Fl. Oz: $3.19
2 tbsp: 180 calories, 20 g fat, 3 g sat fat, 260 mg sodium, 1 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 0 g protein
Salad dressings are dangerous territory. More often than not they're responsible for bringing your salad from a healthy, satiating bowl of veggies to a calorie dense fat plate—and this dressing is one of the worst offenders with 180 calories and 20 grams of fat per two tablespoons. Speaking of dangerous salads, these are the 20 Worst Restaurant Salads in America.
Totino's Pizza Rolls – Cheese, 7.5 Oz: $2.29
6 rolls: 200 calories, 8 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 410 mg sodium, 26 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 3 g sugar, 7 g protein
Coming home from grade school to a piping hot plate of pizza rolls was probably the highlight of many school days. However, as great as they may taste—and boy, they're good—they offer no nutrition and are simply an unnecessary source of calories and fat. If you're looking for that pizza fix, you can always add some marinara sauce and a little mozzarella cheese to an English muffin for a healthier alternative.
Betty Crocker Rich & Creamy Frosting – Creamy White, 16 Oz: $2.29
2 tbsp: 140 calories, 5 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 70 mg sodium, 23 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 19 g sugar, 0 g protein
Frosting has got to be one of the worst foods on the planet. It's essentially a jar of extremely processed sugar and oil, and will only send your blood sugar into a tailspin. Even worse, with 140 calories per two tablespoons, it won't take long for those added calories to show up on your waistline. Furthermore, "One of the biggest effects [of eating processed, non-nutrient rich foods] is that you'll experience more inflammation in the body, which is associated with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, joint pain," says Crandall.
Great Value, Long Grain Enriched White Rice: $.45 Per Pound
1/2 cup cooked: 160 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 0 mg sodium, 36 mg carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 0 g protein
White rice, white bread, and white flour-based products should all be approached with caution. The big issue with them is that they digest very quickly in the body causing blood sugar to be unstable and hunger to return more quickly than it would if you chose more wholesome options like brown rice. Brown and whole grain varieties are usually only a few bucks more, so there's no reason to continue tossing the white stuff if your grocery basket.
Nesquik Chocolate Syrup, 22 Fl Oz: $2.49
1 tbsp: 50 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 30 mg sodium, 13 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 11 g sugar, 0 g protein
Yes, it's true that chocolate milk burns fat. But not this kind. (Womp womp.) As you probably guessed, the main ingredient in this bottle of chocolate-y syrup is sugar, which is where 100% of the problems lie. "Sugar is a non-nutritive food, so I try to keep it at about 150 calories or less per day from a non-nutritional related food item, which could include the lattes that you're drinking that have sugar added to them and also things like cakes, candies, cookies, and dessert items. I always say that two bites cure a craving, but after that you're feeding old behaviors and habits," says Crandall.
Pop Secret Movie Theater Butter Popcorn – 3 CT: $2.39
32 G: 35 calories, 2 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 1 g trans fat, 300 mg sodium, 3 g carbs, 0 g fiber, 0 g sugar, 2 g protein
Two words: Trans fat. Microwave popcorn takes a healthy snack and turns it into a chemical laden, sodium-heavy food. And this goes for pretty much all microwave popcorn brands; we're just picking on Pop Secret because it's the one you're most likely to reach for. Your best option is to stick to air or stove popping and then add your own spices and flavors.
Aunt Jemima Syrup – Original, 740 Ml: $3.29
¼ cup serving: 210 calories, 0 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 120 mg sodium, 52 g carbs, 32 g sugar, 0 g protein
One glance at the ingredient list and you'll quickly realize that Aunt Jemima has been fooling you all along. This bottle contains no trace of maple syrup—none! In fact, it's one of the "foods" that inspired our list of 20 Foods Pretending to Be Something They're Not. Rather, it's a liquid stream of corn syrup and preservatives. "[When we eat highly processed foods] you experience less fullness and satiety so then you end up overeating something else later. In addition, you won't get enough vitamins, minerals, fiber, and antioxidants to prevent those other disease states like cancer. Nutrition today is prevention tomorrow," says Crandall.
Your Grocer's Baguette, 16 Oz: $.99
Per 2 oz: 140 calories, 1 g fat, 0 g sat fat, 290 mg sodium, 27 g carbs, 1 g fiber, 1 g sugar, 5 g protein
Grabbing a baguette from the bakery may seem routine, but that cheap loaf of bread is running high in calories and simple carbs. White bread—even the "fresh baked" kind—across the board digests rapidly in the body and causes blood sugar to be unsteady, energy to dip and feelings of hunger to return shortly after eating. Skip the white baguette and spend an extra dollar or two on a whole grain loaf of bread for added health benefits and greater satiety.
DON'T MISS: 20 Best & Worst Store Bought Breads
Kellogg's Pop-Tarts Frosted Chocolate Fudge, 8 CT: $1.99
1 pastry: 200 calories, 5 g fat, 1.5 g sat fat, 230 mg sodium, 37 g carbs, 20 g sugar, 3 g protein
"Good source of 7 vitamins and minerals." Hashtag this is why America's fat. Any breakfast item that sounds like a dessert should definitely be treated like one. Pop two pastries in the toaster and you'll start your day off on a super sugar high, only to find yourself crashing shortly after you get to work. Toaster pastries should be avoided at all costs. Instead, throw a healthy slice of bread in the toaster and add your own spread like a nut butter for a more nutrient rich breakfast option.
Oscar Mayer Wieners – Classic, 16 Oz: $2.99
1 link: 90 calories, 7 g fat, 2 g sat fat, 410 mg sodium, 2 g carbs, 5 g protein
We'll admit it: Nothing welcomes Summer like that first hot dog of the season. But these wieners (and most varieties) are essentially tightly wrapped servings of highly processed meats. Sure, just a couple of dollars may fill up your grill, but if you're at all concerned about choosing the healthiest option, you're better off sticking with grilled chicken and lean turkey burgers at your next BBQ.
Nature's Promise Organics Instant Oatmeal Apple Cinnamon – 1.91 Oz Cup $1.59
1 package: 200 calories, 2.5 g fat, .5 g sat fat, 120 mg sodium, 41 g carbs, 3 g fiber, 19 g sugar, 4 g protein
A big bowl of oatmeal is one of the best ways to start your day, but it's all about choosing the right kind. Regular oats on their own are a good source of fiber and complex carbs, which can keep you full and happy. However, pre-flavored packets like this one are often laced with high amounts of sugar. Don't let the "Organics" name fool you, because this quick option is packing a steep 19 grams of added sugar! Instead, check out these 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes for Weight Loss!