In general, there is no such thing as “good” or “bad” food; everything has its place in moderation. But there are some foods that are worse for your health than others and should be avoided whenever possible. For women who are trying to conceive, looking to balance their hormones, or wanting ward off chronic disease, there’s a whole other layer of health complications to consider.
Some of these foods are known hormone disruptors, while others could increase your chance of developing a chronic disease. And if you’re trying to get pregnant or are breastfeeding, there are some major no-nos on the list. Whether these foods mess with your fertility or put you at risk for weight gain and heart disease, these are some of the most unhealthy options that should never be on your plate. If you’re looking for what you should be eating, check out our 50 Best Foods for Women.
If You’re Trying to Conceive
Whether you're planning for a baby in five months or five years, make sure you stay away from these foods.
You know drinking during pregnancy is a no-no. But enjoying an adult beverage (or several) when you’re trying to get pregnant could also get in the way. Women who drink at least one alcoholic beverage per day are at a 50 percent greater risk of infertility compared to women who don’t drink, according to a study published in the journal Epidemiology. Swap your favorite cocktail for sparkling water with fresh fruit, at least until you’re done breastfeeding. And before you start integrating alcohol back into your diet, make sure you read up on these 20 Tips for Choosing Healthy Alcohol Drinks.
If a juicy steak or crispy bacon is part of your regular diet, it could have a negative impact on your ability to get pregnant. Researchers from the Harvard School of Public Health found that women who ate the most animal protein had a 39 percent greater chance of being infertile. They even made a case for giving up all animal meat when trying to conceive; the same researchers found that people who consumed high amounts of plant-based protein were less likely to encounter problems when trying to get pregnant. Make sure you still get your protein fill by checking out these 26 Best Vegetarian Sources of Protein.
Don’t just take our word for it; the FDA has listed swordfish as a fish to avoid, especially if you’re pregnant, trying to become pregnant, or breastfeeding. The issue is with the mercury levels, which can be up to 0.99 parts per million—that’s the second-highest mercury-intoxicated fish, after Tilefish. If you’re even thinking about getting pregnant, it’s not worth it. Ingesting mercury while pregnant could impair your baby’s growing brain and nervous system. Opt for safer fish such as catfish, flounder, salmon, and tilapia, and enjoy it 2-3 times a week.
We’re big fans of yogurt at Eat This, Not That!, but we prefer Greek yogurt with a little bit of fat. And if it’s plain, even better. Non-fat yogurt, especially flavored yogurts, can be sugar bombs which spike your blood sugar and insulin levels. It can also impact your ability to get pregnant. A study published in the journal Human Reproduction found that women who ate high amounts of low-fat dairy were at a whopping 85 percent higher risk of ovulatory infertility compared to women who ate little to no low-fat dairy. You’re better off picking up full-fat plain Greek yogurt and adding your own toppings, such as fresh fruit or nuts.
If You’re Trying to Lose Weight
Between balancing hormones and dealing with female-specific metabolic disorders, losing weight for women is especially tough. Here are the foods to avoid for weight loss.
You may think white bread is a better choice than, say, a donut, but they’re both refined carbohydrates, and your body processes refined carbohydrates as sugar. Refined carbs have been stripped of almost all of their fiber, which means they cause your blood sugar to spike and your insulin levels to rise. This is especially problematic for one of the 5 million women who have polycystic ovary syndrome, or PCOS.
Women with PCOS are likely to have an insulin resistance, which means their body doesn’t respond when insulin is produced to metabolize glucose, like the glucose that’s delivered from refined carbs. This leads to high blood sugar and weight gain, especially in the oh-so-flattering area of your belly. Another double-whammy for women is that the spike in blood sugar could inhibit ovulation, according to the Harvard School of Public Health. Women with PCOS and insulin resistance should limit all refined carb intake, but if you must reach for bread, make it the 100% whole grain variety (we offer some options in our bread ranking) and pair with a protein. The fiber combined with the protein will help stabilize blood sugar and insulin levels.
Think diet soda is a great way to cut calories and boost weight loss? Think again. Sure, it’s calorie and sugar-free, but it’s chock-full of chemicals and scary additives. And it’s just as bad for your belly as regular soda; a study published in the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society found that people who drank diet soda regularly had nearly three times the amount of belly fat over a 9-year period compared to those who didn’t drink diet soda. Ditch the soda altogether and sip on sparkling water with fresh fruit. Better yet, brew up one of our 22 Best Teas for Weight Loss.
People assume all-natural fruit juice must be healthy since it’s made from fruit. And sure, fresh-squeezed orange or grapefruit juice comes packed with important vitamins and minerals like vitamin C, but it’s also loaded with sugar. Since heart disease is the number one killer of women — one in four women die from related complications each year — these kinds of sugar bombs should be avoided. “I am on a crusade against sugar,” says Adam Splaver, MD, clinical cardiologist and co-founder of NanoHealthAssociates. “Anything that has glucose, fructose or any sort of sugar is bad for your heart as it increases inflammation and inflammation begets cardiovascular disease.”
Liquid sugar is even worse for your body, Dr. Splaver says. It will spike your blood sugar faster and promotes an insulin increase, which will make you pack on the pounds. Opt for eating the fruit itself, which contains important fiber that will help you regulate your blood sugar.
For Better Heart Health
Heart disease is the number one killer of women. Make sure you keep your heart health in check by avoiding these foods that tax your heart.
Since heart disease is the number one killer of women (289,758 women died in 2013 alone), women need to pay extra attention to their heart health. Not only is sugar a major culprit for heart disease, but so are trans fats. Trans fats have been shown to raise cholesterol levels and diminish memory in adults under 45 years old—scary stuff! Although the FDA has banned trans fats in processed food and set up a 2018 deadline for food manufacturers to remove them from their products, they are still lurking in many packaged foods.
Once big offender are Pillsbury Grands! Buttermilk Biscuits. Although the nutrition label lists “0 grams” of trans fats, it’s made with hydrogenated soybean oil, which means there are trace amounts of this dangerous fat in the biscuits. That’s not to say you can never have a biscuit again, but try making your own from scratch for the occasional treat. Otherwise, stick to better-for-you bread products, such as Alexia’s Whole Grain Hearty Rolls to keep your arteries clean and healthy.
Another sneaky source of trans fats is non-dairy coffee creamer, which are often times made with trans-fatty hydrogenated oils. The ingredients in Coffeemate Original flavor, for example, include: corn syrup solids, partially hydrogenated soybean and/or partially hydrogenated cottonseed. Even trace amounts of these processed trans fats could be bad for your heart. You’re better off sticking to a splash of whole milk instead. Looking for something non-dairy? Try a creamer made with almond milk and coconut milk, like Nutpods dairy-free creamers. They’re made without sweeteners or artificial flavors and will add a creamy boost of flavor to your coffee
Like coffee creamer, butter alternatives such as margarine are often made with partially-hydrogenated oils, one of the most common sources of trans fats. This type of fat is not only linked to heart disease, but it can also accelerate the aging of your skin! Trans fats make the skin more vulnerable to ultraviolet radiation, which can invite premature skin aging and deep wrinkles — no thanks! Skip this high-cholesterol food and stick with heart-healthy olive oil or small amounts of grass-fed butter instead, suggests registered dietitian Isabel Smith.
For Better Overall Health
From osteoporosis to fertility, these dietary staples can have a negative impact on women’s health specifically. Make sure you stay away from these bad-for-you foods.
Extra Large Coffees
Courtesy of Facebook, @DunkinDonutsUS
Coffee, in general, is healthy; studies have shown it can help you live longer, reduce anxiety, and is good for your heart, plus a whole host of other health benefits. But it is possible to have too much of a good thing. “An adult can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day, which is equivalent to four 8-ounce cups of coffee, but drinking any more than that can cause calcium excretion, which, over time, may lead to osteoporosis,” Dr. Mamta M. Mamik, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says. Women are at a higher risk of developing osteoporosis; of the 10 million Americans who have osteoporosis, 80 percent are women. Enjoy your coffee, but try to stick to one or two cups.
Milk is often fortified with vitamin D, an essential vitamin most Americans are lacking in. Vitamin D can help boost weight loss, fight depression, and prevent your bones from developing osteoporosis. But D is a fat-soluble vitamin, meaning it needs some fat to be absorbed. Since skim milk has had all the fat removed, you’re better off drinking 2% or whole milk to reap the bone-protecting benefits from the vitamin D. Skim milk has also been linked to infertility, so if you’re trying to get pregnant you’re better off picking a milk that has a little (or all the) fat.
Canned veggies make whipping up dinner a cinch, but it could also be at the cost of your health. Many cans are laced with bisphenol A, or BPA, an industrial chemical used in various food and beverage containers. A study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that BPA can affect cell function in the brain and impact central nervous system development.
It can also be particularly harmful to women; researchers from the University of Illinois found that BPA interferes with the production of estradiol, the sex hormone essential for reproductive development. Another study found that mice exposed to BPA stopped producing viable eggs even at a young age. And it’s not just canned goods; BPA is lurking in all kinds of plastic, too. Be sure to double check your labels and only buy cans and plastics that are specifically labeled BPA-free. Without doing so, you'll be consuming some of the 50 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet