Dieting is as American as the MLB World Series and 24-hour diners, with about 45 million of us — or 14% — revamping our eating plans each year. Wondering if you consume the unhealthiest foods on the planet on a regular basis and how they might affect your health? You’re in the right place!
The first few food swaps are no-brainers:
Whole wheat over white bread.
Fruits and vegetables instead of brownies and cookies.
Drinking nothing but water.
But if a Friday night “cheat meal” is the only thing motivating you Saturday through Thursday, then breaking with your diet is inevitable.
What foods should you absolutely avoid when you finally splurge?
Here are seven of the unhealthiest foods on the planet. Resist them at all costs!
1. Chicken Nuggets from Fast-Food Chains
What was once a childhood favorite is now a dietary nightmare. And that’s all thanks to fast-food chains like Chick-Fil-A, McDonald’s, and Wendy’s, whose chicken nugget recipes are almost exclusively fat.
Not pure white meat, as advertised.
But as juicy and tender as those nuggets are, they provide almost no nutritional value. Each 4-piece serving is:
- 50% fat, ground bone, and blood vessels (the rest is a muscle)
- Loaded with fillers and preservatives
- Processed chicken meat (fried, frozen, and re-cooked)
- 15% DRV sodium
- 20% DRF total fat
Don’t confuse its 10g protein and 170-calorie portion for being “healthy.” If you crave a yummy, protein-filled snack, cook grilled chicken with light seasoning instead.
2. Coffee Creamers
Coffee creamers are the sweet cure to bitter black coffee, even if only a quick splash. But these coffee lighteners are also filled to the brim with harmful nutrients that can ruin an otherwise balanced diet.
They’re not “healthy” dairy (or dairy at all, for that matter).
One tablespoon of the classic Coffee-Mate French vanilla coffee creamer is a pure fat and sugar concoction, containing:
- 1.5g fat
- 5g sugar
- 35 calories
- 0 protein
Others contain a day’s worth of trans fat in one spoonful, putting you at risk for high cholesterol and heart disease. And that assumes you fall below the American average of two cups of java per day.
If black coffee is unbearably stiff, drizzle almond milk or honey into your joe instead.
3. Bacon, Sausage, and Processed Meats
A traditional American breakfast isn’t complete without a bacon or sausage side. But these salty and savory red meats are also linked to damaged digestive systems and stomach or colorectal cancer.
To make matters worse, processed meats are hardly nutritional. For instance, an 8g fried bacon slice delivers nutrients like:
- 3.3g fat
- 137mg sodium
- 0% for nearly all micronutrients
- 9mg cholesterol
Fried bacon’s excess salt, fat, and nitrates (chemical preservers) can put you at risk for stroke and high blood pressure. But if whole-grain cereal isn’t your style, pair your scrambled eggs with sausage, turkey bacon, or vegetarian bacon instead.
Better yet, skip the cholesterol-laden eggs altogether and scramble egg whites!
4. Soda (Including Diet)
Soda (soft drinks) first entered the global limelight in 1886 with the iconic Coca-Cola and has only grown in popularity. In 2011 alone, the average American guzzled 45 gallons of pop (or about 487 cans).
But why is this sweet yet fizzy beverage the fourth-unhealthiest food on the entire planet?
The answers are sugar, acids, and a concerning obesity link.
You’ll rethink your Mountain Dew or Dr. Pepper fix after you see these risks:
- A slowed metabolism and weight gain potential
- Fatty liver and later heart disease
- A 26% greater risk for diabetes (each serving has 7+ tablespoons of sugar)
- Ulcer or gastrointestinal flare-ups
Most people know that soda is essentially sugar dumped into water with some flavoring mixed in. Despite the name, diet soda isn’t any better. Diet soda poses its own risks, like kidney disease, thanks to artificial sweeteners.
If it’s the fizz you’re craving, seltzer or sparkling water are better alternatives.
5. Frozen Microwave Dinners
Microwave-ready meals sold by Stouffer’s or Lean Cuisine are the “easy” option after a grueling eight-hour shift. Tear the plastic cover, pop it into the microwave for three minutes, and enjoy!
All without having to slave over a hot stove.
Yet, these frozen entrées, even from brands marketed as “healthy,” are among the worst culprits on this list. Their declining reputation comes due to the fact that:
- They contain 70% of your daily sodium limit.
- They have high saturated fat, sodium, and cholesterol counts.
- The freezing robs TV dinners of some vitamin C, B, and A content.
- Many ingredients are artificial.
These dishes are perfectly creamy and savory, but their reputation precedes them. Rest assured, some entrées in the frozen aisle are fairly healthy if they’re sauce-free and include fruits or vegetables.
If these high-sodium dishes are the last resort on busy days, consider the meal prep route so you can heat and eat after work.
6. Fried Desserts
Fried anything likely won’t land on your newly revamped healthy eating diet plan. But fried desserts, a miracle taste-wise, are a heart attack waiting to happen.
These traditional carnival foods are worse than normal sweets or fried foods (surprisingly, that’s possible):
- Funnel cakes: 760 calories, 44g fat, 16g sugar
- Deep-fried Twinkies: 220 calories, 9g fat, 16g sugar
- Deep-fried Oreos: 123 calories, 7.8g fat, 5.6g sugar
- Fried ice cream: 810 calories, 15.8g fat, 71.5g sugar
These delicious once-in-a-while foods can send your trans fat, sodium, and sugar levels into overdrive. Combined, fried desserts put you at risk for an expanding waistline, high cholesterol, diabetes, and early death (500,000 trans-fat-related deaths per year).
You’re almost better off getting your sweet and savory fixes separately than creating these deadly yet delicious combos.
How did America’s favorite dinner land on such a list? Well, when we’re not arguing whether pizza is a fruit or a vegetable (it’s neither), we can pay closer attention to the unhealthy ingredients jumbled in that circular pie.
The traditional pizza has gone far off the nutritional deep end, with each cheese slice containing the following nutrients:
- 285 calories
- 10g fat (including trans fat)
- 640mg sodium
- 36g carbs
Pizza’s high sodium, saturated fat, and calorie counts make it more of a junk food than a nutritional or hearty dinner. Pizza overload can heighten your risk of blocked arteries or high blood pressure.
Adding pepperoni, sausage, and high-fat cheeses only makes pizza even more disastrous for our health.
If sacrificing pizza isn’t on the table, stick to homemade pizza (sorry, Dominos) and don’t eat it more than once per week.
Fried desserts, diet sodas, and coffee creamers won’t be permanent staples in any diet. But these seven foods deserve the opposite honor — the healthiest foods on the planet:
- Sweet potatoes
If you’re going to splurge on 10-piece chicken nuggets from McDonald’s, add one of these superfoods to a meal on “cheat day.”
It’s all about discovering balance!