13 Unhealthy Foods to Avoid For Better Health

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There are thousands of different foods available to us, and each one has a unique composition.

Since all foods can either positively or negatively affect our body, this makes a healthy diet essential for optimal health.

While it’s true that the dose makes the poison, it is better to avoid these 13 unhealthy foods.

1. Margarine

Margarine is Unhealthy and One of the Main Foods to Avoid.

Margarine is one of the single worst foods we can eat.

Made from industrial vegetable oils, it is a synthetic imitation of butter.

Margarine undergoes various chemical processes (dying, deodorizing, and flavoring) to make it similar to butter in appearance and taste.

Formerly containing artificial trans fats, margarine has likely played a role in damaging the heart health of millions around the world (1).

Now, with trans fats on their way out, margarine has been reformulated to provide interesterified fats instead (2).

However, the safety profile of these new types of fat is very much unproven. Worryingly, initial studies on interesterified fats show negative impacts on blood glucose, insulin, immune function, and various other health markers (3, 4, 5).

Further, animal studies show that these artificial fats induce inflammatory processes and promote atherosclerosis (6).

Key Point: Margarine is one of the unhealthiest foods around and one of the first ingredients to eliminate from a healthy diet. A much better choice is natural butter.

2. Industrial Omega-6 Vegetable Oils

Vegetable Oils Are Full of Excessive Omega-6 Following close behind margarine are industrial vegetable oils.

These ultra-processed oils include corn oil, soybean oil, rice bran oil, and sunflower oil among others.

Since they are so cheap to produce, we can find them in almost every junk food out there.

Because they are extremely high in omega-6, these oils skew the omega 6 to 3 ratio in the body. Unfortunately, this can contribute to inflammatory pathways and raise the risk of several chronic diseases such as cancer and cardiovascular disease (7, 8).

Both omega-3 and omega-6 are essential fatty acids which our body requires – but the two should be relatively balanced.

Historically, the omega 6 to 3 ratio in humans was around 2 to 1, but at present, the average ratio is over 15 to 1 which is harmful to health (9).

Vegetable oils are predominantly polyunsaturated fat (PUFA), making them unsuitable for high-heat cooking since they are prone to oxidation.

Key Point: Vegetable oils are heavily processed, unrealistically high in omega-6, and harmful to health. All in all, heat-stable animal fats and monounsaturated fat sources such as olive oil and avocado oil are healthier options.

3. Fake “Whipping Cream” and Coffee Creamers

Some Whipped Cream is Made From Vegetable Oils.

Do you enjoy some berries with cream, or perhaps some whipped cream on top of your coffee?

That’s fine, but the problem is that some cafes and processed food companies don’t even use real dairy cream.

Instead, they use a synthetic cream substitute designed to taste like the dairy version.

However, the health properties of such products are vastly different.

The synthetic stuff may contain ingredients such as partially hydrogenated soybean oil, corn syrup, artificial flavors, and colors.

In other words, trans fat, sugar and various chemicals.

While the health effects of artificial colors and flavors are open to debate, trans fat, in particular, is extremely harmful (10, 11).

These fake creams are some of the most unhealthy products, and they are foods to avoid.

Key Point: Fake imitation cream and coffee creams often contain vegetable oils and/or trans fat, as well as added sugar. Opt for the more natural (and healthier) dairy cream.

4. Candy / Sweets

Sugar Consumption Increases Are Driving Childhood Obesity.

Store shelves are full of colorful sugary “treats” which appeal to children and those of us with a sweet tooth.

Sugar has a range of adverse biological effects, and studies show that it can lead to everything from tooth decay to promoting health markers of cardiovascular risk (12, 13).

However, the real problem is that we are eating significant amounts of these sugary foods as a regular part of our daily diet.

While in previous decades they may have been a rare treat and unlikely to cause problems, nowadays they are omnipresent, and childhood obesity is a growing problem (14, 15).

Furthermore, sugar is rewarding and consuming these foods often makes us feel good and crave more of them.

As a result, giving them up can be incredibly difficult for a significant number of people.

Key Point: Candy is packed with sugar and sometimes various vegetable oils. For good health, we should stay away from these sugary foods.

5. Wheat Flour

Wheat Flour Raises Blood Sugar and Insulin Levels.

Wheat flour is highly processed, high glycemic, and causes large spikes in blood glucose and insulin levels (16).

Perhaps surprisingly, wheat flour is even higher on the glycemic index than Coca-cola (17).

High blood sugar and insulin levels are risk factors for almost every chronic disease.

For example, higher blood sugar levels correlate with an increased risk of Alzheimer’s, various cancers, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular heart disease (18, 19).

Additionally, recent studies show that replacing dietary saturated fat with refined carbohydrate leads to adverse health outcomes (20, 21).

Wheat flour is a common ingredient in processed foods. Most packaged foods contain it, and we can find it in foods such as bread, cakes, cookies, noodles, and pasta.

These are all foods to avoid; for weight loss, and for long-term health.

Key Point: Wheat flour is one of the biggest sources of refined carbohydrates, and it has harmful effects on our health. If you’re looking for carbohydrate-dense foods, then tubers and legumes are much healthier.

6. Fruit Juice

Studies Show That Whole Fruit is More Beneficial Than Juice.

Fruit juice is one of the most misunderstood food products due to the status fruit has as a symbol of health. While a small amount of fruit juice is unlikely to cause harm, more definitely isn’t better.

To explain;

All fruits are whole foods and combine fructose (fruit sugar) with naturally-occurring fiber. In contrast, when we strip away this natural fiber we are left with only the water, fructose, and a few vitamins and minerals.

As an example, orange juice provides a decent amount of vitamin C and the mineral potassium (22).

However, fruit juice offers an unrealistic amount of fruit sugar compared to whole fruit. As a result, overconsumption becomes much more likely.

Also, a large cohort study featuring nearly 200,000 participants favored whole fruit over fruit juice.

Particularly, there was a higher risk of type 2 diabetes with increasing consumption of fruit juice. On the other hand, greater consumption of whole fruits resulted in a reduced risk (23).

Key Point: Like with many things in nutrition, whole foods are generally better for health. In other words, eating a piece of fruit is a healthier option than drinking sweet fruit juice.

7. Soda and Sugary Drinks

Soda and Sugary Drinks Raise the Risk For Ill Health.There’s probably no need to go into the effects of soda on health since most people are already aware.

For a quick refresher, it’s full of sugar, tooth-eroding phosphoric acid, and various chemical flavorings and colors (24).

A recent meta-analysis also shows that soda consumption is associated with increased weight, reduced nutrient intake, and increased risk of medical problems (25).

However, it’s not only soda that causes problems.

In fact, many coffee-based drinks sold by cafes contain far more sugar than one can of soda. Blended coffee drinks often include upwards of 50g (12 teaspoons) of sugar per drink in their largest size offerings.

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For instance, Starbuck’s Strawberries and Creme Frappuccino and Dunkin Donut’s Vanilla Bean Collatta contain 750 and 860 calories respectively (26).

These drinks are extremely high in added calories from corn syrup and added fats (whipping cream). While a rare drink won’t cause any issues, far too many people consume these sugary drinks on a daily basis.

Key Point: For a healthier life, it’s important to focus on non-caloric drinks such as water, tea, and coffee. Sugar-sweetened beverages are some of the worst things for your body.

8. Fast Food Burgers and Pizzas

Most Commercial Fast Foods Are Foods to Avoid.Contrary to popular thought, it’s often the refined carbohydrates rather than “fatty food” that causes the problems with fast food.

For example, many burgers are 100% beef, which is full of useful protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Likewise, pizza toppings often contain a decent mix of tomato, cheese, meat, and vegetables; hardly unhealthy.

However, most fast food joints use unhealthy bread to make these foods.

Common ingredients include white flour, soybean oil (sometimes margarine), various preservatives, bleaching agents, and other additives.

We should try to eliminate such foods for better health.

They sure aren’t anything our grandparents would consider as bread.

Key Point: The majority of pizza and burger joints use a range of unhealthy ingredients in their bread. Look for some more wholesome options, or make your own at home.

9. Agave Nectar

Agave Nectar Syrup is a Heavily Processed Form of Sugar.For some reason, the marketing strategy of agave nectar revolves around positioning it as a “healthy sugar.”

First, the term ‘healthy sugar’ is somewhat of an oxymoron; for the most part, sugar is sugar.

Many companies use sugars as flavor enhancers, and some people find them pleasurable – but they’re not something we should call “healthy.”

Agave nectar’s marketing exhorts that it is low-glycemic compared to regular sugar. However, the reason for this is because agave syrup is much higher in fructose, which is metabolized by the liver.

Too much fructose (especially added fructose) in the diet can lead to the liver turning it into fat, which can raise triglyceride levels. A high triglyceride count is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease (27).

There are also claims that agave “is healthier” because it contains antioxidants.

However, studies show that the antioxidant content of refined sugar, corn syrup, and agave nectar are all minimal (28).

Although there are certainly better sources of antioxidants than sugars, honey and maple syrup are much higher in these compounds.

Key Point: Mistakenly known as a “healthy sugar”, agave nectar is one of the least healthy sweeteners out there. Honey would be a (slightly) better option.

10. Organic, Paleo and Gluten-Free (etc.) Junk Food

Label Claims on Foods Are Often Intentionally Deceiving.

Marketing can be persuasive.

Sometimes it makes foods to avoid look healthy.

However, that chocolate cake made with “ancient gluten-free grains” and “organic freshly produced coconut sugar” isn’t what it appears.

The reality is that the above ingredients are just refined carbohydrate and sugar.

Sure, these options may have a few extra trace nutrients, but they’re not a healthy choice.

Nor is a bag of “organic” sugar good for your body.

Further, just because something is low-carb or low-fat doesn’t automatically mean it is good for you.

Regarding the low-fat craze, dozens of studies show that low-fat dairy is inferior to the whole food, full-fat version (29, 30).

On the low-carb side, butter is delicious as a condiment – but that doesn’t mean eating a stick of it in your coffee is optimal.

Key Point: Many products with ‘organic’ and ‘gluten-free’ label claims are just health-washing what is essentially junk food. Ultra-processed foods are (usually) unhealthy no matter what dietary system they support.

11. Raw Cruciferous Vegetables (in Excess)

Raw Cruciferous Vegetables Are Goitrogenic and Affect the Thyroid.Cruciferous vegetables such as broccoli, cabbage, and kale are certainly nutrient-dense.

However, eating them raw in excessive amounts may lead to potential problems.

The reason?

They have goitrogenic properties.

Goitrogens are a kind of antinutrient found in cruciferous vegetables, and they are capable of suppressing the production of thyroid hormone (31, 32).

Also, they affect the thyroid’s ability to make use of iodine, which is a critical mineral for good health. While there are no problems with eating some raw veggies, eating large amounts of raw kale and cabbage is ill-advised.

This issue is of particular importance in recent years, with the growing trend of juicing sometimes resulting in huge, unrealistic intakes of raw vegetables.

While cruciferous vegetables are healthy, they are one of the foods to minimize in their raw state.

Key Point: A little raw kale might be okay, but consuming large amounts of raw cruciferous vegetables may negatively impact thyroid health. 

12. Potato Chips (Crisps)

Highly Processed Potato Chips Harmful Foods to Avoid.Most studies investigating minimally processed low-carb, high-fat or high-carb, low-fat diets find benefits regarding weight loss and markers of good health (33, 34).

However, it’s hard to find any positive study on the modern Western diet, which is high in processed fat and carbs.

Potato chips (or any grain chips) are one of the best exhibits of such a diet; incredibly dense sources of starch fried in vegetable oil.

As a result, they provide ample amounts of both carbohydrate and fat.

It’s also worth remembering that producers usually fry them in the industrial omega-6 vegetable oils which we looked at earlier.

In other words, chips are one of the most unhealthy foods in existence and full of refined carbs, vegetable oil, and artificial flavorings.

They should be one of the first foods to avoid for weight loss or simply to improve general health.

Key Point: Potato chips are a carb and fat-dense unhealthy snack. If you like potatoes, then boiled, baked, or mashed are all better options. 

13. Cakes, Pastries, and Other Baked Goods

Many Bakery Products Contain Harmful Ingredients to Avoid.

When it comes to cakes, pastries, and various other bakery foods, we often don’t know what we’re eating.

Significantly, these bakery products often contain refined flours in addition to harmful vegetable oils, margarine, sugar, and even trans fats (35, 36, 37).

For better health, bakery goods come under the ‘foods to avoid’ tag.

Key Point: If you want to eat some cakes or pastries, try making healthier options at home or find a bakery who are transparent with their ingredients. 

Final Thoughts

Restricting these foods doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition.

Providing you are otherwise healthy, eating a poor choice at a friend’s birthday party or similar isn’t the end of the world.

However, for optimal health, these are all foods to avoid, and they certainly shouldn’t play a regular role in any healthy diet.

For more on nutrition for optimal health, it may be worth reading some of these great nutrition books.