100 Unhealthiest Foods On the Planet
There’s nothing wrong with turning to your favorite foods time and time again—there’s a reason you enjoy eating them, after all. But how well do you know exactly what’s in your food? That creamer you add to your coffee each morning, the canned chicken noodle soup that reminds you of what you ate as a kid, the nicely portioned frozen meals you pop in the microwave when you don’t have time to make lunch all seem harmless enough, but that’s not the case. Due to food manufacturers and deceptive marketers, even your “healthy” meals are filled with unhealthy fats, artificial ingredients, and unnecessary preservatives that are hazardous to your health.
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 100 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 while you’re at it, you’re going to want to purge your fridge of the unhealthiest drinks on the planet, too.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Soybean and canola oil
The problem with coffee creamer? There’s no cream! The first three ingredients listed on Nestle’s Coffee-Mate’s popular creamers, for example, are water, sugar, and soybean and/or canola oil. Is that what you want to add to your morning cup of joe? Coffee creamers can also have synthetic additives like mono and diglycerides.
Drink This! Instead: Plain ol’ cow’s milk always makes for a healthy addition to your morning cup, but if you’re still looking for a hint of flavor, try out a plant-based creamer to jazz up your cup of Joe. Califa Farms has tons of varieties, and these creamers have fewer calories and sugar than the typical Coffee-Mate Creamers.
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 CSPI agrees you should avoid it, citing evidence that the chemicals azodicarbonamide break down into after baking are recognized carcinogens.
Eat This! Instead: There are plenty of whole-grain and whole-wheat flours and breads that don’t include bleaching chemicals. Not only that, but they are 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 whipping four 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: Just add fresh sliced fruit like oranges and grapefruit to plain ol’ H2O and chill.
RELATED: The easy guide to cutting back on sugar is finally here.
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 was initially developed to aid weight loss, but that has recently been found to have the opposite effect, raising glucose levels, overloading the liver, and causing the excess to convert into fat, according to a study in Applied Physiology, Nutrition, and Metabolism.
Eat This! Instead: There’s nothing wrong with a nice glass of water but if you’re sick of plain 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 in a frying pan, right?)
Eat This! Instead: Luckily, manufacturers 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 and Fruity Pebbles 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. You’ll also want to check out the 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, preservatives
Freezing 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. 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 1,110 calories, 73 grams of fat, 640 milligrams of sodium, 103 grams of carbs, and 64 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 the Zero Sugar Diet!
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: Titanium dioxide, caramel color, artificial colors, propylene glycol
Birthdays are a time to celebrate. Something you shouldn’t celebrate? Your frosting being made with chemicals. Many brand-name frostings, such as Duncan Hines’ Creamy Home-Style Classic Vanilla, are made with 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 many 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. Because 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 a homemade Zero Belly Smoothie at home!
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 have linked HCAs with an increased risk of colorectal, pancreatic, breast, and prostate cancers.
Eat This! Instead: To chop your risk, spice it up! Adding antioxidant-rich spice extracts, 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 7-Day Flat-Belly Tea Cleanse!
Ready-To-Bake Pie Crust
Unhealthy Ingredients: BHA and BHT
Using a premade pie crust might save you some time when you’re baking, but what’s on store shelves is anything but healthy for you. Popular brands like Pillsbury’s Refrigerated Pie Crust contains BHA and BHT, two preservatives you want to avoid.
Eat This! Instead: Make sure your ingredient list is free from these preservatives. One crust we approve of is 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: Sodium, sugar
Making biscuits from scratch can take forever, but the majority of the packaged varieties of bagels and muffins are chock-full of sodium and sugar, a double whammy that is bad for your waistline and your overall health.
Eat This! Instead: Thomas’ “nooks and crannies” are low in sugar, but still have a rather high sodium count, so having just one half at a time you can spruce up with butter and mashed blackberries isn’t too bad of a compromise.
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. Georgia State University researchers previously linked the emulsifier with low-grade inflammation in the intestine. Not a good sign. You’ll find this additive in Turkey Hill Light Recipe, Vanilla Bean.
Eat This! Instead: To find our approved, low-cal ice creams, don’t miss 37 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 52 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 artificial dyes.
Drink This Instead: A better (and safer) way to replenish the electrolytes and water lost after a tough workout: try drinking a more natural beverage, like HALO Sport.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar, sodium
Cream cheese is indulgent on its own, but it soars to new heights when it’s made into a decadent, creamy cake. Cheesecake is filled with high amounts of fat, sugar, and sodium, and it will set you back an astronomical amount of calories for one slice of a treat you usually eat after dinner. Just take a look at any cheesecake from The Cheesecake Factory: The Original Cheesecake option has 830 calories and 58 grams of fat, while almost every other option on the menu has more than 1,000 calories.
Eat This! Instead: We uncovered tons of cheesecake recipes you can try out at home that won’t kill your waistline, and if you’re looking for a creamier alternative, you can also get your sweet fix with a Greek yogurt parfait. Greek yogurt itself will give you a solid protein boost, and it has a thicker and creamier consistency, so if you add some fruit and ginger syrup, you’ll definitely satisfy that cheesecake craving.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar
This creamy dessert is on the decadent side, thanks to confectioners’ sugar, whipped cream, espresso, ladyfingers, egg yolks, and mascarpone, just to name a few of the ingredients that quickly make this dessert into a high-calorie, sugar-heavy dish. Just take The Cheesecake Factory’s version as an example, which comes in at more than 1,200 calories, 67 grams of sugar, and 340 mg of sodium. Yikes.
Eat This! Instead: While this is always a “sometimes” dessert, try making your own version at home. You’re not only in control of the portion size, but also what you’re putting in the cake, so you can make substitutions, such as using egg whites and lighter whipped cream cheese.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Palm oil
You know the creamy taste of margarine had to come from somewhere, and usually it’s from the addition of vegetable oils—and many blends can include palm oil, which has a high saturated fat content and can also cause inflammation.
Eat This! Instead: Instead of spreading your bread with margarine, why not swap in olive oil instead? Just make sure you’re using exact measurements so you’re not overdoing it, as one tablespoon has 120 calories.
RELATED: Your guide to the anti-inflammatory diet that heals your gut, slows the signs of aging, and helps you lose weight.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Oversized portions of beef
It was known as a low-cost dish in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s, making it a common convenient dinner option back then, but it has more or less lost some value as a family meal staple. If you feel nostalgic while out to eat and order this while you’re dining out, the dish will most likely be filled with fat and extra sodium (especially if it comes with a ketchup-based sauce). If you go to The Cheesecake Factory and order their Famous Factory Meatloaf, you’d consume more than a day’s worth of sodium in the lunch size alone—the dinner size is almost two day’s worth. Plus, you’ll probably be eating more meat than you need to in one sitting to boot. (The food is literally called meatloaf, after all…)
Eat This! Instead: Swap in ground turkey or chicken instead of beef for a leaner meat substitute, and try your hand at making this dish at home to keep sodium and fat in check.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium, fat
A taco bowl is one of the quickest ways to consume a lot of calories, fat, and sodium all at once. Between the fried tortilla, plus the filling of meat, rice, cheese, sour cream, sauces, and other toppings, things can get out of control quickly. This oversized option is a no-go.
Eat This! Instead: If you’re heading out to Chipotle for lunch and go for the burrito bowl, make sure you keep what you’re getting in your bowl light and opt not to get a tortilla on the side or any chips. Instead, why not make your own taco salad? Lettuce serves as your base, then add a protein, some beans, and salsa (skip the sour cream to keep things lean—the salsa will give you a juicy punch of flavor on its own). When you’re in full control of the ingredients, that’s always the best-case scenario.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium, food additives
Popping a frozen pizza in the oven might save you time than ordering one from your local pizza shop, but with high sodium counts and scary food additives, you might want to keep these slices in the freezer section. Red Baron’s Classic Crust 4 Cheese Pizza has ingredients such as L-Cysteine hydrochloride (a salt used to treat overdoses) and “ammonium sulfate” (a commonly-used lawn fertilizer), along with 720 milligrams of sodium per serving, while Tombstone’s Frozen Pepperoni Pizza contains BHT and BHA, so you’re not really safe no matter which popular brand you go with.
Eat This! Instead: It’s best to just make your own pizza! If you’re craving a Hawaiian-style pie or a breakfast-friendly variety, a homemade pie is never a bad idea, as you’re in complete control of the ingredients. Start with whole-wheat pizza dough, a low-sodium marinara sauce, a light sprinkle of cheese, and healthy toppings, and what you come up with.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Cream, butter
Alfredo sauce is made from cream, parmesan cheese, and lots of butter, which together, just wreak havoc on your waistline. In fact, cream is rarely used in authentic Italian pasta dishes, so if you visit Italy, there’s a good chance you won’t find this dish on restaurant menus. It is present on the Olive Garden menu, however, and it comes in at 1,010 calories, proving this is another all-American-version of a classic dish you’re better off without.
Eat This! Instead: If you’re craving pasta, instead go with a classic spaghetti aglio e olio recipe, as this dish has very few ingredients: garlic, oil, salt, and pasta.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium, simple carbs
Belgian waffles tend to be bigger and thicker with deeper grids meant to hold even more syrup, butter, and cream, so that right there is reason enough to avoid choosing this as a breakfast option when you find yourself out to eat at a diner. Plus, they often get loaded with sugar and sweet batters, so they can go from bad to worse. They’re also loaded with simple carbs, which makes them too easy to digest and not very promising when it comes to keeping you full and focused.
Eat This! Instead: Go with a traditional waffle you can whip up at home and make sure to top with fruit and pure maple syrup, like Trader Joe’s Vanilla Bean Infused Maple Syrup.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar, saturated fat
The onion ring is a great example of how everything that’s good about a vegetable can be expunged, thanks to being deep fried. Some say they’re even worse than French fries because onion rings have more calories, more saturated fat, more sugar, and less potassium.
Eat This! Instead: A 3-ounce serving of fried calamari—an onion ring lookalike—contains about 150 calories, 15 grams of protein, 6 grams of fat, and 6 grams of carbohydrates, along with plenty of zinc and B vitamins. Even better is if you can do grilled calamari instead!
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium, sugar, preservatives
Mayo ranks among the worst of the empty-calorie condiments, and even non-fat varieties aren’t any better, considering the sugar and preservatives they contain. Plus, the fact that mayo is made with eggs but can happily sit, unrefrigerated, on a supermarket shelf for months without breaking down or separating is forever concerning.
Eat This! Instead: You can make a healthier version of mayo at home by blending Greek yogurt, lemon juice, mustard, pepper, and spices. You’ll save more than 200 calories and 20 grams of fat per quarter-cup serving. Plus, Greek yogurt is rich in protein and calcium, so it makes for a heartier, healthier spread.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
The basis of nachos consists of tortilla chips, which although not generally all that bad for you, don’t provide any sort of nutrients. Then you add on ground beef or pulled pork, sour cream, guacamole, and an unseemly amount of yellow cheese, and you’re in calorie and fat overload. And this bar-food staple is often a go-to appetizer at many restaurants. Just take Applebee’s for example, where their nachos come in at 2,000 calories and over 5,000 mg of sodium.
Eat This! Instead: If you’re going to indulge, make sure you do it at home where you can make your own steak or chicken and bean nachos for far fewer calories, fat, and sodium than any you would order at a restaurant.
Fish and Chips
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
Attack of the beige! Whenever your dinner is monochromatic (in this case, the off-brown hue of deep-fried), you know you’re in trouble. Don’t blame the fish though—the seafood is packed with lean, muscle-building protein and heart-healthy fats. But the trouble here lies with a massively unbalanced fish-to-fat ratio. A coating of crispy batter and a pile of deep-fried potatoes is just loaded in sodium and fat.
Eat This! Instead: When it comes to seafood, always abandon ship on fried fish and opt for grilled instead.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
Although there is protein in mozzarella sticks, this popular appetizer choice happens to be fried, and fried foods in particular up the calories, sodium, and saturated fat of everything they encounter. Just look at the mozz sticks from Applebee’s: they come in at 910 calories and more than 2,500 mg of sodium. Even if you’re sharing these, this is not a snack you should be indulging in.
Eat This! Instead: Skip the whole breaded and fried aspect and just munch on pure cheese sticks, which you can pair with some grapes or almonds for a filling snack.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar, sodium
If you make the right choices when eating French toast, it isn’t necessarily all that bad, but ordering this breakfast dish out at a restaurant changes everything, as it just adds more fat, sugar, and salt to a meal already high in fat, sugar, and salt as it is. Cheesecake Factory’s bruléed French toast has nearly 3,000 calories, which is more than a day’s worth of calories in your first meal of the day.
Eat This! Instead: To quell your sweet tooth craving at breakfast, make a smoothie alongside a breakfast sandwich with a side order of eggs. Or try your hand at your own French toast that has plenty of fruit, protein, and fiber.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Vegetable oils, margarine
We know, we know—biting into a buttery, flaky croissant is unlike anything else. But if you eat too many of them, pretty soon, your belly could transcend your belt buckle. A butter croissant from Dunkin’ Donuts has 19 grams of fat (24 percent of your daily value), 340 calories, and 8 grams of saturated fat (40 percent of your daily value)—and you’re likely eating all that before you even make it to work in the morning. And that’s just for plain. If chocolate croissants are your go-to, you’re looking at consuming upwards of 16 grams of saturated fat per pastry from Au Bon Pain, or 80 percent of your daily value’s worth.
EatThis! Instead: Grab some oatmeal instead to start out your day. Oats have plenty of fiber, and if you add in some fruit, you’re getting a well-balanced breakfast.
Unhealthy Ingredient: It’s found in so many processed and packaged foods, but soybean oil may be just as bad for you as sugar. There are studies that claim the oil can be linked to obesity and harm liver function.
Eat This! Instead: When in doubt, it’s best to avoid foods that contain soybean oil, which we know, is very hard to do as it seems to be in everything. When you’re cooking though, there are tons of other oils you can turn to, such as avocado oil and even ghee—a form of clarified butter—which both have high smoke points.
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 Campbell’s Homestyle Chicken Noodle contain nearly 1,000 milligrams or more than half your recommended daily intake—which can actually cause us to overeat, according to a study published in the Journal of Nutrition. 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 labeling. 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. Plus, many commercial muffins are also spiked with waist-widening soybean oil and additives like 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: Hydrogenated soybean oil
That pesky ingredient is very much present in frozen pies, especially in Marie Callender’s line of apple pies. While there is zero trans fat listed on the frozen desserts’ nutrition labels, the presence of soybean oil and hydrogenated soybean oil is still concerning, as this type of oil has been linked to weight gain.
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 Ingredients: 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: Hydrogenated soybean oil, sodium, sugar
If you pick up the Peaches & Cream flavor from Quaker, you’ll be consuming artery-clogging fats in the form of 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.
Boxed Cake Mixes
Unhealthy Ingredients: 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, and questionable chemicals—that’s nothing to celebrate.
Eat This! Instead: Celebrate an occasion and the fact that you’re not harming your health with excessive sugar 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.
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 don’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 popular gums, 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.
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, but it also 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, 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: 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 and 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, RD, 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 still contains small amounts 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: Sucralose, maltitol
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: Lard, hydrogenated lard
Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart! Well, until you add hydrogenated lard to them. High in saturated fat, these refried beans should stay off your grocery list. Replace them with a low-sodium, vegetarian version.
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: 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.
The Unhealthiest Packaged Foods Worth Avoiding
Now that you just read what are generally the unhealthiest foods you should avoid, we just had to call out some of the specific, unhealthiest packaged products you can buy at your local grocery store.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium phosphate and canola oil
Long story short: it’s not real cheese. The sauce is referred to as “liquid gold” and with a super long list of ingredients that includes canola oil—which provides inflammatory omega-6s—and sodium phosphate, it’s best to avoid any variation of this stuff. And can you really trust any cheese product that can sit in your pantry for months and still be edible?
Eat This! Instead: There are plenty of actual cheeses you can turn to for any of your cheesy desires, whether it’s to add to a pasta dish or just to munch on as a midday snack. We uncovered the 20 Best and Worst Cheeses in America for you.
Tostitos Salsa Con Queso
Unhealthy Ingredient: Yellow #5 and #6
While there are some (very) small traces of real cheese in this dip, there are too many scary additives like canola oil, sodium phosphate, and Yellow #5 and #6 to make this game-day staple something you should keep eating.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Canola oil, sodium phosphate, corn syrup, caramel color
This processed cheese has a long list of ingredients, including a lot of artificial flavors, colors, fillers, preservatives…and not much actual cheese. Plus, 2 tablespoons of this dip knocks you back 410 mg of sodium!
Eat This! Instead: Reach for a block of 100 percent real cheddar instead. You can never go wrong with the real stuff.
Nissin Cup Noodles
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium
The original Cup Noodles might bring on a case of nostalgia if it’s something you used to eat when you were a kid, but it’s best to keep this soup in the past. With one single serving dishing up more than 1,000 mg of sodium, just say no to this processed soup.
Eat This! Instead: While nothing beats homemade soup, if you’re pressed for time, try a canned version like Pacific Organic Reduced Sodium Chicken Noodle Soup that is not only much lower in sodium, but contains simple ingredients you actually want to see in your soup, such as cooked chicken, chicken broth, peas, carrots, and spices.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Hydrogenated soybean oil, sugar
Reaching for those milk chocolate Milanos might seem like a fancy treat, but don’t let the cookies fool you. Not only are there some questionable ingredients listed, but in just three cookies, you’re getting over a quarter of your daily recommended intake of added sugars if you’re sticking to 2,000 calories a day.
Eat This! Instead: Fat Snax cookies are not only low carb, but they also have no sugar. Plus, they’re keto-friendly! Each packet comes with two cookies and with the chocolate chip and double chocolate chip flavors, you’ll be able to satisfy your sweet tooth with a filling dessert option.
Totino’s Pizza Rolls
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sodium nitrite, BHA, BHT
Imitation mozzarella cheese listed so high up in the ingredients list says it all! But there are tons of scary additives and preservatives in here, too, like sodium nitrite, sodium phosphate, BHA, and BHT that are all just no-gos.
Eat This! Instead: You can break out the English Muffins for mini personal pies that make for a filling snack instead. No imitation cheese here!
Unhealthy Ingredient: High fructose corn syrup, hydrogenated palm oil, soybean oil, sucralose, artificial colors
These frozen breakfast pastries do not contain any nutrients you need to kickstart the day, and they’re filled with ingredients you should always stay away from, like high fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated palm oil, which is listed as “adds a trivial amount of trans fat.” Is that really what you want?
Eat This! Instead: If you’re going to eat something sweet for breakfast you should always look for something that will fill you up with fiber and protein. A good option is Van’s multigrain waffles, which are made with some of our best carbs for weight loss, including oats, barley, quinoa, amaranth, and millet.
Hershey’s Gold Bar
Unhealthy Ingredient: Sugar
This chocolate bar made the list of our unhealthiest foods in both 2017 and 2018, thanks to the fact that it blends fatty chocolate with salty pretzels, creating a saturated-fat-and-sugar knockout. With 20 grams of sugar, you better leave this bar in the candy aisle.
Eat This! Instead: Dark chocolate is always preferred over milk chocolate, especially it’s less processed and has antioxidants. You still have to keep portion control in mind, but munching on a Theo Organic Salted Almond 70% Dark Chocolate Bar is a much better option than the Hershey’s Gold Bar.
Unhealthy Ingredient: High fructose corn syrup
You would think something as simple as applesauce would just contain apples, as the fruit itself is already filled with natural sugars (one medium apple has 19 grams). But a small cup of Mott’s applesauce with cinnamon comes in at 24 grams of sugar and features high fructose corn syrup listed as the second ingredient. No thanks!
Eat This! Instead: Musselman’s Natural Unsweetened Applesauce comes in at only 50 calories and has no added sugars.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Soybean oil, high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil
They may be a staple of banana pudding, but Nilla Wafers are harboring inflammatory soybean oil and high fructose corn syrup.
Eat This! Instead: Check out any of our Eat This-approved cookies via our ranking: 36 Most Popular Cookies in America — Ranked!.
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: 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 and 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!
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, while known for their “cream” filling, don’t actually have any real cream in them. There aren’t any dairy products used in Oreo cookies, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing for those who eat a dairy-free diet, but it’s important to note the ingredients that are present are anything but good for you. 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.
Chips Ahoy! Cookies
Unhealthy Ingredients: Partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, high fructose corn syrup, artificial flavor, caramel color
Nabisco still uses artery-clogging, brain-draining 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.
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.
Matador Original Beef Jerky
Unhealthy Ingredients: MSG, sodium nitrate
This jerky has upwards of 700 milligrams of blood-pressure-raising sodium, which is more than four times what you’d find in the same serving of chips. It not only uses MSG and not much else to flavor it besides smoke flavoring and sugar, but it contains purified nitrites. Under conditions of high heat or stomach acid, sodium nitrite reacts with amines to form cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosamines. Luckily though, this reaction can be hindered by the addition of citric acid, which Matador includes in its recipe. Still, it’s best to say no to this jerk.
Eat This! Instead: Brooklyn Biltong keeps its ingredients list simple, has no artificial preservatives and is naturally sugar-free. This beef is not only more tender than the other jerky option, but overall much more healthy for you.
Unhealthy Ingredients: Hydrogenated vegetable oil, high fructose corn syrup,
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.
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 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.