These seemingly innocent foods should be placed on your personal 'no-eat' list. (Photo: Shutterstock)
Some danger zones are pretty obvious. Iran, for example. Or North Korea. Or Panem. If you decide to go there, and something weird happens, nobody can say you weren’t warned.
But some danger zones aren’t so self-evident. Take, for example, the aisles of your local supermarket. You know the candy bars aren’t doing you any favors, and you can’t eat butter by the spoonful. But there are plenty of other products that seem entirely harmless — in fact, most are marketed as healthy, or at least as less-bad-for-you alternatives to other foods.
That means they must be okay—after all, the good folks in the federal government wouldn’t let stores sell this stuff if it wasn’t proven safe, right? But the truth is more unfortunate: federal guidelines leave it up to the food manufacturers to decide if a food is safe — and “safe” doesn’t mean “good for you.” It just means, “Won’t make your head instantly explode.”
The team at Eat This, Not That! magazine identified some seemingly innocent foods that should be placed on our personal No-Fly zone. Here’s the essential list:
Unhealthiest Food #7: Microwave Popcorn
Because it: Might Mess with Your Mind
If you thought the movie you were watching was terrifying, you probably haven’t taken a very close look at your popcorn. Yes, popcorn can be healthy: When air-popped, this snack has filling fiber and whole-grains we love, but the microwaveable varieties are an entirely different beast. Many major brands line their bags with perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), the same stuff found in teflon pots and pans; some studies have linked it to infertility, weight gain, and impaired learning. Speaking of learning trouble, butter-flavored popcorns are almost always laced with diacetyl (DA), a chemical that has been found to break down the layer of cells that protects one of our most vital organs: the brain. Now that’s some scary stuff!
Eat This Instead: Air pop kernels or make your own microwavable popcorn. Here’s how: Add your favorite popping kernels to a small paper lunch bag, fold the top down a few times. Then, zap it in the microwave until you hear only a few pops every five seconds. Challenged in the kitchen? We’re also big fans of Quinn Popcorn. It’s one of the only microwavable popcorns that’s free of chemicals and won’t wreak havoc on your waistline. Speaking of your waistline, get yours toned and tight for Spring with these essential 14 Ways to Lose Your Belly in 14 Days.
Unhealthiest Food #6: Colorful Candy
Because It: Puts Your Child at Risk of ADD
Yes, all sugar can turn your charming little toddler into a home destructo unit. But not all candies are created equal. While chocolate bars may be doing your child no favors, some candies may be causing real harm. A few years ago, researchers discovered that the artificial colors Yellow No. 5 and Yellow No. 6 promote Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) in children. 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: Amy’s Natural Creamy Candy Bar. While this bar has about the same amount of calories, fat and sugar as a regular candy bar, it’s free of all artificial colorings. Or check out Unreal’s Candy-Coated Milk Chocolates, which are similar to M&Ms but free of artificial colors. And here’s some good news for fans of SweetTarts and Butterfingers: parent company Nestlế recently stepped up to the plate and announced that by the end of 2015, the company will have phased out the use of all artificial dyes.
Unhealthiest Food #5: Jelly and Jam with Added Sugars
Because It: Deprives Your Body of Nutrients
Oh, come on! The nice lady at the farmer’s market swore these were all-natural, and made from raspberries grown right in her own garden! Yep, but the nice farmer lady then took her raspberries and added in a heaping helping of sugar and another significant ingredient, pectin, a natural fruit fiber that makes the spread nice and sticky. What’s so bad about a natural fiber? Well, just as it causes jelly to stick to your fingers, pectin also sticks to health-boosting antioxidants like beta-carotene, lycopene and lutein, carrying them out of your system before your body can benefit from them.
Eat This Instead: Mash up a handful of blackberries and smear the mess onto your peanut butter sandwich. It tastes exactly like jam, but without the added sugar or pectin. Sliced bananas can serve the same purpose. Not willing to ditch your spread? Try Polaner All Fruit Spreadable Fruit Apricot. Apricots are naturally low in pectin and the spread is free of added sugars. Need an extra little push to make the commitment? Jam and jelly top our list of the 13 Foods to Kick Out of the Kitchen Forever.
Unhealthiest Food #4: Diet Soda
Because It: Is Linked to Obesity
What do synthetic estrogen, flame retardants and rocket fuel all have in common? As we learned in the book Zero Belly Diet, they can all be found in a can of your favorite diet soda. BPA, the synthetic estrogen, is used to soften the plastic that lines the can; colas contain caramel coloring shown to cause cancer in humans; and citrus-flavored sodas contain BVO, a flame retardant used in rocket fuel that may reduce fertility and negatively affect thyroid hormones. Nearly all popular diet sodas contain aspartame, an artificial sweetener that raises glucose levels, overloading the liver and causing the excess to convert into fat.
Drink This Instead: While Coca-Cola and PepsiCo have agreed to phase BVO out of their sodas, it’s still actively used in sodas from Dr. Pepper/Seven Up Inc. Even so, all these drinks contain aspartame, and that’s just not something we can get behind. If you’re sick of plain ol’ H20, opt for unsweetened tea or coffee instead.
Unhealthiest Food #3: Fortified Kids’ Cereal
Because: The Vitamins Are Fake, but the Sugar Is Real
What could be wrong here? A beloved cartoon character touting a wholesome breakfast treat fortified with essential vitamins and minerals! Why, it’s just good, clean fun!
Except that most kids’ cereals are fortified primarily with sugar. The vitamins and minerals touted on the box? They’re sprayed on at the end, and most of them wash off in the milk (drink the milk, kids!). And all those bright colors? They come from such wholesome, natural ingredients as 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. Check the label, and ban anything with these chemicals from your child’s breakfast.
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. To treat the occasional stubborn craving, turn to these 10 Best Junk Foods for Weight Loss.
Unhealthiest Food #2: Coffee Creamer
Because It: Can Raise Your Cholesterol
Coffee creamer and sunblock have more in common that you would think. As it turns out, they both contain titanium dioxide, an ultraviolet radiation blocker that doubles as a whitening agent. The additive has been proven to cause liver and tissue damage in mice, and may also have health implications in humans, according to a recent review of the chemical. Coffee creamer is also typically packed with trans-fats, often hiding under the guise of its lesser-known name: hydrogenated oil, which not only raises cholesterol but has been shown to diminish memory in adults under 45 years old. If you’re working hard to build your career or don’t want to forget where you parked your car, this is one ingredient you should steer clear of.
Eat This Instead: Plain ol’ cow’s milk or unsweetened, organic soy milk both make for healthy additions to your morning cup. If you’re looking for a hint of flavor, stick with a tablespoon of one of Coffee Mate’s Natural Bliss creamers. They are all made from nonfat milk, heavy cream, sugar and natural flavors—that’s it! Add some to these scientifically-proven 5 Teas That Melt Fat Fast!
Unhealthiest Food #1: Processed Meats
Because It: Bloats Your Belly—and Your Diabetes Risk
Many brands of bacon, sausage, hot dogs and deli meats contain nitrates, a preservative that interferes with the body’s natural ability to process sugar, which increases the risk for diabetes. It can also increase up your odds of thyroid and colon cancer. If that wasn’t bad enough, most processed meats are also loaded with sodium, a known contributor to hypertension that can make you bloat and set you up to develop heart disease.
Eat This Instead: Read the ingredients and look for meats that are free of nitrates. At the deli counter ask for Boar’s Head All Natural Roasted Turkey Breast. It’s free of nitrates and relatively low in sodium. Applegate Natural’s Natural Slow-Cooked Ham and Organic Bacon are also good picks that can be found in the meats and cheese section of your grocery store.
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