There are foods nutritionists never eat. We’ve pulled together a list of 10 foods that nutritionists avoid at all costs. Nutritionists may not necessarily always agree on what constitutes a healthy diet — in part because differences in our genetic makeup influence how people respond to and process different foods.
1. Artificial sweeteners
Sugar-free is always better for you, right? Not necessarily. Artificial sweeteners, also referred to as non-nutritive sweeteners, have been linked to numerous health problems. One study found that consumption of diet drinks was associated with a 36 percent higher risk of metabolic syndrome and a 67 percent increased risk of type 2 diabetes — both conditions that many people are trying to avoid by using artificial sweeteners. Non-nutritive sweeteners are also commonly linked to health issues such as migraines, mood disorders, and dizziness.
In general, most nutritionists typically try to avoid any type of artificial additives in foods. To satisfy a craving for something sweet, they are more likely to opt for fruit or dark chocolate that doesn’t have a lot of added sugar. Natural sugar substitutes like stevia or erythritol can also add a touch of sweetness without impacting your blood sugar.
2. Fat-free packaged foods
Most of us reach for fat-free or reduced-fat versions of foods without giving it a second thought. But some of these foods may actually be worse for you than the real thing. Foods that have had the fat removed are typically loaded with added sugars and other artificial ingredients to make up for the loss in flavor.
When it comes to food like fat-free yogurt, peanut butter, or even packaged foods like cookies, being low in fat doesn’t automatically make them healthier. Anything that is modified to remove one naturally occurring ingredient will usually have something else added in its place, so it’s important to read ingredients and be aware of what’s being added to your food.
3. Pretzels and rice cakes
Because they’re low in fat, these foods have managed to earn a healthy reputation. But anything made with refined carbohydrates — like white bread, white rice, and pasta — has basically the same effect on your body as sugar. Refined carbs will spike your blood sugar, which then leads to a crash that can cause fatigue, mood swings, and increased hunger. If you’re craving something crunchy or salty, try nuts instead — they’re a good source of healthy fat and may even help you live longer.
4. Fruit canned in syrup
Fruit is great for you in its natural form — it’s high in vitamins and antioxidants, and should be a part of your daily diet. But the amount of sugar in canned fruit is often akin to eating a piece of cake. Fruit is sweet enough by itself, and doesn’t need extra sugar added. Rather than eating fruit that’s packed in syrup, you’re better off with fresh fruit. Choose fruits that are in season and locally grown when possible, as they are fresher. If you must buy canned fruit, look for fruit canned in juice or water that doesn’t contain added sugar.
5. Frozen “diet” dinners
As a general rule, if a food has to convince you that it’s healthy, it probably isn’t. Frozen meals often make health claims on the basis of being low in fat or calories, but they’re typically high in sodium and artificial ingredients. They’re also usually heavy on refined carbs like rice or pasta, and light on vegetables or anything else with actual nutritive value. They may be convenient, but don’t buy into claims that they’re good for you.
Recent studies have claimed that going gluten-free doesn’t have any benefit for people who don’t have Celiac disease, and could even lead to weight gain. What those studies didn’t reveal was what the participants were eating in place of gluten. Gluten-free foods aren’t automatically good for you, especially if they’re made with rice or other ingredients that are high on the glycemic index. Gluten-free cookies are still cookies.
That said, going wheat-free can have numerous benefits even if you aren’t allergic to gluten. Wheat is one of the biggest causes of internal inflammation, which can cause hormone disruption and make it difficult to lose weight. Many people also report that they have more energy and less brain fog after cutting wheat out of their diet.
7. Cow’s milk
Dairy is another cause of inflammation, and many people are sensitive to it without even realizing it. Dairy consumption has been linked to health issues such as sinus congestion, joint pain, acne, and skin rashes. Pasteurized milk is also typically loaded with hormones and antibiotics that have been given to the cattle.
There are better ways to get your calcium. Greens such as broccoli, spinach, kale, and bok choy are good sources of calcium, along with seafood and legumes.
In lieu of cow’s milk, nutritionists will typically opt for unsweetened almond milk or coconut milk.
8. Vegetable oils
Dietary guidelines have advised us for decades to cook with oils such as canola, soybean, or corn oil. But these oils are highly processed and refined, which adds toxins and removes nutrients. They’re also highly inflammatory and a major source of omega-6 fatty acids in the typical American diet.
Omega-6 fatty acids are essential for certain bodily process, but most Americans consume far too many of them. Our ratio of omega-6 fatty acids to omega-3 fatty acids should be about even, but the average American consumes 14-25 times more omega-6 acids than omega-3s. This imbalance is thought to increase the risk of heart disease, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, digestive issues, autoimmune diseases, and other major health problems.
Instead of inflammatory vegetable oils, nutritionists typically cook with coconut oil, extra virgin olive oil, or avocado oil.
9. Products made with corn and high-fructose corn syrup
Corn is in nearly every packaged food. Start reading labels, and you’ll notice ingredients like corn syrup, corn syrup solids, corn oil, corn starch, dextrose, and maltodextrin. Most corn in the US is genetically modified, and GMO corn has been linked to numerous health issues. High-fructose corn syrup in particular has been linked to weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia, and other major degenerative diseases. The presence of HFCS in foods is almost always a marker of low-quality, nutrient-poor industrial food products.
10. Flavored coffee creamers
They may be delicious — and allow you to enjoy your favorite peppermint mocha for much less than the prices at the coffee shop — but flavored coffee creamers are typically loaded with unhealthy ingredients, including partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, corn syrup solids, and artificial sweeteners. If you can’t drink your coffee black, the best thing to add is some coconut oil, unsweetened almond milk, or even honey. Liquid stevia is also available in many of your favorite coffee flavors, like vanilla, mocha, and English toffee. Just use a couple of drops, as a little bit of stevia goes a long way.
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Medically reviewed by Jay J. Garcia, MD on December 8, 2017