The foods on this list may seem harmless, but if a nutritionist won't touch them, you know they're bad! We asked our resident Diet Doctor Mike Roussell, PhD, to list the top foods he wouldn't eat if his life depended on it--and he delivered! Here's what he had to say:
1. Fat-Free Salad Dressing
Fat-free salad dressings are a perfect example of good food gone bad. Salad dressing is the perfect combination of vinegar (which helps control blood sugar) and plant oils (full of essential fatty acids and sometimes antioxidants). However, an irrational fear of dietary fats has forced food companies to mess around with this perfect blend. The resulting fat-free salad dressings have introduced sugar and high fructose corn syrup, un-pronounceable emulsifying agents, and other food science secrets used to make the unnatural seem natural. It's too easy to make your own healthy salad dressing to ever let this science experiment in a bottle pass your lips. Click here to watch a tutorial.
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They may have been touted as the ultimate diet food during the low fat/no fat craze of the late 1980s and 1990s, but don't be fooled. Rice cakes can have a glycemic index rating as high as 91 (pure glucose has a rating of 100), making it the kind of carbohydrate that will send your blood sugar on a roller coaster ride. This is bad for weight loss and for your health.
Seitan, originally from Asia, is a common meat substitute for vegetarian dishes. Unlike many meat substitutes, seitan is not soy derived but made entirely of wheat gluten. Wheat gluten is a highly allergenic protein that is naturally found only in small amounts in wheat-based products. While there is no research linking seitan intake to increased prevalence of gluten allergies or intolerances, I'm wary that eating a lot of this allergenic protein may trigger development of a more severe gluten allergy or intolerance.
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The risk/benefit ratio of eating fish (the benefits of omega-3 fats vs. the risk of mercury) typically falls in favor of the omega-3 fats and their incredible health effects. Shark is one of the exceptions. Despite having an omega-3 fat content similar to tuna, shark contains almost three times the amount of mercury. Tilefish is another high mercury/low omega-3 fish that should be avoided.
Your best bet for maximizing omega-3 fats while minimizing mercury levels? Salmon
Refined and Re-Fortified Grains
Unfortunately this rules out a majority of the carbohydrates found on supermarket shelves. Refined and re-fortified grains are grain-based foods like certain breakfast cereals, pastas, and rice products that have been refined such that the naturally occurring fiber, vitamins, and minerals have been removed. Companies then replace the fiber and synthetic versions of the vitamins and minerals that were initially removed. Sometimes (and this is really sneaky) they put everything back in naturally occurring ratios so that they can still claim the food contains 'whole grains'. My suggestion: Just eat the real unfortified stuff in the first place.
If you stop eating only one thing on this list, it should be sugar-sweetened beverages. The empty calories help pad your waistline without offering any sense of satiety or fullness. What's more, simple sugars do an excellent job of lowering your good cholesterol and increasing your triglyceride levels (two risk factors for heart disease). Drinking sugary beverages also promotes disturbances in your body's inflammatory balance, making it harder to recover from exercise and increasing your risk of numerous chronic diseases.
Instead reaching for a can of soda or sweetened tea, opt for water or a calorie-free infused drink like HINT (watermelon is my favorite).
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Another hyper-refined carbohydrate, grits are the small leftover pieces from corn processing. Nutritionally speaking, grits lack significant amounts of vitamins or minerals. They contain a minute amount of fiber and no essential fats. Their flavor is lacking and thus butter or heavy cream is used to make them palatable, bringing together the blood-vessel-destroying, unholy marriage of simple carbohydrates and saturated fat.