We’ll admit it: Making your own meals is a well-intentioned effort that many people don’t get enough credit for doing. Whether you have a crazy-busy schedule or would rather just squeeze in a workout than slave in the kitchen, cooking isn’t always the most exciting part of your day. So if you want to cut corners in the kitchen, make sure you aren’t doing it with the wrong ingredients. Even the most well-intentioned cooks might be hurting their waistlines with artery-clogging foods.
Are you still using any of these bad ingredients in processed foods? Cross check our list below with your pantry so you reach for the right foods the next time you fire up the stove. And for more genius food swaps, smart nutrition, and weight loss tips, sign up for the Eat This, Not That! magazine here!
Soybean, corn, and cottonseed oil are highly processed and contain high amounts of essential omega-6 polyunsaturated fats. If eaten in moderation, omega-6 fatty acids can be good for your heart, but consuming too much of it can cause a negative imbalance with omega-3 fatty acids. Many Americans consume too many omega-6 and not enough omega-3s. To ensure you get both, swap in avocado or extra-virgin olive oil. These oils also infuse a delicate, subtle flavor into your dishes. Get a grip on all of your slickest options by bookmarking this guide on 14 Popular Cooking Oils and How to Use Them!
Cream of Something Soup
Cream of soup is not the cream of the crop when it comes to nutrition. One cup of this stuff has more than 700 mg of sodium. To put this into perspective, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that people should stick to no more than 2,400 mg of sodium a day. It also packs boatloads of vegetable oil and MSG. If you must use cream of soup for your casserole, consider these 25 Best Casserole Tips Everyone Should Know.
“Some margarine tubs contain artery-clogging saturated fats and are made with processed oils that may be pro-inflammatory,” says Isabel Smith, MS, RD, CDN, founder of Isabel Smith Nutrition. Inflammation can lead to obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. For a healthier alternative, switch to grass-fed butter or pick up a product like Earth Balance, which contains a mix of less processed oils—and then check out these 20 Anti-Inflammatory Foods for Weight Loss!
“Artificial food dyes, which many people use to color baked goods, are cause for concern and may have serious side effects—especially in children,” says Jay Cardiello, diet expert and personal trainer to the stars. “Red 40, for example, may contain cancer-causing contaminants, despite the fact that it’s approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). The dye may also be a potential trigger for hyperactivity in children. Instead, color your dishes with natural sources of color like beet juice, red cabbage or paprika.”
“Although they don’t contribute calories, artificial sweeteners are up to 700 times sweeter than natural sugar—and often leave you craving more sweets later in the day,” says Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD. If you’re trying to cut calories from your baked goods, swap out sugar for unsweetened applesauce instead. Get a better handle on added sugars with The 14-Day No Sugar Diet and the Zero Sugar Diet.
Bleached All-Purpose Flour
Cardiello advises against using bleached all-purpose flour. “Although it may give your food a nicer color and help you to create baked goods that are more soft and tender, the bleach chemicals may be harmful to your health.”
Fat-free Dairy Products
“Fat-free dairy products like cheese, cream cheese, and cottage cheese are a no-go in my kitchen,” reports Christine M. Palumbo, MBA, RDN, FAND. “Many people find the texture, taste, and mouthfeel of these products to be less satisfying, which either turns them off from the dish altogether or spurs cravings for seconds and thirds as they search for satisfaction.” Looking for the best full-fat foods? Check out these 20 Best Full-Fat Foods for Weight Loss!
Processed Peanut Butter
Many processed peanut butters have hydrogenated and processed vegetable oils that can raise cholesterol levels. “Whether you’re making peanut butter cookies or a Thai peanut sauce, use natural peanut butter that contains nothing more than peanuts and salt,” Smith says. Shopping around for a jar? Check out our exclusive report, The 36 Top Peanut Butters—Ranked!
Reduced-fat or low-fat flavored yogurts aren’t necessarily low in sugar, too. In fact, many diet flavored yogurts use sugar to compensate for the lack of fat. “Did you know that one container of flavored yogurt can have more sugar than a candy bar?! It’s true!” says Cassie Bjork, RD, LD. “When you remove the fat from a naturally fatty food like yogurt, you have to make up for the taste by adding sugar—or worse, artificial sweeteners.”
Made with a combination of corn syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial flavors, and caramel coloring, pancake syrup is far from what comes from the actual maple tree. A quarter cup of Aunt Jemima’s Original Syrup has 32 grams of sugar. Instead go for 100 percent maple syrup, which has a good source of magnesium, potassium, and calcium. Want to curb your sweet tooth? Grab a copy of The 14-Day No-Sugar Diet.
Low- or non-fat salad dressings overcompensate the lack of fat with a bucket of sugar, salt, and food additives. Instead, prepare your own at home with these 8 Go-To Salad Dressings.
Bisphenol A (BPA) is a synthetic estrogen found in the coatings of canned foods, including beans, fruits, veggies, and soups. While many companies have stopped using BPA in the epoxy coatings of their cans, some still use it. Plus, people have no way of knowing which canned foods have BPA-based coatings, so the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) analyzed 253 canned foods and found 78 brands that use it. On top of BPA, most canned vegetables have excess salt, corn syrup, processed oils, and preservatives.
Canned fruit might seem like an easy shortcut, but it’s just a quick route to belly fat. It’s packed with syrup — upwards of 20 grams of sugars a can! — and nasty additives such as artificial flavorings. Even unsweetened fruit in its own juice is a nutritional miss: Peeled fruit is missing crucial fiber, and vitamin content might be degraded in the canning process. If having fresh fruit around the house is impractical, go for frozen—it’s often more nutritious than fresh fruit because it’s picked and frozen at its peak — when it has the most nutrients.
Whether you prefer chicken or vegetable broth, full-sodium versions can have upwards of 500 mg of salt in one serving. That’s basically three orders of large French fries from McDonald’s! Low-sodium and unsalted broths are the way to go if you want to ward off water retention and stop belly bloat.
Bouillon cubes are tiny nutrition traps. You think they’re small and harmless, but one cube packs MSG, artificial coloring agents, and hydrogenated oils.
Packaged Egg Whites
“Eggs that come out of a container are not a health food,” says Dana James, CDN, a nutritionist from Food Coach NYC. “This kind of product is processed so much that makers have to add synthetic vitamins to boost its nutrient density. This is as far removed from a natural egg as you can get.” Looking to make a morning meal that’s also nutritious? Check out these 50 Best Breakfast Foods for Weight Loss—Ranked.
Fruit juices are high in sugar because they contain 100 percent fruit without the blood-sugar-stabilizing fiber. On top of that, some brands will add cane sugar, skyrocketing the overall sweetness. In place of juice, blend fruits into a smoothie with a variety of greens. Smoothies keep the fiber intact in fruits and vegetables.
There’s no denying it: Bacon can make anything taste ten times better. But if you think you’re making the healthy choice by opting for turkey bacon, you’ve got things all wrong. Though turkey bacon has about 13 fewer calories per slice, it’s higher in saturated fat and sodium—not great news if you have high blood pressure. Plus, pork offers more protein and heart-healthy monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFAS) than its poultry-based counterpart. Bear in mind that no matter which option you add to your dish, serving size still matters—so don’t pig out.
Mmm, mmm, mmm! Italian sausage is so tasty in so many things! But unfortunately, most sausage links are the opposite of diet-friendly. The reason: The majority of their calories come from fat. To make matters worse, many links are laced with corn syrup and food additives. We know this one can be tough to cut out, though, so follow these 18 Easy Ways to Control Your Portion Sizes.
Believe it or not, it’s fairly common for non-dessert foods to get a spoonful of sugar. According to the Centers for Disease Control, Americans eat a whopping 82 grams of added sugar a day—which is 37 grams above the recommended intake! Oh, and sugar is one of the 20 Foods That Age You 20 Years.
You’ll often find condensed milk in many dessert recipes, and if you want to make healthier swaps, this is an ingredient you’ll want to skip. One serving of sweetened condensed milk has 22 grams of sugar and 45 mg of sodium. Plus, it lacks other important vitamins and nutrients whole milk and plant-based milk provide.
Pre-Made Pie Crust
Whether you’re using a pre-made Oreo, graham cracker or shortbread pie crust, this is a cooking shortcut you want to avoid. Why? Keebler’s Ready Crust Shortbread Pie Crust, for example, has processed oils, corn syrup, sugar, and artificial flavors. As a healthier alternative, prepare your own at home, using whole grain flour and grass-fed butter.
If the sound of boxed gravy makes you sick, it’s because the ingredients are literally sickening. Corn syrup, hydrolyzed soy, and caramel color are just some of the long list of ingredients that lace this pre-made mix. Plus, one serving can easily have 340 milligrams of sodium. So if you must have gravy with your mashed potatoes, it’s worth the effort to make your own.
Powdered Dip Mixes
Powdered mixes and seasonings, like Hidden Valley’s Ranch Dressing Seasoning Mix, are littered with MSG and artificial flavors. Moreover, cheese dips for nachos have artificial colors and flavorings, in addition to food additives. Make your own dip at home with blended chickpeas, your choice of spices and herbs, and a drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil.
Do your spuds need some love? Season them with a mix of thyme, rosemary, and sea salt. While the store-bought seasoning mixes sound like a good time-saving hack, they often have food additives, and some even have a hint of processed oils.
Shake ‘N Bake
Kraft’s Shake ‘N Bake and the like are laced with partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose syrup, and other food additives. Instead, season whole-wheat panko breading or whole grain flour with the spices and herbs of your choice.