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When it comes to healthy eating, it's mostly about choosing whole foods that will nourish your mind and body and make you feel awesome. However, life is also about balance, so eating ice cream or dark chocolate in addition to the leafy greens and salmon every once in a while is good for helping you enjoy some of life's yummiest pleasures while also eating well overall.
Still, there are certain foods that aren't even seen as "treats" to dietitians. The foods on this list are ones you should avoid or limit in your diet. Granted, if one of your favorites made the list—it's OK to still chow down on occasion but they shouldn't be staples in a healthy, well-rounded diet. Not sure which foods and ingredients are off limits? Here's what a few dietitians have to say about the foods they choose to skip.
Drinking sugary soda can lead to tooth decay, obesity, fatty liver disease, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes, and other health woes, says Suzanne Dixon, registered dietitian with The Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida. "If you separate out studies funded by soda and sugar manufacturers from those funded by independent means (gov't or non-profit grants), it's clear: soda is harmful to health," she says.
If you adore soda, by all means, have it as a treat once or twice a week. "But keep it out of the home and don't treat it as an everyday way to hydrate yourself. It's a 'special occasion' drink, not for daily intake," she says.
Lots of canned fruit at the store is made with heavy syrups (aka lots of added sugar). Ditch the can and go fresh to avoid excess sugar. "Similar to soda, this can be an unnecessary source of excess sugar in the diet. If you do canned fruit, go with only those canned in their own juices," Dixon says. "And drain the juice off, don't drink it. Fresh fruit is typically a better bet," she adds. Dried and frozen fruit can be healthy choices too—just make sure those don't have added sugar by checking the ingredient list.
"Gone are the days of using this fat in cooking, and baking. There are tons of other oils out there that are way better for your everyday needs like olive oil, avocado oil and coconut oil," says Maggie Michalczyk, MS, RD. And even if you go with butter, you may still be better off. Some newer margarine blends are made with healthier oils, but some versions contain partially hydrogenated oils (read: trans fat) so check the ingredient list. Learn more about the best healthy oils for cooking.
Break that habit of reaching for a an energy drink by not buying them and keeping them in the house. "Aim for tea or coffee to caffienate naturally and if you do need to keep an energy drink at home, read the label and make sure you check the ingredients," she says. Avoid ones with lots of sugar or strange ingredient names you don't know, and only go natural (learn more about 10 common energy drink ingredients).
"Sorry but there are way better snacks out there than pretzels. They are a food you can easily have too many of in one sitting and give you pretty much zero nutrition," Michalczyk. Instead try something else that's crunchy like carrot or jicama sticks, she says, or look for whole-grain crackers with tons of fiber.
Keep these out of your home. "These chemicals taste 200-more than 7,000 times sweeter than table sugar. While they market this as a benefit since you might be able to use less, that sweet taste can disrupt your taste buds and your recognition of foods that should actually taste sweet," says Kelly Jones MS, RD, CSSD, LDN. Plus, regular use can increase appetite and disrupt the good bacteria in our digestive tract, she adds, so look for natural sources instead.
Not fresh, lean meat from the butcher, but high-sodium, processed deli meats are definitely not good for your health. "Nitrates and nitrates are added to the most common cured meats such as bacon, sausage, ham and other lunch meats," says Jones. "The world health organization recommends eliminating intake of them entirely due to potential carcinogenic effects," she says. Try making a sandwich with chicken breast or try hummus, eggs or cheese as protein-rich fillings. Learn more about if cold cuts can be part of a healthy diet.
We're all for muffins. We just suggest you make your own tasty blueberry or pumpkin muffins at home from scratch, rather than buying packaged muffins from the store. "While many try to avoid parabens in skincare and body care products, propyl paraben is an additive used in some products like tortillas and muffins," says Jones. Parabens have potential endocrine disrupting properties, meaning they can disrupt hormone's actions in the body, she explains, and beyond that, they're packed with more sugar, saturated fat and calories than the ones you would make at home.
"I actually love and recommend popcorn as a healthy whole grain snack (yes, popcorn is a whole grain)! But the problem with bagged microwave popcorn is that it has tons of additives and many have partially hydrogenated oils (trans fats) in the ingredients," says Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD. "Trans fat has been associated with increasing the risk of heart disease and is actually banned in many restaurants," she adds, so it's definitely not good for you! Make it from scratch at home or buy it pre-popped and enjoy with a side of Netflix.
Yes, cheese can be canned and it's not like the real deal one bit. "Cheese is another food that I really do love, but cheese in a can is the furthest thing from cheese. It's a mixture of different processed ingredients, all of which add up to a not-so-healthy product," says Rizzo. If you want cheese, opt for a string cheese or a slice of cheddar, both of which provide protein and calcium to your diet.