Certain junk foods are notorious for being high in calories, fat and sodium, but what many people forget is that the are other types of processed foods that are just as harmful to a person’s health and waistline. Unlike candy, chips and cookies, some processed foods can be disguised as foods that are good for you. Many even claim to be a good addition to your diet when, in reality, they are providing poor nutrition and helping to create bad eating habits.
The first step to creating a healthier diet is to find out which processed foods are the worst for you and stay away from them whenever possible. The following are some of the top processed foods to avoid.
Though it was once touted as a healthy alternative to butter, margarine isn’t good for you by any means. Margarine has tons of hydrogenated oils and trans fat. Too much could increase triglycerides and raise your bad cholesterol levels. Use real butter instead (and try to do so sparingly). Even better, use olive oil whenever you can as a substitute.
Soda is one of the worst processed products out there because it offers almost no nutritional value. In addition, regular sodas are loaded with added sugar and can cause weight gain or even metabolic syndrome. Water is your best drink option. If you crave more flavor, have the occasional glass of juice or add some citrus or cucumber to your water.
Frozen dinners may seem like a convenient and easy way to serve a meal, but the trade-off is that you’ll be consuming lots of fats, especially trans fats. They also tend to contain MSG, which has been linked to health problems like Alzheimer’s and mood swings. Use fresh foods to create meals instead whenever you can for better flavor and a healthier meal.
Bread can be good for you – if it’s made from whole grains, that is. White bread (along with white flour, rice and pasta) is made with refined whole grains that have lost most of their nutrients. Buy products made from 100 percent whole grains instead.
Some canned soups seem like a healthy choice, especially when they contain lots of veggies. However, most canned soups are loaded with sodium and have a high fat content, making them an unhealthy option for a meal or side. Instead, try making your own soups at home. You can easily make a large batch and then freeze extra servings for convenient use later on.
Processed meats are one of those foods that can really seem like a healthy choice, at first, but in reality they are also bad for you. In fact, eating processed meats can increase your risk of certain types of cancer. They are also high In sodium, saturated fats and calories, which is bad news for blood pressure levels. Processed meats include hot dogs, sausage, ham, bologna and packaged lunch meats. Substitute processed deli meats with fresh cuts of meat from a deli or butcher whenever possible.
Potato chips are one of the worst offenders for processed foods. They are bad for your health and may increase your risk of becoming obese. They’re also a light, salty snack that people tend to overeat. Try unsalted nuts for a healthier snack, or at the very least choose baked varieties of chips rather than traditional potato chips.
Boxed Meal Mixes
Like frozen dinners, boxed meal mixes can seem like a great way to make a healthy meal more convenient to make. However, these boxed foods are also bad for your health because they lack many of the nutrients that fresh foods contain. In addition, most have added sodium and fat. Use fresh ingredients instead and learn to use herbs and spices to bring flavor to your meals naturally.
Canned spaghetti, ravioli and other pastas are not healthy for you. They’re loaded with additives, sodium and fat, which doesn’t compensate for their convenience. Make fresh whole-grain pasta instead. For an even healthier meal, make your own sauce from scratch.
Most of the cookies, cakes and other sweet packaged snacks you’ll find on the shelf are unhealthy. They have too much sugar and are made with refined flour. This is a no-brainer, but some people mistakenly believe that making their own at home with common flour is better. Unfortunately, common flour is also refined. To make healthier sweet snacks, bake cookies with whole-grain flour instead.
Keep in mind that not every processed food is a bad one. For example, some cereals and juices have added vitamins, minerals or fiber which helps to fill nutrition gaps in our diets. Just make sure that you pay attention to all of the ingredients and nutrition data information on any processed food you choose (a fiber-enriched cereal isn’t great for you if it also contains tons of sugar). In moderation, certain “good” processed foods can be acceptable in a balanced diet.