“I’m on a health kick,” our friend Darlene said the other day over brunch. She proudly poured almond milk into her coffee, took a sip of OJ and bit into a veggie burger. “No bad foods for me!”
Some health kick. Darlene had just served herself carrageenan, corn syrup and disodium inosinate, belly-bloating foods that sabotage her weight loss goals. Due to food manufacturers and deceptive marketers, even our “healthy” meals teem with unhealthy fats, artificial ingredients and unnecessary preservatives. A simply brunch like Darlene’s can turn into a punch—to the gut.
On a mission to help you understand exactly what’s in your food, and why it’s bad, the researchers at Eat This, Not That! put together this definitive list of The 75 Unhealthiest Foods on the Planet—along with healthy swaps for each, so you can still enjoy your favorite foods without sacrifice. Read on to discover the best and worst—and discover which sodas made our essential list of The 70 Worst Sodas on the Planet—Ranked By How Toxic They Are.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fats, added sugar, artificial coloring
The problem with coffee creamer? There’s no cream! Many brands are packed with trans fats, also known as partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil. Pretty much all of Nestle Coffee Mate’s products have this scary ingredient that a study in PLOS One showed to diminish memory in adults under 45 years old. Consumption of the ingredient also increases your risk of heart disease—hence why the FDA will ban the ingredient in 2018. Alternatives like Hood’s Country Creamer and International Delight French Vanilla eschew the partially hydrogenated stuff, but still use mono and diglycerides, which can contain trans fats, but dodge FDA labeling laws.
Drink This! Instead: Plain ol’ cow’s milk or unsweetened plant-based milk both make for healthy additions to your morning cup. If you’re still looking for a hint of flavor and don’t want to give up your favorite creamers, at least stick with a tablespoon (yes—just one) of either Coffee Mate’s Natural Bliss, International Delight’s Simply Pure, or Land O’Lakes Half & Half; all are made with just milk, cream, sugar, and natural flavor—that’s it!
Bleached White Flour Bread
Unhealthy Ingredient: Bleaching chemicals such as azodicarbonamide
Even if your bread’s first ingredient is “wheat flour”—keep reading. If it doesn’t mention that it’s unbleached, you’re likely noshing on a sandwich laced with creepy chemicals. Some manufacturers use an ingredient called azodicarbonamide, which you might recall is the “yoga mat” additive that Subway once controversially used. This plastic dough conditioner is used to make bread dough fluffier. The Environmental Working Group (EWG) notes that because there are so few studies on its potential health risks (which include asthma, allergies, and cancer), it should be removed from the food supply. Yet you can still find it in Sunbeam’s Texas Toast.
Eat This! Instead: There are plenty of whole-grain and whole-wheat flours and breads that don’t include bleach. Make the switch! Not only do they not contain chlorine dioxide, they’re better for you in a variety of other ways, too. Go with one of these 10 Best Brand Name Breads for Weight Loss!
Unhealthy Ingredient: Fiber-less fruit, high-fructose corn syrup
It’s natural! What could be wrong? Well, while 100 percent fruit juice is a better pick than high fructose corn syrup-laden drinks like Sunny D, even the all-natural Welch’s Grape Juice still packs up to 36 grams of sugar per cup—or about what you’d get from whopping 4 Krispy Kreme glazed donuts into a blender. And although this sugar is natural, your body treats it the same way as any other sugar. What’s more, most of the sweetness in juice comes from fructose, a type of sugar associated with the development of visceral adipose tissue in overweight people—yep, that’s belly fat—according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Drink This! Instead: Enjoy some detox water. Just add fresh sliced fruit like oranges and grapefruit to plain ole’ H2O and chill.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Caramel coloring, Bisphenol A (BPA), aspartame
What do artificial colors, flame retardants, and waist-widening fake sugars all have in common? They’re ingredients in all your favorite diet fizzy drinks. Nearly all popular diet sodas contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener that raises glucose levels, overloading the liver and causing the excess to convert into fat, according to a study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism. And that’s not all: The 4-MEI found in the caramel coloring in brown beverages like Coca-Cola and Dr. Pepper has been proven to increase the rate of cancerous and benign tumors in rats as shown by the National Toxicology Program and has been labeled by the International Agency for Research on Cancer as a possible carcinogen for humans.
Eat This! Instead: While many companies have phased BVO out of their sodas, many diet drinks contain aspartame, and that’s just not something we can get behind. If you’re sick of plain ole’ H2O, opt for one of these delicious detox teas or a cup of coffee instead.
Deep Fried Foods
Unhealthy Ingredient: High heat, inflammatory oil
Fried chicken, fried calamari, pork rinds, chicken-fried steak. You won’t ever see these items marked as an “Eat This.” Besides the high fat and calorie content, the main issue with these fried foods is that they contain high levels of inflammatory Advanced Glycation End products, or AGEs. These compounds form when animal-derived products are cooked at high temperatures for a prolonged period of time. According to a 2015 review published in the journal Advances in Nutrition, experts concluded that “sustained exposure to [AGEs] gradually erodes native defenses, setting the stage for abnormally high [oxidative stress] and inflammation, the precursors of disease.”
Eat This! Instead: Luckily, researchers from the Mount Sinai School of Medicine found that when people cut out high-AGE foods like processed and fried foods, markers of inflammation in their body diminished. So, go grilled whenever you can or bake your foods in the oven.
Bacon & Sausage
Unhealthy Ingredients: Nitrates and nitrites, high heat cooking methods
Processed meats are the worst of both worlds. They’re typically made from red meats high in saturated fats, and they contain high levels of advanced glycation end products (AGEs): inflammatory compounds that are created when these processed meats are dried, smoked, and cooked at high temperatures. Not to mention, those nitrates and nitrites in cured (and natural, “uncured”) meats can turn into carcinogenic nitrosamines when exposed to high heat, according to Meat Science. (And you’re typically roasting your sausages on a flame-flickering grill and bacon on a frying pan.)
Eat This! Instead: Luckily manufactures have a limit on the amount of nitrites they use and are required to add antioxidants, such as vitamin C, which a review in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found helps to inhibit nitrosamine formation. While a study in Food Chemistry found processed foods have an average of 80 percent less nitrites than they once did, you can take extra precautions to limit your nitrosamine exposure by purchasing uncured meats that use no nitrites—only salt — and try turning down the heat.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT), Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA), refined carbs, added sugar
There’s no sugar-coating it: sugar wreaks havoc on the body. Consuming too much of the white stuff can lead to obesity, which often causes other health problems like diabetes and heart disease. And many cereals pack more sugar into one bowl than you’ll find in a Boston Cream Donut! To make matters worse, many popular varieties like Frosted Flakes, Fruity Pebbles, and Honey Smacks are also laced with Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) or BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole), ingredients that are banned in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and much of Europe because they are thought to be carcinogenic. We’re also big fans of these 20 Worst “Healthy” Cereals.
Eat This! Instead: Cascadian Farms Chocolate O’s and Nature’s Path Peanut Butter Panda Puffs are both flavor-packed, low-sugar picks that don’t contain any scary chemicals.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sodium, trans fats
Freeing food is a terrific way to make it last longer. So why add preservatives? Unfortunately, manufacturers do; just witness this list of the 67 Worst Frozen Foods in America.
Eat This! Instead: Opt for organic, low-sodium, low-sugar frozen options that never (ever!) have trans fats. These 15 New Healthy Frozen Foods that Make Clean Eating a Breeze are among the best options.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
And here you thought we’d say the sugar. And calories. And fat. And everything else. While that’s all true, and restaurant desserts are dangerous because the portions are often oversized, it’s the sodium content that many people don’t even think about. That innocent-looking, California Pizza Kitchen dessert you see pictured above has a whopping 1,380 calories, 92 grams of fat, 696 milligrams of sodium, 126 grams of carbs, and 85 grams of sugar. Check it out with its other evil friends on this list of 20 Restaurant Desserts With More Salt Than A Bag of Pretzels.
Eat This! Instead: A small scoop of sorbet is a low-risk way to satisfy that sweet tooth at the end of a meal.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar (duh)
According to the Pew Research Center, Americans ate over 90 grams of added sugar a day in 2014—which is 40 grams above the FDA’s recommended intake of 50 grams per day and a whopping 65 grams above the World Health Organization’s recommended intake of 25 grams! Americans’ high consumption of refined, white sugar has been linked to everything from increased risk of type 2 diabetes to heart disease to obesity. Say goodbye to added sugars—and goodbye to your belly—with Zero Sugar Diet! Order your copy today!
Eat This! Instead: Check out our report Every Popular Added Sweetener—Ranked! to choose a smart alternative, but we’d recommend reducing your intake of added sweeteners in general.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fats (partially hydrogenated vegetable oils), titanium dioxide, caramel color, artificial colors, propylene glycol
Birthdays are a time to celebrate. Something you shouldn’t celebrate? Your frosting being made with trans fats and chemicals. Many brand-name frostings, such as Duncan Hines’ Creamy Home-Style Classic Vanilla, are still made with trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oils. And despite being white, many of these frostings are tinted with potentially carcinogen-contaminated dyes (such as caramel color and titanium dioxide) and artificial colors. Lastly. the propylene glycol in frosting recipes has been linked to poor kidney health by research in the American Journal of Kidney Diseases.
Eat This! Instead: Healthy frosting is as easy to make as it is delicious. Using avocados and dark chocolate, you can create a decadent buttercream-like frosting that takes just seconds to prepare and is loaded with mood-boosting cocoa flavonols and monounsaturated fats, which can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease.
Unhealthy Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring
You’ll find this on our list of 20 Foods Pretending To Be Something They’re Not. Why? Famous syrup brands like Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Butterworth are made with two ingredients we’re constantly telling readers to avoid—liver-damaging high fructose corn syrup and carcinogen-contaminated caramel coloring—and one thing we wish they actually had: real maple syrup.
Eat This! Instead: The best syrup for your waistline is a Grade A Medium Amber pure maple syrup. Since the flavor is so concentrated, a little goes a long way, saving you calories and sugar. For even more ways to cut back on the white granular stuff don’t miss these 30 Easy Ways to Stop Eating so Much Sugar.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Fiber-less fruit
Busy mornings and grab-and-go breakfasts are practically synonymous—so it’s easy to see the appeal of store-bought smoothies. They seem like the best way to get what you crave in a pinch. But the timesaving drinks have a downside: Compared to fresh-made drinks, most of them fall short on nutrition and are so calorie- and sugar-filled that your blood sugar is sure to skyrocket. Just take Naked’s Pomegranate Blueberry smoothie as an example: Downing this entire bottle will fill you up with a whopping 61 grams of sugar and absolutely zero fiber. Be sure to avoid The Worst “Healthy” Store-Bought Juices to keep your waistline trim.
Drink This Instead: Play it safe by blending up one of these 56 Smoothie Recipes for Weight Loss—all of them can be made in 5 minutes or less.
Unhealthy Ingredients: High heat
Grilling is awesome, but you have to watch your char! When you char meat, something called heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, develop when the creatine, sugars, and amino acids in meat react to your grill’s high temperatures. Several studies published in Nutrition and Cancer have linked HCAs with an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and prostate cancers.
Eat This! Instead: To chop your risk, spice it up! Adding antioxidant-rich spices like rosemary to beef patties before grilling can slash the production of HCAs up to 90 percent, according to a study published in the Journal of Food Science. Another way to reduce your risk? Turn down the heat, since burnt meat contains higher concentrations of HCAs.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Phthalates
You may not know how to pronounce it, but you should know what phthalates (thāl-ates) are. That’s because many of us are unknowingly eating this class of endocrine-disrupting chemical toxins. Similar to BPA, phthalates are used in plastic food and beverage wrappers and packaging—and they’re not staying there. In 2016, an Environmental Health Perspectives study found that people who ate fast food often had dose-dependent higher levels of phthalate compounds than infrequent eaters. And that’s just the beginning of bad news for all-day-breakfast lovers, since a separate study published in Environmental Science & Technology found phthalates to be associated with the CRP marker of inflammation, and another study in Environmental Health connected higher exposure to phthalates with metabolic syndrome, a disease also commonly associated with increased levels of inflammation and weight gain.
Eat This! Instead: Our best advice is to reduce your trips to fast food places, and perhaps look to fast-casual restaurants instead as these establishments use packaging less frequently. Our best advice? Skip the trip if you can, and try these 20 Homemade, Healthy “Fast Food” Recipes instead.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sucrose, glucose, caffeine
We can only imagine the number of broken Bunsen burners it took to come up with the now-familiar energy drink formula. These medicinal-tasting beverages are simply overpriced chemical cocktails with the caffeine content of a strong cup of coffee and a lot of sugar (or scary artificial sweeteners). Here’s why you should be concerned: A University of Maryland study found energy drinks to be 11 percent more corrosive to your teeth than regular soda. Gross, right? Another unsettling finding came from a case study of a 50-year-old construction worker; having too many energy drinks could destroy your liver. The report, published in BMJ Case Reports in 2016, found that the man developed acute hepatitis after consuming four to five energy drinks every day over the course of three weeks.
Drink This Instead: Green tea! It’s all-natural and one of the best energy boosters around. There’s a reason test panelists lost up to 10 pounds by drinking tea for a week with the The 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse!
Ready-To-Bake Pie Crust
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fats
Touted as “America’s #1 Crumb Crust,” Keebler’s Shortbread Ready Crust is still made with heart-harming trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. And they’re not the only ones. You can also find it in Kraft Nabisco’s Nilla Pie Crust, Honey Maid Graham Cracker Crust, and even seemingly-healthy brands like Oronoque Orchards Deep Dish Pie Crust.
Eat This! Instead: Make sure your ingredient list is free from partially hydrogenated oils. One crust we approve of us Trader Joe’s version! Find out our other favorite TJ’s products in our exclusive guide: The Best New Trader Joe’s Products For Weight Loss.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Arsenic
Despite the countless health benefits of brown rice—which include digestion-slowing fiber and metabolism-boosting selenium—there is one reason you might consider the white grain over brown: arsenic levels. Recent analyses conducted by the Food and Drug Administration have found that arsenic is showing up at alarming rates in our beloved brown rice. Not only is arsenic known to be a carcinogen, but long-term exposure to high levels of arsenic is also associated with higher rates of skin, bladder and lung cancers, as well as heart disease, according to the FDA. Because arsenic seeps into the outermost layers of the grain, it remains in fiber-rich brown rice but not in polished white rice.
Eat This! Instead: Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, registered dietitian and founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition agrees that the levels of arsenic in rice are concerning, but assures the risks can easily be reduced by varying all grains and starches we consume.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Trans fat (partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil)
Making biscuits from scratch can take forever, and the majority of the packaged varieties are chock full of trans fats, an artificial fat—invented to make baked goods more shelf-stable—that’s been linked heart disease. Each of Mary B’s Buttermilk Biscuits carries three grams a pop (which is more than a day’s worth).
Eat This! Instead: Not only do Thomas’ “nooks and crannies” save you from the dangers of trans fats, but they also shave 90 calories from your plate. Smear some butter and mashed blackberries on those babies to amp up the flavor and add a hint of sweetness.
Unhealthy Ingredient: High fructose corn syrup
Barbecue sauce may be the condiment of choice for people who love something smoky and sweet, but it can do damage to your waistline. Most bottled BBQ sauces are packed with tons of added sugar and sugar variations. Take Sweet Baby Ray’s Honey Barbecue Sauce—not only does it have 15 grams of sugar in just two tablespoons, but the first ingredient listed is high fructose corn syrup. HFCS has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, according to a study from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Also made with corn syrup and sugar, this sauce is the equivalent of pouring almost four sugar packets on your pulled chicken or bratwurst.
Eat This! Instead: If you need a condiment for your hot dog or brat, opt for mustard instead. It’s super low-cal at just 3 calories per teaspoon, and packs a flavorful punch. If you must have BBQ sauce, make a low-sugar version yourself with some tomato paste, vinegar, Worcestershire sauce, liquid smoke, and spices.
Diet Ice Cream
Unhealthy Ingredients: Polysorbate 80
When you’re missing out on creamy milk, manufacturers turn to the chemistry lab to make up for the lack of flavor and texture. One additive—polysorbate 80 (P80)—helps to give diet ice cream its addictive creamy texture and long shelf life, but it harms your health. A rodent study published in 2016 by Georgia State University researchers found that this synthetic emulsifier creates the ideal gut conditions for colon cancer cells to flourish and could promote metabolic syndrome. The same team of Georgia State University researchers previously linked the emulsifier with low-grade inflammation in the intestine. Not good signs. You’ll find this additive in Turkey Hill Light Recipe, Vanilla Bean.
Eat This! Instead: To find our approved, low-cal creams, don’t miss 26 Diet Ice Creams—Ranked!.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, artificial dyes
Whoever invented the Gatorade Dunk—the tradition in which winning sports teams dump coolers of the stuff on their coaches—was really on to something. One scan of the nutrition label and it’s clear: The sports drink is better off seeping into the sidelines than your stomach. Sure, it provides critical post-workout electrolytes, like sodium and potassium, but it also serves up a hearty helping of calories and sugar. In fact, there are 56 grams of the sweet stuff (which is more than a day’s worth) in a 32-ounce bottle. What’s more, the beverage is teeming with stomach-churning additives like wood rosin and artificial dyes that have been linked to hyperactivity in children and cancer, according to a study in Archives of Disease in Childhood and another in the International Journal of Cancer .
Drink This Instead: A better—and safer—way to replenish the electrolytes and water lost after a tough workout: coconut water. You can also find healthier drinks in our round-up of 13 Healthy Sports Drinks for Weight Loss.
Chef Boyardee Spaghetti & Meatballs
Unhealthy Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, caramel coloring, soybean oil
Who knew that eating just a cup of spaghetti and meatballs would fill you up with 8 grams of sugar? That’s exactly what will happen if you eat Chef Boyardee’s Jumbo Spaghetti & Meatballs, which has high fructose corn syrup in their sauce. Another issue with the food? A a significant amount of protein in those meatballs comes from soy protein concentrate. Unlike a protein isolate, protein concentrate contains more of the nutrients found in soy, which could mean it’s more likely to contain traces of the carcinogen-containing pesticides used in genetically-modified soy production. To make matters worse, the meatballs are dyed with caramel color and most of their 13 grams of fat comes from soybean oil.
Eat This! Instead: When the craving for pasta strikes, try some of these 40 Ultimate Pasta Tips to Stay Skinny. Sure, making noodles from scratch may take some additional time, but at least you’ll have leftovers for days.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Monosodium glutamate
Everyone knows that when you buy Doritos, you’re bound to finish the entire bag—and it’s no surprise. The recipe for the popular chip was specially designed so that no single flavor overpowers another. When foods lack a dominant flavor, people are less apt to feel full and, in turn, consume more, say researchers. What’s more, one of the first ingredients on the food’s label is monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive that’s been known to increase appetite, and make foods taste more appetizing, according to a study in Physiology and Behavior. And if you thought that Dorito breath was just a coincidental side effect of munching on the snack, think again. The powerful savory taste lingering in your mouth is an example of a tactic called “long hang-time flavor” that’s used to lure snackers into going back for more. With all of these factors working against you, it’s really no wonder you’re defenseless when Doritos come around.
Eat This! Instead: Beanitos Nacho Cheese White Bean Chips. A serving of these bean-based chips have a whopping 6 grams of belly-filling fiber, so you’ll definitely be able to put the bag down once you’ve eaten your fill. Plus, they’re free of MSG, which should let your natural willpower kick in.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Monosodium glutamate, Yellow #6
It’s not your imagination: This orange, puffy snack melts the second it hits your tongue —a phenomenon food scientists like Steven Witherly have dubbed “vanishing caloric density.” And it’s definitely not an accidental quality of your chips, either. Food developers know that when foods melt quickly, it tricks the brain into thinking you’re not eating as many calories. In turn, snackers wind up eating a much larger serving. The sound Cheetos make when you bite into them was also specially developed to get you hooked. The crunchy sound makes them taste more appetizing, likely because we associate the sound with freshness, according to a study in the Journal of Sensory Studies. What’s more, Cheetos are doused with MSG, which has been shown to increase appetite and make foods taste even more delicious. Plus, Cheetos are one of the 8 Most Addictive Foods in the World.
Eat This! Instead: Blue Diamond Natural Almond Nut-Thins in Cheddar Cheese. These rice and almond-based crackers offer a Cheeto-esque taste with three grams of hunger-busting protein per serving. Most importantly, they’re free of those tricky vanishing calories that cause us to overeat.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Palm oil, alkali processed cocoa, high fructose corn syrup
Oreos don’t come with a warning, but maybe they should! Not only are they filled with palm oil, a fat that promotes fat-causing inflammation, but Oreos have also been shown to be more addictive than both cocaine and morphine, according to an unpublished 2013 animal study by Connecticut College researchers. To come to this finding, researchers fed rats rice cakes, Oreos or gave them injections of cocaine or morphine and found that the cookies had the greatest effect on the pleasure center of the brain—which likely explains why it’s so hard to eat just one. No wonder why they’re one of our 30 Worst Supermarket Cookies in America.
Eat This! Instead: Nothin’ But Chocolate Coconut Almond Granola Cookies. These chewy bites don’t quite look or taste like Oreos, but they sure are a lot healthier—and far less addicting. Made from a delicious combination of almonds, oats, chocolate, coconut, cane sugar, spices and espresso powder instead of a mound of processed ingredients, this treat is kinder to your waistline than the traditional twist-and-lick combo.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
Typically dubbed a healthy, soothing meal, soup truly is one of the least suspicious diet saboteurs of them all; however, that’s not the case with canned brands. What makes it so addicting? Besides being appealing because of its low cost, many popular brands add excess amounts of salt—some brands like Nissin Cup Noodles, Chicken Flavor contain over 1,400 milligrams or more than half your recommended daily intake—which can actually cause us to overeat. A study published in the Journal of Nutrition discovered that salt actually confuses your biological processes that tell you when you’re full. When salt is added to food, it blunts our biological processes that automatically tell us when to stop eating. Besides disrupting satiety cues, when you constantly flood your system with sodium, you can overwork your kidneys. As a result, the sodium sits in your bloodstream where it attracts water, causing water retention and bloat, making you look five pounds heavier.
Eat This! Instead: Check out these 36 Best and Worst Canned Soups & Soup Products for more insight into what’s healthy and what’s not.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Palm oil, caramel color, Yellow 5, Yellow 6
Palm oil, caramel color, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 are just a few of the unsettling ingredients found in a typical bouillon cube, such as Knorr’s Chicken Bouillon Cubes. In regards to palm oil, a meta-analysis in the Journal of Nutrition found this specific fat significantly increases low-density lipoprotein (LDL), or bad cholesterol, compared with vegetable oils low in saturated fat. Followed by potentially-carcinogen-contaminated caramel color and artificial coloring agents that may have adverse effects on activity and attention in children, it’s in your best interest to beware of what bouillon brand you’re buying. To discover other items you should avoid adding to the pot on the stove, check out these 20 Worst Ingredients to Put In Your Soup.
Eat This! Instead: Consider using an organic broth or chicken stock. Separately, Better Than Bouillon Reduced Sodium Chicken Base
Unhealthy Ingredients: Soybean oil, sugar, mono and diglycerides
Can someone explain to us why a product that’s packed in a box marked “Baked Fresh Daily” contains at least two preservatives? Entenmann’s isn’t the only one with misleading labelling. Otis Spunkmeyer Muffins look healthy coming in at 210 calories per serving—and then you see there are two servings per muffin. Typically, store-bought muffins contain over 400 calories and a third of the day’s fat, and eating half now and “saving the rest for later” is near impossible—likely because foods rich in carbs, fat and sugar can be downright addicting. A University of Montreal study found that mice who had been fed diets with high levels of those very nutrients displayed withdrawal symptoms and were more sensitive to stressful situations after they were put on a healthier diet. Plus, many commercial muffins are also spiked with waist-widening soybean oil, and trans-fat containing mono- and diglycerides.
Eat This! Instead: Kashi Blueberry Waffles. Two of these low-sugar, high-fiber waffles serve up the sweet blueberry taste you crave for a mere 150 calories. Even if you topped them with a tablespoon of syrup, you’d still take in fewer calories and less fat and sugar than you would had you opted for the muffin. The winner here is obvious. Making breakfast at home? Try some of these 30 Best Breakfast Habits to Drop 5 Pounds.
Boxed Mac & Cheese
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sodium
If you have it in you to eat a mere 1-cup serving of Kraft’s Three Cheese Mac & Cheese, you’d consume at least 600 milligrams of sodium—and that’s not including your salted pasta water or salted butter you add to actually make these cheesy concoctions. As prepared, you hit a third of your day’s recommended intake of sodium per serving; and if you eat half the box, you could end up consuming half of your entire day’s allotted sodium. High sodium intake is associated with ailments such as hypertension and heart disease, according to the American Heart Association.
Eat This! Instead: We found a dozen great options in our thoroughly-researched report: 25 Best & Worst Boxed Mac and Cheese.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fats (partially hydrogenated soybean oil)
It certainly makes sense that if pie crust has trans fats, the ready-made pies would likely contain the same heart-harming ingredient. And Marie Callender’s Lattice Apple Pie is no exception. Though trans fat has been shown to contribute to heart disease more so than saturated fat (it’s in a number of these 15 Foods That Tax Your Heart), its artery-clogging effects extend beyond your heart. Reduced blood flow can impact everything from brain function to sexual function. While most health organizations recommend keeping trans fat consumption as low as possible, a loophole in the FDA’s labeling requirements allows processors to add as much as 0.49 gram per serving and still claim zero in their nutrition facts. Sneaky!
Eat This! Instead: We’d always go for a homemade pie when we get the chance, but if you’re under a time crunch, just ensure that the two words “partially hydrogenated” are missing from your frozen pie’s ingredient label.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sucralose
It might have zero calories, but that doesn’t mean it has zero effects on your health. A recent Canadian Medical Association Journal review of 37 studies analyzed the dietary habits of nearly 406,000 people. The researchers discovered that non-nutritive, artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, don’t actually support weight management and may be associated with weight gain and cardiometabolic risk if consumed regularly.
Eat This! Instead: Before sugar was widely available, people’s go-to sweetener was honey, and it still stacks up. Although honey is high in fructose, it also contains a lot of cancer-busting antioxidants. Additionally, local honey has been said to help alleviate allergy symptoms.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium phosphate, corn syrup, sodium, sodium nitrite
There are plenty of good reasons not to eat hot dogs—their high levels of sodium and carcinogen-producing nitrates are just two—but if you need another, here you go. The BBQ staple is also preserved with sodium phosphates: an ingredient that even McDonald’s scrapped from their menu. Studies published in the journals FASEB and Aging have connected high levels of serum phosphates (due to dietary consumption) to higher rates of heart disease, chronic kidney disease, weak bones, and accelerated aging.
Eat This! Instead: If you’re jonesing for a juicy dog, opt for an organic option like Applegate Farms’ Great Organic Uncured Beef Hot Dog.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
The #1 saltiest restaurant meal on the planet? It’s from P.F. Chang’s. But exactly what it is might surprise you: the Hot & Sour Soup bowl. One serving will fill you up with 9,590 milligrams. That’s over FOUR times what the FDA recommends you consume in an entire day.
Eat This! Instead: Steamed veggies and these other 8 Chinese Foods Approved by Diet Experts
Unhealthy Ingredients: Excess sodium
The deli meats you use to make your lunch may be putting your life at risk. How? Consider this: just 2 of those thinly-sliced pieces of meat can contain more sodium than a bag of pretzels, and upwards of 680 milligrams! (And who only uses 2 slices…?) A diet high in sodium puts many at risk for high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart disease, and with the average American consuming 3,400 milligrams of sodium each day, according to the American Heart Association, you should try to choose lower-sodium options whenever they are available.
Eat This! Instead: Unfortunately, all-natural, “uncured” meats still contain nitrates from natural additives like celery powder, so you won’t really be reducing any negative health risks by purchasing these. Rather, the American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) recommends focusing on reducing your intake of processed meats to 18 ounces (or six 3-ounce servings of meat) a week. Check out our low-sodium, Eat This!-approved meats in our exclusive report: 32 Best and Worst Packaged Deli Meats.
Instant Oatmeal Packets
Unhealthy Ingredients: Caramel color and partially hydrogenated oil
On top of waist-widening sugar, many flavored oatmeal mixes, such as Quaker’s Weight Control Maple & Brown Sugar, are often made using caramel color: an additive that may be contaminated with carcinogenic ingredient 4-Mel, which often goes unlabeled in foods, despite numerous warnings about its potential health risks. The National Toxicology Program showed that it increased the rate of malignant and benign tumors in rats at high doses. It doesn’t stop with caramel color. If you pick up the Peaches & Cream flavor from Quaker, you’ll also be consuming artery-clogging trans fats in the form of partially hydrogenated soybean oil. With other gross additives like corn syrup solids and artificial peach flavor, you’re better off making your own plain oatmeal and adding milk and peaches.
Eat This! Instead: To find our Eat This-approved picks, check out our exclusive guide: 25 Best and Worst Instant Oatmeals.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Artificial coloring, added sugar, saturated fats
You already knew all the artery-clogging fats and addicting sugars in candy weren’t doing you or your family any favors, but you likely didn’t realize that certain candies can make it more difficult for your little ones to concentrate. A few years ago, researchers discovered that the artificial colors, Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 (found in M&Ms), promote Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children, according to a study in the journal The Lancet. In fact, Norway and Sweden have already banned the use of these artificial colors, and in the rest of the EU, foods containing these additives must be labeled with the phrase: “May have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
Eat This! Instead: M&M fans should check out Unreal’s Milk Chocolate Gems. It’s a similar product, but free of all the scary chemicals.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fat (partially hydrogenated soybean oil)
Before you toss out every Lean Cuisine in your freezer, know this: not all frozen meals contain this heart-harming culprit. Specifically, Lean Cuisine’s Glazed Turkey Tenderloin meal is one of the last of the bunch whose ingredients include partially hydrogenated soybean oil, a form of trans fat. Although the package claims it contains less than 2 percent of the oil, trans fats add up if you’re eating this dinner on the reg, so it’s best to steer clear of them entirely.
Eat This! Instead: Check out our exclusive report: 33 Most Popular Lean Cuisine Meals—Ranked! for a better-for-you option!
Boxed Cake Mixes
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fats (partially hydrogenated oils), artificial flavors, and artificial colors
Nothing says “Happy Birthday!” like a slice of sugary, chemical-laden cake, right? Whipping up a cake from a box is much easier than gathering all the ingredients and baking it from scratch. But taking this shortcut could cost you in the health department. Many cake mixes from Duncan Hines, Betty Crocker, and Jiffy are loaded with belly-bloating sugar, questionable chemicals, and hidden trans fats—that’s nothing to celebrate.
Eat This! Instead: Celebrate an occasion and the fact that you’re not harming your health with excessive sugar and trans fats by picking up a box of our best, Eat This!-approved cake mixes.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Potassium bromate (bromated flour)
Banned in the United Kingdom and Canada, potassium bromate is still lurking in some U.S. foods such as pizza, wraps, rolls, bread crumbs, and bagel chips, according to a 2015 analysis by the non-profit Environmental Working Group (EWG). The issue? A 1982 study found the dough strengthener induced tumors in rats and led the EPA to conclude bromate is a “probable human carcinogen.” It’s also been linked to kidney failure and cell deterioration, according to a 2001 toxicological review of bromate by the EPA. While the FDA has encouraged bakers to voluntarily stop using it since 1991, the EWG found evidence of it lurking in 86 different products, including GOYA’s Disco Dough sheets for empanadas.
Eat This! Instead: This will take a little investigative work on your part, but take a moment to scan the ingredients list next time you’re at the market. Luckily, due to California Proposition 65, any product sold in California using bromated flour is required to bear a cancer warning, so it will be easy to pick out if you live in that state. If you pick up a package with potassium bromate or bromated flour on the label, put it down and pick up something else.
Unhealthy Ingredient: BPA (Bisphenol-A)
BPA (one of these Scary Toxins Hiding in Your Cookware and Storage Containers) is a hormone-mimicking chemical found in nearly all food packaging plastics, and it’s potentially bad news. According to a study in Clinical and Experimental Reproductive Medicine, chronic ingestion of this chemical can lead to a variety of hormonal changes, including early puberty in females, sperm, reduction, obesity, and increased rates of reproductive cancers. Active in just parts per billion, a study in Reproductive Toxicology* found that one of the things BPA is known for is causing men to grow breasts by disrupting their hormones.
Drink This Instead: Join the increasing amount of people who want to stay hydrated but also remain alive and with little to no change to the size of their breasts by pouring filtered water into a metal flask or non-BPA bottle. We’re fans of S’Well bottles since they come in so many cool and colorful patterns. A 17-ounce bottle will cost you $35 on Amazon.com—and it’s worth every penny.
Dried Fruit Snacks
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sulfites, added sugars or fruit juice infusions, vegetable oil
Sulfites, which are used to keep prepared foods fresh, are often used in dried fruit snacks. Asthmatics are at an elevated risk for a reaction to sulfites (though anaphylaxis and life-threatening reactions are rare), such as swelling of the throat, hives, and migraines according to a study in the Journal of the American College of Nutrition. You should also watch out for dried fruits that have added sugars—without water, dried fruits have a higher concentration of sugar than their hydrated counterparts, and really don’t need extra of the blood-sugar-spiking stuff. Additionally, many dried fruits are coated in inflammatory vegetable oils, adding unnecessary additional calories and fat to a relatively healthy snack.
Eat This! Instead: Get your dried fruits from a retailer like Whole Foods, which says that all of their dried fruits are 100 percent sulfate-free.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sodium citrate and phosphate
That brick of orange cheese sitting in the dairy case at your supermarket is more than just a flavorless lump of dairy-ish ingredients —it’s loaded with icky additives, too. While many companies are thankfully opting for natural colors to give their cheese that trademark bad spray-tan hue, they’re still loading those icky slices with ingredients that can seriously harm your health. Kraft Singles are packed with sodium citrate, which can cause muscle spasms and may be Unhealthy to individuals with kidney health issues. They’re also packed with sodium phosphate, an ingredient used to prevent crystallization of meat and dairy products, which has been linked to an increased risk of bone demineralization, osteoporosis, and kidney health issues.
Eat This! Instead: If you can’t fight your cheese cravings, opt for an organic cheese that’s made without preservatives or artificial colors. If you’re trying to be particularly gentle with your body, opt for an aged white cheddar or parmesan —they’re the cheeses with the lowest lactose levels, which make them the least likely to cause digestive distress to the estimated 75 percent of adults who can’t fully digest dairy.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, refined white flour
Unless it says 100% Whole Wheat, don’t be fooled into thinking your “wheat” bread is that much better for you than the white version. Most some loaves contain a small amount of actual whole grains mixed with unhealthy refined flour, according to Alissa Rumsey MS, RD. Take Bimbo Bakery’s “Whole Grain” Loaf as an example. It actually says “Made With Whole Grain” on the front, and by that they mean whole grain flour is listed as the third ingredient: behind regular old white flour and water. What’s even more surprising to us is that this two-slice serving actually has 2 more grams of sugar than Bimbo’s Soft Wheat Bread. That’s because manufacturers increase the amount of added sugar to breads made with whole grains because consumers still look for that sweet taste of white bread with the “healthy” feeling of eating whole grains.
Eat This! Instead: To ensure you’re picking a healthier carb, Rumsey says to look for a package that has “100% whole wheat flour” as the first ingredient. You can also choose from our top choices in our guide Eat This, Not That! for Store-Bought Breads.
Foods Coated with Artificial Chocolate
Unhealthy Ingredient: Polysorbate 60
Short for polyoxyethylene-(20)-sorbitan monostearate, this emulsifier is widely used in the food industry. Made of corn, palm oil, and petroleum, this gooey mix can’t spoil, and it often replaces dairy products in baked goods. It’s commonly contaminated with 1,4 dioxane, a chemical which has been shown to cause cancer in animals and could in humans as well, according to a study in Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.
Eat This! Instead: Foods coated with real chocolate. We like these 7 Best New Healthy Chocolates.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Polysorbate 80, yellow 5, sodium benzoate
Last we checked, cucumbers are naturally green, so we’re not quite sure why so many brands (Like Vlasic Dill Kosher Pickles) feel the need to add yellow dyes to their pickle jars. Vlasic also uses polysorbate 80, the same emulsifier used in diet ice creams that’s been linked to causing cancer in mice. Additionally, a number of pickle jars are also filled with sodium benzoate, which has been shown to damage mitochondria, the “power station” of cells.
Eat This! Instead: You don’t have to go too far out of your way to find pickles without this additive. For example: Woodstock Farms Organic Baby Kosher Dill Pickles, which doesn’t have either of the benzoate brothers on its ingredients list.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar alcohols, artificial sweeteners
If you don’t swallow it, can chewing gum count as a food? Kinda. Point is this: Although the bulk of gum is indigestible, there are some ingredients that are: the sugar alcohols and artificial sweeteners. Sugar alcohols are sugar substitutes have been shown to cause bloating and other gastrointestinal distress. Sorbitol, in particular, takes a relatively long time to digest, and any undigested sugar alcohol in your small intestine acts as the perfect environment for the fermentation of bacteria, thus, causing even more bloating and flatulence. As for artificial sweeteners found in gums like Orbit Cinnamon, you’re looking at ingesting additives that have been scientifically shown to trigger your sweet receptors and rev hunger—hence another reason why you’re always hungry.
Eat This! Instead: If you’ve got a chewing habit, try sunflower seeds. Not only are they tasty, but they are also an excellent source of vitamin E, the body’s primary fat-soluble antioxidant.
Chips Ahoy! Cookies
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fats (partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil), high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor, caramel color
Yes, it’s 2017 and Nabisco still uses artery-clogging, brain-draining trans fats in their Chips Ahoy! Chocolate chip cookies. And on top of that, if the 11 grams of sugar per serving wasn’t enough to deter you, they’re made with high fructose corn syrup, which can increase body weight, body fat, and triglyceride levels, according to a Princeton University study.
Eat This! Instead: So you can indulge in your cravings without the guilt, we rounded up the best chocolate chip cookies.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oil, sodium
Don’t let its reduced fat content fool you: low-fat peanut butter is in no way a health food. While peanuts on their own are a good source of protein and fiber, the other ingredients used in low-fat peanut butters will have you running for the hills. When the naturally-occurring fats are stripped from peanut butter, they’re often replaced with tons of sugar and excess salt to make up for what would otherwise be a bland and flavorless product.
Eat This! Instead: Skip all the waist-widening sugar and salt and enjoy some full-fat natural peanut butter instead. Spread the Love brand peanut butter is made without added salt, sugar, or oils, and has all the cholesterol-lowering MUFAs that you get from peanuts in their natural state. Peanut butter is also incredibly easy to make on your own: throw some peanuts and a little bit of oil or honey, as per your taste, into a blender and puree until smooth. For our best bets, check out our report: We Tested 10 Peanut Butters, And This Is The Best!.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Artificial flavors, disodium inosinate, and caramel color
When you grab a veggie burger, you should look for a solid substitution for the minimally-processed, beef-based patty. Unfortunately, countless vegetarian options are not the clean dream you think. MorningStar Farms Spicy Black Bean Burger is full of questionable ingredients like artificial flavors, disodium inosinate (which acts similarly to MSG in that it improves flavor and revs your appetite, so you eat more of this frankenpatty), and carcinogen-tainted caramel color.
Eat This! Instead: You’re far better off with a veggie burger like Amy’s Sonoma Burger, which is made entirely of organic vegetables, quinoa, and walnuts. You’ll find some more of our favorite in our special report 32 Best and Worst Veggie Burgers.
Instant Oatmeal Cups
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar
Oatmeal, a food so innocent, has been corrupted. But with what, you ask? A whole lot of sugar. And it’s even worse in the new way brands are packaging instant oatmeal: cups. Because the serving sizes are a bit bigger, manufacturers cram in even more of the stuff. In fact, even seemingly healthy brands like McCann’s Steel Cut Irish Oatmeal can pack in 21 grams of the sweet stuff into their Apple Cinnamon Cups. That’s over 40 percent of your recommended intake of added sugars for the entire day—and it’s not even noon!
Eat This! Instead: Start your morning off on the right foot by opting for some unflavored oats instead. Not only will this save you some serious calories, it lends the possibility of adding healthy, filling ingredients, like raw almonds and fruit, to your recipe instead. Liven up your morning meal by adding the 50 Best Overnight Oats Recipes to your repertoire.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and yellow #5
Beyoncé’s Lemonade? Great. Pretty much every other kind of lemonade? Mostly garbage. On top of the boatload of sugar that’s in most lemonade recipes, brands like Minute Maid give their bottled and canned lemonade drinks a vibrant hue by using yellow #5, which has been linked to hyperactivity and impaired renal function in animal test subjects.
Eat This! Instead: Opt for some infused water instead and you’ll save yourself a huge number of calories, a ton of sugar, and keep those kidneys working—we hear they’re pretty important, after all.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, artificial colors, carnauba wax
You know those scented candles that smell so delicious you almost want to take a bite? That’s pretty much what you’re consuming when you add some sprinkles to your ice cream. These sugary little ice cream accessories are little more than sugar, hydrogenated oils, artificial colors, and actual wax, just like your favorite candle.
Eat This! Instead: Give your favorite frozen treat a little bit more texture and flavor by adding some slivered almonds or cacao nibs; not only will they make your ice cream more pleasing to your palate, they’ll also add some healthy fiber and antioxidants to your snack.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup, polysorbate 60, sorbitan monostearate
Ever wondered why Cool Whip doesn’t bill itself as whipped cream? It turns out, this creamy topping is many things, and cream is only actually one of them. While it does contain a little bit of skim milk and light cream, this dessert topping is mainly water, vegetable oil and high fructose corn syrup, with a little polysorbate 60 thrown in for good measure. Scarier still is Cool Whip’s sorbitan monostearate, which researchers at the British Industrial Biological Research Association have linked to kidney disease and enlargement in mice.
Eat This! Instead: The topping on your treats doesn’t have to be toxic. While old-fashioned whipped cream isn’t exactly waist-friendly, you can make your very own version that’s just as tasty by whipping some coconut milk instead. It has the same creaminess you’d get from traditional whipped cream, but with no added fat or sugar, and a much more digestible recipe.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sulfur dioxide, calcium chloride, sodium benzoate, potassium sorbate, high fructose corn syrup, red #40
Mix up some preservatives, corn syrup, and dyes and you’ve got… a sundae topping? Maraschino cherries, known for their vibrant hue and perplexing flavor, are an engineered food that have no place in a healthy diet. When you consider that they can last up to three years in their high fructose corn syrup bath before they even get near their expiration date, you’ll definitely want to put them back on the shelf.
Eat This! Instead: Instead of pulling a syrupy, radioactive-looking cherry out of a jar, try getting it the old-fashioned way: from nature. Cherries are plenty sweet on their own, and even without the benefit of potentially-toxic dyes, they’ve already got a very pretty color to them. Cherries are also a good source of resveratrol, which can help fight excess belly fat and may even help fend off dementia.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, carrageenan
All those smiling models in yogurt commercials obviously haven’t checked out the ingredients list on their purportedly healthy snack. Most fruit-flavored yogurts on the market contain precious little actual fruit, sweetening their recipes with sugar instead. And those brilliant hues you thought were the result of fresh fruit in the recipe? They’re usually just from fruit juice concentrate. Another additive you have to watch is carrageenan: a plant-based emulsifier which studies have found to cause inflammation in those with gastrointestinal issues.
Eat This! Instead: Yogurt doesn’t have to be completely off the menu just because you’re trying to eat healthier. Plain, unsweetened yogurt is full of live cultures that can benefit your gut bacteria, boosting your immune system and potentially lowering your risk of everything from diabetes to depression. If you’re worried about the belly bloat that dairy can cause, coconut milk yogurt with live cultures tastes like the real stuff and has all the same benefits for your belly bacteria.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar
When reaching for a bottled coffee beverage, you’re probably more concerned with how under-caffeinated you’re feeling and less about what could be lurking under that label. Unfortunately, some of these sickly-sweet drinks are loaded with more added sugars than you should consume in an entire day, as recommended by the FDA. For example, one 14-ounce bottle of Gold Peak Almond Toffee Coffee Drink contains a staggering 270 calories and 53 grams of sugar. (Another shocker? The whole bottle only dishes out 77 milligrams of caffeine, which is significantly less than the 166 milligrams you’d get for an equal serving size of black coffee.) Other popular drinks, such as Starbucks Coffee-flavored Frappuccino, are nearly as bad, doling out 32 grams of sugar per 9.5-fluid-ounce bottle.
Drink This! Instead: Keep the convenience and toss out all the added sugar by opting for cold brew instead. This refreshing pick-me-up skips those high-calorie ingredients and gets you more of what you really want: sweet, sweet caffeine. Fortunately, ready-to-drink cold brew is becoming more widely available, with companies like Chameleon, Blue Bottle, Stumptown, and High Brew offering their flavorful, antioxidant-rich coffees in convenient to-go bottles and cans. Not in the mood for a black coffee? The 20 Easy Ways to Stay Slim at Any Coffee Shop can help you order smart.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sucralose, acesulfame potassium, propylene glycol, yellow 5, yellow 6
Looking to add a little zing to your drink? Don’t reach for these manufactured enhancers. Brands like Mio are made up almost entirely of artificial ingredients. The third ingredient in many of these little bottles (behind water and citric acid) is propylene glycol: a preservative, thickening agent, and stabilizer that is also used as antifreeze to de-ice airplanes, as a plasticizer to make polyester resins, and found in electronic cigarettes. Almost more alarmingly is Mio’s use of artificial, non-nutritive sweeteners sucralose and acesulfame potassium, which a recent study published in Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics linked to weight gain and metabolic disorders.
Drink This Instead: Throw a couple of fruit slices into your water for that extra zing you’re looking for.
Frozen Fish & Fish Products
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP)
Something fishy is going down in the frozen-food aisle. To help lower-quality fish retain moisture and to lessen the amount of water expelled during thawing, manufacturers soak fish in a bath of sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP)—as they do in Mrs. Paul’s Beer Battered Fillets. STPP is a suspected neurotoxin and registered pesticide that the FDA considers “generally recognized as safe” to eat. It might be GRAS, but manufacturers don’t need to use this potentially dangerous additive. According to a report by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), “polyphosphates are not an essential ingredient of [frozen fish products].”
Other negative side effects of adding STPP to fish include significantly increasing the levels of sodium in your food—which can counteract the countless positive heart-health benefits of consuming fish in the first place—as well as increasing your intake of dietary phosphates, which are connected to increased risk of death from cardiovascular disease in patients with chronic kidney disease or prior heart problems, according to research in Archives of Internal Medicine.
Eat This! Instead: Europe, Canada, and other countries have limits on the total level of STPP allowed in seafood (0.1 to 0.5 percent), but the US has no such regulations. Companies aren’t required to label this additive, but some packaged products do. When in doubt, stay dry. Seafood labeled as “dry” have not been treated with STPP; seafood marked as “wet” has been soaked in it.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, corn syrup, sorbitol, soybean oil, BHT
Granola has long been associated with healthy living, although considering all the garbage that’s put in granola bars, the link isn’t exactly clear. The combination of sugar, corn syrup, and sorbitol, a weight gain-inducing trifecta found in Quaker Chewy Chocolate chip granola bars should be enough to have most health-conscious consumers steering clear, but the fattening soybean oil and widely-banned potential carcinogen BHT are just the icky cherries on top of this unhealthy recipe.
Eat This! Instead: Indulge your sweet tooth without sabotaging your health by opting for a Nut Delight Kind Bar instead. Loaded with mixed nuts, honey, rice, and flaxseed, this omega-3-rich concoction only tastes decadent. Find out which other Kind snacks should earn a spot on your menu by checking out Every Kind Bar—Ranked!
Meal Replacement Shakes
Unhealthy Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, caramel color, carrageenan, artificial flavors
Replacing your meal with a pre-packaged shake means you’re replacing all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals you’d normally eat with a whole lot of scary ingredients instead. From blood sugar-spiking high fructose corn syrup and maltodextrin to tumor-promoting artificial colors, these icky shakes are better off in the garbage than on your table.
Drink This! Instead: Instead of those chalky, medicinal shakes that are high in sugar and low in any redeeming nutritional values, check out our guide to these grab-and-go options: 26 Best and Worst Grab and Go Protein Shakes.
‘Light’ Butter Substitutes
Unhealthy Ingredients: Soybean oil, palm oil, mono & diglycerides,
Mama’s baby may like shortening bread, but that’s because the infant’s knowledge of what inflammatory oils do to her body is patchy at best. Oils high in omega-6 fatty acids, like soybean oil, contribute to chronic inflammation: a state that causes medical problems that range from weight gain to depression. Palm oil is high in saturated fats that increase levels of bad cholesterol. Separately, when you pick up one of the “light” versions of these butter spreads, you’re also ingesting mono and diglycerides, which Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN tells us are considered to be a class of trans fats that have escaped FDA classification as trans fat. “Avoid them anytime you’re able to!” Smith advises.
Eat This! Instead: Choose healthier monounsaturated fats, such as olive oil, and increase your intake foods that contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, like chia seeds, flax seeds, and fish.
Unhealthy Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup, soybean oil
Did you know that just 2 tablespoons of salad dressings—like Ken’s Steak House Fat Free Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette—contain just as much sugar as a Krispy Kreme Glazed Donut? (P.S. That’s 12 grams; the donut only has 10 grams.) Lisa Moskovitz, R.D., founder of The NY Nutrition Group, says, “High fructose corn syrup has been shown to increase appetite and lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes.” While some dressings go overboard with sugar, other dressings—like Marie’s Creamy Italian Garlic—load on the fat. This creamy dressing will serve up nearly 30 percent of your day’s recommended intake of fat in just two tablespoons. Even worse is that’s mostly from inflammatory soybean oil, that studies show can actually increase appetite.
Eat This! Instead: Olive oil, balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, honey, mustard. These are just some of the whole ingredients you can use to concoct in your kitchen that will be far less likely to do you harm. Choose these Ingredients for Salad Dressing That Will Help Keep You Slim!
Unhealthy Ingredients: High fructose corn syrup
Just because it’s not full of alcohol doesn’t mean that fruit cocktail is any healthier than an oversized margarita. In fact, with the high fructose corn syrup in these fiber-less fruits, it may be worse. Plus, the BPA used to package many kinds of fruit cocktail has been linked to endocrine issues and obesity, too, making this supposedly healthy snack a poor choice for anyone.
Eat This! Instead: Just eat fruit. It’s healthier, it’s not loaded with added sugar, and it hasn’t been sitting in a plastic cup on your supermarket’s shelf for a decade (we hope).
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, artificial sweeteners, caramel color, polysorbate 60
They say getting a great body is 80 percent nutrition and 20 percent exercise. Unfortunately, most protein bars are 100 percent garbage. The combination of sugar, carcinogenic colors, and polysorbate 60, an emulsifier that can create potentially-toxic compounds when combined with other ingredients, makes most protein bars less snack and more health hazard. If you think you’re getting a better deal by opting for sugar-free recipes, think again; the artificial sweeteners used in sugar-free protein bars have been linked to weight gain and cardiometabolic risk, according to a recent study in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. cravings for real sugar and increased waist circumference.
Eat This! Instead: Loading up on protein doesn’t have to mean loading up on sugar and preservatives, too. A handful of raw almonds, a piece of cheese, or a hard-boiled egg can all help improve your post-workout recovery without weighing you down.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Diglycerides, corn syrup solids
Uncle Ben may not be such a good guy after all. Uncle Ben’s Cheddar Broccoli rice is loaded with diglycerides: a food emulsifier that’s often made up of trans fats. Odder yet is the inclusion of corn syrup solids, a fattening sweetener that’s most commonly found in desserts, but manages to make it into this recipe just to spoil the fun.
Eat This! Instead: Instead of eating those preservative-laden pre-seasoned rice mixes, you can easily save both your money and your health by making a batch of easy-to-prepare brown rice. Brown rice is not only filling, but a good source of resistant starch, which researchers at South Dakota State University have linked to improvements in gut bacteria, potentially lowering consumers’ risk of diabetes and obesity along the way. If you’re not a fan of unseasoned rice, try adding some healthy toppings, like a little heart-healthy olive oil, metabolism-boosting chili pepper, or antioxidant-rich spices, like sage, basil, and oregano.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Artificial sweeteners
Although it could help regulate your blood sugar, Polaner’s jam shouldn’t be your go-to source for fiber. It’s sweetened with the artificial sweetener sucralose, which a 2016 study published in the journal Cell Metabolism found may be recalibrating the connection between sweetness and calories in your brain. Researchers discovered that mice consumed 30 percent more calories when they switched from eating sucralose-sweetened food to sugar-sweetened food. The sweetener has also been connected to decreased sleep quality and poor gut health—a recipe for weight gain.
Eat This! Instead: Your safest bet is to top your peanut butter sandwiches with fresh pieces of fruit like banana and strawberries. You’ll get a similar taste with none of the artificial sweeteners. Not willing to ditch your spread? Try Polaner All Fruit Spreadable Fruit Apricot. The spread is free of added sugars. Looking to take your peanut butter and fruit sandwiches to the next level? Try using one of our go-to healthy nut butters.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil
They may be a staple of banana pudding, but Nilla Wafers are still harboring heart-harming trans fats and inflammatory soybean oil and HFCS.
Eat This! Instead: Check out any of our Eat This-approved cookies via our ranking: 36 Most Popular Cookies in America — Ranked!.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Artificial flavor, aspartame, acesulfame potassium
Pro tip: if your food shakes more than Shakira, odds are, it’s not the all-natural treat you’re hoping for. While Jell-O’s ubiquity as hospital food is enough to turn most people’s stomachs, its ingredients list makes it an even worse offender. Artificial sweeteners and flavors team up in this wiggly dessert to form an unholy duo that’s bad for both your health and weight loss efforts.
Eat This! Instead: With a little gelatin, some fruit, and a hint of honey, you can whip up your own batch of gelatin dessert that’s all-natural, preservative-free, and pretty tasty, too. If it’s just the fruit flavor you’re craving, smoothie pops can similarly satisfy your sweet tooth while adding tons of fiber and antioxidants to your snack.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Carrageenan, soybean oil, mono and diglycerides
Hot Pockets’ ability to be both the temperature of molten lava while simultaneously frozen defies everything we know about science, and yet, people are still eating them. If their perplexing temperature issues weren’t enough to turn you off, consider that the Ham and Cheese Hot Pocket contains the following ingredients: soybean oil, carrageenan, mono and diglycerides. Not enough to keep you away? Consider the fact that these also contain what’s appetizingly described as “fully cooked ham and water product,” and, for whatever perplexing reason includes cheese ingredients described as “ingredients not in regular cheddar cheese.”
Eat This! Instead: Get some unsweetened whole-grain bread, a few slices of preservative-free meat, and pop it on a panini press! Your un-scorched mouth will thank you. For the sake of your health, stick to the 46 Best Frozen Foods in America when a Hot Pocket craving hits.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Corn syrup, caramel color
High protein dieters who turn to beef jerky as a snack may be in for a not-so-pleasant surprise: their favorite bagged meat chunks are loaded with corn syrup, too. To make hunks of dried beef more palatable, many brands (like Slim Jim) add a pretty shocking amount of corn syrup, and some caramel color to make the stuff look less like the inside of a dead cow.
Eat This! Instead: Healthy high-protein snacks aren’t hard to find if you know where to look. A spoonful of natural peanut butter on some Mary’s Gone Crackers, which are vegan, organic, gluten-free, and made with whole grains, can keep you full without all the extras you don’t want.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sucralose, maltitol
According to the USDA’s new Dietary Guidelines, we should be eating no more than 50 grams of sugar a day for optimal health. So it’s completely understandable if you’re trying to reel in your sweet tooth a bit—just don’t use sugar-free sweets as a crutch. Instead of sugar, manufacturers (like Russell Stover) add in artificial sweeteners like Splenda and sugar alcohols like maltitol, which can have a laxative effect if eaten in excess.
Eat This! Instead: If you’re looking for a treat that will make your taste buds sing—and not send you running straight for the bathroom—skip this bar and check out the best dark chocolates for weight loss instead.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Sugar, soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, caramel color, TBHQ
When you have just a few minutes to wake up, get dressed, and head out the door, it’s no wonder that so many people turn to convenience foods to settle their growling stomachs in the morning. Unfortunately, for those who opt for Pop-Tarts, any time they’re saving is coming at a high cost to their health. Loaded with fattening ingredients like sugar, high fructose corn syrup, and soybean oil, Pop-Tarts aren’t a recipe for poor health. Even scarier are potentially carcinogenic caramel color and TBHQ, a preservative that has been linked to liver health issues, vision problems by the National Library of Medicine.
Eat This! Instead: If you want a convenient breakfast treat that’s got fewer of the chemicals you’d find in a traditional Pop-Tart, Annie’s Organic Toaster Pastries fit the bill. While they’re still not exactly health food, they use whole wheat and rice flours, natural colors, and a little bit of actual fruit in their recipes. Start every day on the right foot with the 56 Smoothies for Weight Loss!
Unhealthy Ingredients: Lard, hydrogenated lard
Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart! Well, until you add hydrogenated lard to them. High in saturated fats and potentially contaminated with artery-clogging trans fats, these refried beans from Old El Paso should stay off your grocery list. Replace them with the vegetarian version from Amy’s that is also more heart-friendly because it has 250 fewer milligrams of sodium.
Eat This! Instead: Check out Amy’s Vegetarian Organic Refried Beans, Light in Sodium for a better alternative. And while we’re on the subject of canned foods, why don’t you also try to steer clear of these 30 Worst Canned Foods On The Planet.
Fast Food Chicken Nuggets
Unhealthy Ingredients: Trans fat, diglycerides, Red #40, carrageenan
Chicken nuggets all start with chicken but also contain several synthetic ingredients from diglycerides to Red #40 to carrageenan. These chemicals help make overly-processed foods like chicken nuggets possible because that’s what keeps the (very few) organic materials in the nuggets from going bad (or looking weird) after days spent traveling on the road or months in the freezer. But even if you buy them at the grocery store, you might not be safe. Check out our exclusive report of The Most Popular Chicken Nuggets—Ranked!
Eat This! Instead: Organic chicken breasts cut into pieces, coated with egg and breadcrumbs, and baked in your oven. Voila! Homemade, healthy nuggets.
Disclaimer: The information in this report reflects what Eat This, Not That! researched and analyzed as of August 2017, which may no longer be current.