10 Popular Foods to Reduce Your Intake of, According to Registered Dietitians
When it comes to healthy eating, it's mostly about choosing whole foods that will nourish your mind and body and make you feel your best. However, life is also about balance, so eating ice cream or chocolate in addition to the leafy greens and salmon every once in a while is good.
However, the foods on this list are ones you should limit a bit more in your diet if you can. Granted, if one of your favorites made the list, it's totally OK to still enjoy it occasionally. That said, they might not be the most nutritious staples in a healthy, well-rounded diet. Here's what a few dietitians have to say about these foods.
Drinking sugar-sweetened soda can lead to tooth decay, obesity, fatty liver disease, high triglycerides, type 2 diabetes and other health woes, says Suzanne Dixon, RD, a registered dietitian with the Mesothelioma Center in Orlando, Florida.
If you love soda, by all means, it's OK to enjoy it once a week. "But keep it out of the home and don't treat it as an everyday way to hydrate yourself," Dixon says. For more, check this explainer on sugar and how it impacts your health.
Better options: Sparkling water, tea, coffee or spring water with some fruit slices.
2. Sweetened Canned Fruit
Lots of the canned fruit you'll see at the store is made with heavy syrups (aka lots of added 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," Dixon adds.
Better options: Fresh, frozen or dried fruit (without added sugar).
3. Commercially Fried Foods
Many fast foods commonly fried, such as french fries, battered fish and fried chicken, are prepared in cooking oils that are reheated at high temperatures. Although trans fats were banned by the FDA in 2018 and you won't find them in grocery-bought foods, reheating cooking oils multiple times can increase the risk of trans fats present in foods. According to 2022 research published in Nutrients, heating and reheating edible oils to very high temperatures can naturally produce trans fatty acids. Trans fats are known to increase the risk of health conditions such as high LDL ("bad") cholesterol.
Better options: Make fried foods at home, heating oils below their smoking point. You can also use other cooking methods like air and oven frying.
Related: What Is the Best Oil for Cooking?
4. Energy Drinks
Break that habit of reaching for an energy drink by not buying them and keeping them in the house. "Aim for tea or coffee to get your caffeine naturally, and if you do need to keep an energy drink at home, read the label and make sure you check the ingredients," says Maggie Michalczyk, M.S., RD. Instead of choosing the ones with lots of sugar or strange ingredient names you don't know, go with the natural options.
Better options: Coffee or tea
5. Refined-Grain Pretzels
Pretzels are a food you can easily have too many of in one sitting, and they give you pretty much zero nutrition," Michalczyk says. This doesn't mean you can't ever enjoy pretzels, but try to choose whole-grain versions or eat in moderation.
Better option: Try something else that's crunchy but packs a bunch of fiber, like carrot and jicama sticks or whole-grain crackers. You could also dip your pretzels in a nutritious dip like hummus to add fiber and protein to your snack.
6. Artificial Sweeteners
If you are able, choose not to consume artificial sweeteners daily. "These can taste 200 to 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 M.S., RD, CSSD, LDN. Plus, regular use can increase appetite and disrupt the good bacteria in our digestive tract, Jones adds.
Better options: Natural sources of sweeteners, like honey and maple syrup.
7. Processed Deli Meats
We are not talking about fresh, lean meat from the butcher here. High-sodium, processed deli meats are likely not the best choice 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.
Better options: Try making a sandwich with chicken breast or swap in hummus, eggs or cheese as protein-rich fillings. Additionally, there are some nitrate-free options in the market to choose from. Learn more about how cold cuts can be part of a healthy diet.
8. Packaged Muffins
"While many try to avoid parabens in skin-care 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 hormones' actions in the body, Jones explains. Beyond that, they're packed with more sugar, saturated fat and calories than the ones you would make at home.
9. Packaged Microwave Popcorn
Similar to muffins, we are talking about the packaged snacks you can buy at convenience stores. "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 in the ingredients," says Natalie Rizzo, M.S., RD. Additionally, food packaging, such as microwave popcorn bags, can contain perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS). PFAS are synthetic chemicals that can increase your risk of health issues such as hypertension.
Better options: Make your popcorn from scratch at home or buy it pre-popped and enjoy it with a side of your favorite TV show.
10. Cheese in a Can
Yes, cheese can be canned and it's not like the real deal. "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.
Better options: If you want cheese, opt for a string cheese or a slice of Cheddar, which both provide protein and calcium to your diet.