9 Unhealthy Foods You Should Avoid Having in Your Diet

In today’s health-conscious world, people have begun actively checking if what they eat is healthy and helpful to the body. Some of these foods are promoted… Denis Courtney - September 30, 2016

In today’s health-conscious world, people have begun actively checking if what they eat is healthy and helpful to the body. Some of these foods are promoted as healthy when in fact they are not helpful at all to the body. We eat them assuming they have essential nutrients and are healthy for our bodies. Some of these foods are foods we have been consuming for years without knowing that they are harmful; that they do more harm than good to us. However, we need to be careful about what we consume, as we may be harming ourselves unknowingly.

Foods such as vegetable oils, margarine, non-organic and canned foods form part of our daily diets, yet they contain harmful compounds and chemicals that may harm us in the long term. To check which food is healthy and which one is detrimental to our body, we simply need to check the ingredients in the particular food we are buying, or how they are grown in the case of fresh produce. We should be careful when purchasing anything for consumption, and should be aware of what various chemicals do to our bodies. This includes actively researching any ingredient in food that you are not sure of so that you take only healthy stuff.

More and more foods are being manufactured with chemicals, either to improve flavor or to ensure the production cost is as little as possible. Animals and crops are being reared and grown respectively using chemicals so that they mature in the least time possible, and are ready for the market in a few months.

In this article, I will explain in detail nine common foods that we eat but are very unhealthy. This list does not exhaust all the foods we should avoid, but it gives the nine most common ones used by almost everyone.

1. Margarine


Since margarine contains less saturated fats compared to butter (5 grams to butter’s 8 grams), it has mistakenly been touted in some places as the healthy alternative to butter. Margarine companies sell their products as the healthy version of butter – which it isn’t, as butter is the best alternative – since the saturated fats in margarine have been purported to cause heart disease in some people.

However, what is not said is that different people’s bodies react differently to saturated fats, some people need to avoid all kinds of fat for the sake of their health. Butter is made naturally from cow milk, which is healthy for the body. Margarine, on the other hand, undergoes chemical processing and has additives, making it much unhealthier.

Below are some of the reasons why you should avoid margarine:

  • The hydrogenated oils that make up margarine are high in omega-6 fatty acids. While these omega-6 acids are needed by the body, they are already everywhere in our diet. If not properly balanced by omega-3s (which are becoming rare in our food), they can result in cancer, heart disease, and belly fat.
  • Hydrogenation (the process of hardening the vegetable oils used in making margarine solid) results in artificial trans fats, which are unhealthy. They increase the levels of blood insulin (puts you at a higher risk of diabetes), decrease fertility and immune response, increase the levels of LDL (what we call ‘bad cholesterol’) and increase the possibility of heart disease.
  • Vegetable oils used in the manufacturing of margarine are highly concentrated in polyunsaturated fats, which become unstable and generate free radicals when stored for a long time or exposed to light. These free radicals, over the long term, are responsible for numerous health problems such as cancer and heart disease.
  • Solvents such as hexane used in the extraction process are industrial chemicals that can lead to toxic effects on the body.

It is, therefore, much safer to use butter, especially from milk produced by grass-fed cows. Coconut oil, olive oil, macadamia and hazelnut oils are also good alternatives to margarine.

2. Artificial Sweeteners


Artificial sweeteners are claimed to be a healthy alternative to the regular table sugar we take, with less sugar and calories than table sugar. They can be found in drinks, cakes, desserts, toothpaste and chewing gum. These products are often marketed as ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free,’ especially soft drinks, yogurts and fruit juice. They are said to be good, especially for people who have diabetes so that they can still enjoy food while watching their sugar levels.

However, are these artificial sweeteners healthy? Though some people claim that they have no effect on the human body, research into some of the sweeteners has proved this wrong. People who regularly consume artificial sweeteners may increase their risk of type 2 diabetes, weight gain, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.

There is a concern that artificial sweeteners make the body less adaptable to the sugar found in other foods. Someone may end up not taking sweet foods such as fruits because the body isn’t used to that much sugar. You end up taking foods with little nutritional value, just because they contain less sugar, at the expense of nutritious and healthy food.

In as much as consuming too much sugar is bad for your health, these artificial sweeteners aren’t any better. Studies have shown that consumers of either artificially sweetened or sugar-sweetened products are equally at risk of health problems such as weight gain, diabetes, and others. Artificial sweeteners, therefore, do not lower the risk at all, contrary to the claims of manufacturers.

So what are the alternatives to table sugar, so that we can avoid artificial sweeteners? Natural honey has proven to be one of the best sugar substitutes, with a myriad of health benefits. Molasses (a by-product of sugarcane processing), pure maple syrup (not artificial one with additives) and date sugar (dried and ground dates) are great, natural and healthy sugar substitutes.

4. Canned Tomatoes


Tomatoes are the base ingredient in so many recipes, in different types of meals all over the world. However, many recipes are increasingly using canned tomatoes instead of fresh tomatoes, due to the former’s more flavor and color in food as compared to the latter.

Nutritionists have raised the alarm on canned tomatoes. Bisphenol-A (BPA) is a chemical used in the lining of cans that contain the tomatoes (and other canned products). BPA acts as a barrier between the can’s surface and the food, to prevent corrosion and the metal from mixing with the food. Exposure to BPA (which is thought to behave like estrogen in the human body) leads to several health problems such as:

  • A higher risk of some cancers such as breast and prostate
  • Sperms defects
  • Hormonal disruption
  • Organ malformation in children
  • Reproductive harm
  • Heart disease
  • Brain impairment and neurological effects
  • Diabetes

Canned tomatoes are worse because tomatoes are highly acidic, they, therefore, draw out more BPA from the can lining into the food. In as much as canned products are not healthy, tomatoes are some of the biggest culprits. According to research by Consumer Reports, a couple of servings of canned tomatoes are over the safety limits for BPA exposure to children in a day. Some companies decided to make BPA- free cans. However, they are not healthy as they seem, since the BPA in the can lining was replaced with another chemical, Bisphenol-S (BPS) which has similar health risks to BPA.

There are several alternatives to canned tomatoes:

  • Fresh tomatoes from the garden/market
  • Blend and can your own tomatoes when they are in season and store them in glass jars for future use
  • Buy tomatoes from brands that sell them in glass jars or bottles, and avoid cans at all costs
  • Tetra Pak packaging has no BPA

5. Table Salt


Salt is an important aspect of our diet. It is required in our bodies for quite many processes. However, the table salt we commonly use in our homes is not the natural salt our bodies need. Table (processed) salt contains 98% sodium chloride, and 2% contains dangerous synthetic chemicals such as aluminosilicate and ferrocyanide, potassium iodide, anti-caking agents, moisture absorbents and some iodine. In some countries, fluoride is also added. Natural salt, on the other hand, contains 84% sodium chloride. The other 16% contains natural minerals like silicon, vanadium and phosphorous.

Iodine, an important mineral in the body, is found in natural salt. When salt is manufactured or processed, the natural form of iodine is lost, and this is harmful to the thyroid. Salt manufacturers end up adding synthetic iodine to the salt, which is detrimental to the body.

Table salt also leads to high blood pressure, as the blood attempts to move any toxic element away from the heart rapidly. This high blood pressure increases the risk of stroke and Coronary Heart Disease (which leads to heart failures and heart attacks). This is the reason why people with high blood pressure are advised to reduce or eliminate their salt intake.

Lots of salt in the diet increases the risk of getting stomach cancer. Salt can lead to damage of the stomach lining, increasing its vulnerability to H. pylori, the cancer-causing bacteria. Salt can also increase the action and growth of bacteria.

A high salt intake leads to more calcium in the body, which is passed out into urine by the kidneys. Too much salt leads to the buildup of calcium in the kidneys, resulting in kidney stones, which are very painful. Kidney stones may lead to kidney disease. There are other effects of too much salt intake, such as osteoporosis and vascular dementia.

In as much as natural salt has benefits to the body, you should consume it in moderation. Consider the potassium-to-sodium ratio in your diet too. Maintain balance by eating whole, organic foods for the best potassium-to-sodium ratio.

6. Processed Meats


Processed meat is defined as any meat that is preserved by smoking, canning, curing, salting, drying, or adding chemical preservatives. This includes sausages, bacon, ham, canned meat, hot dogs, corned beef, salami, smoked meat, among others. Many people consume processed meat daily, without thinking of the harm they do to the body.

They are very high in sodium. Most have more than 20% of the recommended daily intake of sodium. This is associated with a greater risk of high blood pressure, and negatively affects organs such as the heart and kidneys. Some, like sausages and hot dogs, are a source of high saturated fats and calories, which may lead to weight gain and are not healthy for the heart.

Some chronic diseases, such as Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease, Heart disease and bowel and stomach cancer are associated with a high intake of processed meats.

Sodium nitrate, used for protection against the bacteria that cause foodborne illnesses, is an ingredient in most processed meats. In the stomach, which is acidic, some nitrate is converted to nitrite and combined with the protein in food. This combination is converted to nitrosamine, which is a carcinogen. Long-term exposure to this increases the risk of cancer.

When smoking meats (or grilling them), Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAH) are formed. These PAHs have been shown, after studies and research, to cause cancer. Cooking meat under high temperatures, such as frying, leads to the formation of Heterocyclic Amines (HCA), which are associated with cancer.

There are several ways of controlling your intake of processed meats:

  • If possible, avoid all kinds of processed meat, and instead go for fresh meat from grass-fed animals, and fresh-caught fish.
  • Lower-temperature cooking methods such as stewing, poaching, steaming and braising are usually recommended.
  • Grilling meat should be done as few times as possible.
  • When purchasing any processed meats, make sure you buy those with a low sodium quantity.

7. Microwave Popcorn


Most of us love popping some popcorn in the microwave. This easy-to-make snack is everyone’s favorite, especially since you can make and enjoy them in a few minutes. Health officials, however, have a warning for everyone who enjoys this snack: they are not healthy.

When you are making your popcorn in the microwave, there is this sweet smell that makes the popcorn even more tantalizing. What we don’t know is that the smell is, in reality, a chemical, diacetyl, which is a synthetic butter flavoring. Inhaling such a chemical, according to CDCP, is linked with a lung disease commonly referred to as ‘popcorn lung.’ While diacetyl is harmless when you consume it, inhaling the vapor after it has been heated to high temperatures is very harmful. A large number of factory workers in popcorn factories have been found to have problems with their lungs, due to exposure, over an extended period, to artificial flavoring such as diacetyl.

Diacetyl has been associated with Alzheimer’s disease since it can pass through the blood-brain barrier, supposed to keep toxins from the brain. It causes the brain proteins to fold into the beta-amyloid, Alzheimer’s-linked form. Apart from diacetyl, there have been concerns about the high quantity of salt in some popcorn packages.

Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS), Perfluoroalkyls and Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) are chemicals used to line the bags containing popcorn, to prevent them from being soaked in grease. They mix with the popcorn when you heat it and have been linked to problems with the thyroid and endocrine system.

If you still use microwave popcorn, make sure you allow it to cool before opening, so that you can breathe in less diacetyl. You can also pop the kernels yourself, or prepare your popcorn on a stove using olive oil. Homemade popcorn is much healthier and sweeter than microwave one.

8. Unfermented Soy Products


There is this belief that soy products are very healthy, and can be used in several foods as a substituted for other products. However, most of the soy we consumed is genetically engineered, and we all know the adverse effects of genetically engineered/modified foods.

Soy foods can be categorized into two: fermented and unfermented. Fermented products, such as soy sauce and natto, have no adverse health effects on the body. Unfermented soy, on the other hand, is very harmful and should be avoided at all costs, regardless of what the media says. Some of the adverse effects of unfermented soy include:

  • Synthetic Vitamin D – since soy products increase the body’s vitamin D requirements, soy companies end up adding synthetic vitamin D2 to products such as soymilk. This is a very toxic form of the very useful vitamin D.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency – A compound resembling this vitamin is usually present in soy products, but cannot be used by the body. This leads to a deficiency of vitamin B12.
  • Manganese and Aluminum are found in high quantities in soy products. They are harmful to the body, as aluminum harms the kidneys and the nervous system, while manganese harms a baby’s metabolic system.
  • Some compounds in soymilk (two or more glasses) alter women’s menstrual cycles and their hormonal balance. Phytoestrogens, which resemble human estrogen, can cause infertility and increase breast cancer risk.
  • Phytic acid found in soy products isn’t quickly neutralized, only long fermentation can neutralize it. It results in growth problems in children.

Soy protein isolate, a dry powder ingredient made from genetically engineered soy, has been shown to enlarge the thyroid and pancreas and is linked to allergies. People with allergies are therefore usually advised to avoid soy products, as soy isolate is found in lots of processed foods.

Vegetarians are best advised to take only fermented soy products, which are much healthier for the body.

9. Vegetable Oils


Vegetable oils have been marketed to us as healthy to use when cooking. This perception is because they contain unsaturated fats that are considered healthier than saturated fats. We are advised to use vegetable oils such as sunflower oil, canola oil or soybean oil. But are they as safe as we think they are?

No, they are not. Experts say these oils cause harm to the body over time. Some effects include:

  • They contain a huge amount of omega-6 unsaturated fatty acids, which when used in excess are harmful. These omega-6 fats fuel the body’s inflammatory paths and reduce the anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats in the body tissues, resulting in inflammation of the cells.
  • They contain high levels of PUFAs (polyunsaturated fats) which are highly unstable. They easily oxidize, leading to mutation and inflammation in cells. They are also linked to cancer, endometriosis and heart disease.
  • There are lots of additives and chemicals in vegetable oils which are not healthy. Chemicals such as Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) that is used to prevent food from spoiling quickly. BHA, however, produces potential cancer compounds. It is also linked to other health problems such as infertility and kidney damage.
  • They have a huge amount of trans-fats, which are highly toxic and are associated with an increase in the risk of cancer, obesity, diabetes and heart disease.

As the oil is heated when cooking, it mixes with oxygen and becomes rancid. This is oxidized oil, which leads to vascular diseases and hence should not be consumed. When hydrogenated, the trans-fats in the oil increase the risk of heart disease and breast cancer.

Doctors recommend the use of other healthy fats and oils such as:

  • Fatty fish like wild salmon and mackerel that contain omega-3 fats.
  • Nuts such as macadamia and almonds.
  • Avocados
  • Extra-virgin organic olive oil
  • Coconut oil

9. Non-organic vegetables and fresh produce with high pesticide contamination

Fresh Fruits and Vegetables

There has been a debate on the importance of buying organic foods, and their nutritional value as compared to non-organic foods. Organic foods are those that are produced and manufactured using organic means, while non-organic are those that are produced using synthetic means such as fertilizers and insecticides.

Organic foods are preferred by some people because they contain much fewer pesticides and more nutrients than non-organic foods. Pesticides that are used to grow non-organic foods can be absorbed into vegetables and fruits and leave residues. These traces of pesticides are harmful to the body and are linked to health problems such as congenital disabilities.

According to research done by Newcastle University, organic products contain up to 40% more nutrients, such as zinc, iron and Vitamin C, than non-organic ones. Organically-grown corn and berries were also found to have 58% more antioxidants that help in the prevention of cardiovascular disease than non-organic ones. This is attributed to the fact that when growing crops organically, the nitrogen in the soil is slowly released, hence the plants grow normally with balanced nutrient allocation. Non-organic crops are grown using fertilizers, hence grow very fast. Their nutrient allocation is, therefore, less. Buying fresh produce from the farm is also beneficial since they still have their maximum nutrients (nutrient values are peak just after harvest, at prime ripeness). The fresher the produce, the more nutrients it has.

Non-organic animal products such as eggs and meat are usually produced by animals that have been fed with antibiotics and hormones for faster growth. These chemicals end up in the bodies of the people who consume such products. Long-term ingestion of such is associated with breast and prostate cancers. Study suggests, Organic foods cut your cancer risk.

Organic vegetables and foods are the recommended ones for a healthy life. In addition to more nutrients, they do not have the chemicals that are contained in non-organic foods.