The more we learn about nutrition, the more researchers discover that many of the processes we use to make food tasty and stable rob food of what makes it nutritious.
Although the occasional consumption of highly processed foods can be offset by a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, whole grains and proteins, certain food preparations simply do not bring much nutritional value to the table. When the following foods form a primary part of your diet (or you don’t benefit from low-fat, high-fiber foods), they are associated with negative health outcomes.
11 foods that can negatively affect your health
While the following foods are notably lacking in nutritional value, the point of paying attention to this list is less about completely eliminating every item and more about understanding how little they add to your diet. We do not recommend that you completely avoid these foods as food restriction can potentially cause disordered eating. The bottom line is that it’s okay to eat the foods on this list, as long as you’re also eating nutrient-dense foods that provide you with the vitamins and minerals you need.
Many of the following foods contain highly refined grains, high amounts of trans fat, or other processed fats that are difficult for the body to use effectively. Food sources simply lack many key nutrients like dietary fiber that promote gut health. Over time, depriving your body of many vitamins, minerals, and nutrients from whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can create deficiencies that have medical symptoms.
White bread is made from a type of bread flour that is processed from wheat. Processing removes the bran and germ: parts of the wheat grain. Whole wheat will generally be darker and denser, due to the fact that it contains more nutrients and more fiber. These two aspects are great for your digestion and give your body the nutrition it needs. White bread has a nice light flavor, but is made only from the endosperm layer of the wheat grain and contains less nutritional value. Instead, opt for whole grain bread, which is full of essential nutrients.
To learn more about how complex carbohydrates help keep you healthy, take a look why you should eat more carbs, not less.
Many of the reasons why eating too many chips can be harmful is because they do not provide a balanced source of calories. The amount of oil and simple carbohydrates they contain makes them dense in calories, but not full of useful nutrients like vitamins. Preservative-free chips are a good option for an occasional tasty treat, but if you only eat chips for a meal, your body will crave more vitamins, protein and fiber.
French fries contain many of the same nutrients as potato chips, although there are more actual potatoes in the fries. However, the crispiness of French fries doesn’t have to be a result of deep frying, which has a lot of oil if you eat it often. In the deep fryer, a thin sheen of oil (or even zero oil) can still give you homemade, low-salt fries made from basically just potatoes. If your diet already contains enough oil, this could be a good way to get a crunchy treat without exceeding your daily value.
Chicken is a delicious lean protein, but breading fried chicken usually involves a ton of white flour, oil, and salt. These three ingredients are good in moderation, but choosing grilled or air-fried chicken can help you cut back on unhealthy ingredients if you’re already getting more than the recommended amount.
In general, processed meats are low in nutrients that, when consumed in excess, have been linked to negative medical outcomes. Meat processing sometimes involves the addition of nitrates and nitrites, which are linked to a higher risk of cancer when consumed in moderation. Also, sodium is incorporated into processed meat in fairly significant amounts. Whenever possible, cook and eat fresh meat.
Like candy, sugary cereals are often high in simple carbohydrates and sugars compared to lower in protein, fiber and vitamins. As a breakfast option, sugary cereal can also cause your blood sugar to drop, making you feel hungry soon after eating the cereal. Opting for lower-sugar cereals that are higher in protein and fiber, as well as plant-based or dairy milk, can help you feel fuller and more energetic for longer.
We turned to margarine when the saturated fat in butter was considered negative for our health. However, margarine varies: in some countries they have harmful trans fats that are not easily processed by the body and in many cases they have a similar amount of processed saturated fat. Read the label or opt for a less processed oil, like olive oil, as a bread topping if you really want to cut butter out of your diet.
Not all frozen entrees are created equal – flash frozen vegetables and cooked chicken, for example, are sometimes low in preservatives and are a great way to eat if you need convenience food. However, for ready-to-eat meals, check what types of foods and other things are in your meal, especially if you’re concerned about preservatives or colors in your diet.
Boxed mac and cheese
While some of the prominent brands of mac and cheese have been found to contain many harmful chemicals, a big reason why they are considered unhealthy is their high amount of simple carbohydrates and fat and low nutritional value. However, if you like macaroni and cheese, don’t despair: there are now different versions that contain either whole grains, vegetables like cauliflower, and lower levels of preservatives and fat.
Cakes, donuts and other baked goods can be delicious. But they can also be full of simple carbohydrates and saturated fat. In addition, they have very little fiber, protein or vitamins. However, if you’re making your own pastry, it’s easy to make a treat that will give you more nutrients, whether it’s substituting some wholemeal flour, substituting butter for unsaturated fat, or adding fruit or grated zucchini for a vitamin boost.
The information contained in this article is for educational and informational purposes only and is not intended as health or medical advice. Always consult a physician or other qualified health care professional with any questions you may have about your health condition or health goals.