Most people I meet think that they’re pretty healthy. But when I probe a little deeper into their diets, I quickly find out that they are eating a lot of health foods you should never eat. I can’t blame them. With all of the confusion surrounding labeling and advertising, buzzwords like “sugar-free,” “all-natural” and even “organic” can be really confusing.
To makes things a little easier for you, here’s a list of the top health foods you should never eat. Many of these aren’t really health foods at all. Instead, many are secret sugar bombs, foods that set your body into inflammation overdrive, menu items that can throw your hormones into an unhealthy state or they’re tainted with seriously gross compounds.
Top Health Foods You Should Never Eat
1. Fruit Juice
Fruit juice is just as dangerous as soda, or nearly as bad, when you’re drinking it in abundance. Think of it in this way: When you sit down to drink an 8-ounce glass of orange juice, you’re consuming the juice of four medium-sized oranges in literally seconds — or a few minutes at the most. Compare this to how long it would take to eat four oranges, and you can quickly see how eating fruit in its whole form is best. (Thanks, in large part, to all of that wholesome fiber.)
Fruit juice is so dangerously largely due to the fructose factor. In June 2014, a study published in the journal Nutrition found that the average fruit juice’s fructose concentration is 45.5 grams per liter. For soda, it’s 50 grams. Our bodies aren’t designed to deal with that type of fructose overload. While glucose serves as a fuel for our body, fructose is processed almost exclusively in the liver, where it’s converted to fat. (1, 2)
2. Soy Protein
Contrary to popular belief, soy products are not healthy for you; at least, that is, unfermented soy. Fermented soy is one thing. But eating edamame, soy milk and soy protein is quite another.
Most soy grown in the U.S. is genetically modified to withstand applications of glyphosate, the active ingredient in the weedkiller Roundup. A recent Norwegian study found “extreme” levels of glyphosate in U.S. soy, meaning we’re eating weedkiller when we eat non-organic soy. That’s a problem, given that glyphosate is linked to many health problems, including human cell death. (3, 4)
It’s generally accepted that long-term use of soy dietary supplements like soy protein is unsafe because it has been linked to the following: (5)
- Allergic rhinitis (hay fever)
- Breast cancer
- Cystic fibrosis
- Endometrial cancer
- Hypothyroidism (under-active thyroid)
- Kidney disease
- Urinary bladder cancer
All of these reasons are great reasons why soy is definitely one of the health foods you should never eat.
3. Sugar Alcohols
Sugar alcohols are commonly found in sugar-free gum and sugar-free baked goods and sugar replacements. Xylitol is one of the most popular forms. Others include: erythritol, isomalt, lactitol, maltitol, mannitol, sorbitol. While often marketed as natural, these sweeteners undergo intense processing and are often derived from GMO ingredients like corn. Some of these products are also linked to allergic reactions, headaches, SIBO symptoms, rashes, gas and bloated.
Better option: Try green stevia, monk fruit or raw honey (in moderation) for sweetening.
4. ‘Atlantic’ Salmon + Other Farmed Fish Like Tilapia
Another health food you should never eat: Farmed fish. I’ve written extensively on farmed fish. And in fact, eating tilapia is worse than eating bacon in some ways. Be sure to avoid farmed salmon, too. It’s often called ‘Atlantic’ salmon or just salmon.
Here are a other reasons inflammation-boosting farmed salmon needs to be a fish you should never eat:
- An October 2016 study found omega-3 levels in farmed salmon are rapidly dropping and are half of what they were five years ago. Part of the reason for the nutrient loss is salmon farm feed contains less ground anchovy content. (6)
- University of New York at Albany researchers found dioxin levels in farm-raised salmon to be 11 times higher than those in wild salmon. The environmental pollutants are linked to cancer, organ damage and immune system dysfunction (7, 8)
- A 2011 study published in PLoS One found mice-eating farmed salmon actually showed weight gain and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes symptoms. (9) The risk comes from the persistent organic pollutants, or POPs, that tend to be high in farmed salmon.
- A 2011 Food and Water Watch aquaculture report highlighted some concerning statistics. Hundreds of thousands of farmed fish escape into the wild. These fish are often carrying “super lice” parasitic hitchhikers that even the harshest chemicals no longer kill. Some even carry other diseases that can debilitate nearby wild fish populations. Farmed salmon have also been treated with banned pesticides, another serious toxicity concern. (10)
- It takes about 2½ to 4 pounds of other fish to create the salmon chow needed to produce 1 pound of farm-raised salmon. The overfishing of wild sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring and other fish upset natural ecosystems. (11)
- In November 2015, the Food and Drug Administration approved the sale of genetically engineered salmon and will not require any labeling, leaving consumers in the dark. It was approved despite findings the GMO salmon doesn’t actually grow as fast as its creator claims. (12, 13)
Better option: Alaskan wild-caught salmon, Pacific sardines, Atlantic mackerel (And avoid these other fish you should never eat)
5. Microwave Popcorn
Another one of my top “health” foods you should never eat is microwave popcorn. Filled with questionable ingredients, it is just not worth the convenience. The main problem? The microwavable bags are coated with nonstick perfluorochemicals like perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), chemical that is liked to cancer. (14, 15)
Another major concern is diacetyl. This fake butter flavoring compound actually causes serious lung disease when inhaled in large quantities. (16)
Better option: Next time you get that hankering for some popcorn, simply pop your own. Purchase plain, organic popcorn kernels at a natural foods store. Use coconut oil or organic butter and pour 3 tablespoons into a heavy, stainless steel pan.
Put two kernels in the pan and wait until one pops, then pour 1/3 cup of popcorn in the pan and cover it. As it pops, make sure you shake the pan to allow the steam to escape and prevent the popcorn from burning. Remove from the pan when the popping stops and season as desired. Some great toppings include nutritional yeast, garlic powder and cayenne pepper.
6. Factory-Farmed Meat
Essentially, you are what they eat, and if the livestock that you’re grilling up for supper is fed hormones, drugs and an unnatural diet grown using chemical pesticides and fertilizers, well, that’s not good news for you, either.
Here are concerning findings:
- A 2012 study looking at feather testing detected banned antibiotics, allergy medications, painkillers and even depression meds like Prozac in chickens (17)
- Feeding poultry arsenic has resulted in higher levels of toxic arsenic in humans (18)
- About 30 million pounds of antibiotics are sold for use in farm animals annually (19)
Better option: My recommendation is that you always purchase meat from a trusted local source. Get to know your food growers and ranchers. It’s worthwhile to become familiar with how your food is sourced and prepared. Ask the farmer if the animals are grass-fed and how they deal with sickness. (For example, if they use drugs preventatively or only if the animal is at risk of dying.) If you’re looking for poultry, the gold standard is raised on rotated green pastures and supplemented with organic feed.
You’d think that the “margarine myth” would have been put to bed years ago, but many people are still using it. The initial idea was that margarine was lower in saturated fats than butter, so it would protect heart health. But we now know that’s not true. (20)
Sadly, trans fats were the original fats used in margarines. (21) This is tragic, given that today, we now know trans fats are responsible for about 50,000 fatal heart attacks a year. (22) Trans fat also increases someone’s risk of developing type II diabetes and several other severe health problems. (23)
While trans fats have since been removed from most margarines, it’s important to note that most contain industrial, highly processed fats that would never be found in nature.
Better option: Choose butter or ghee from grass-fed cows. Or try coconut oil.
Here are just a few of the health reasons I don’t eat it:
- Shrimp contains 4-hexylresorcinol, a food additive used to prevent discoloration in shrimp. This additive has estrogen-like effects that could reduce sperm count in men and increase breast cancer risk in women. (24, 25)
- Shrimp farm pond waters are often treated with neurotoxic organophosphate pesticides linked to symptoms of ADHD, memory loss and tremors. Malachite green, a potential carcinogen, is often used to kill fungus on shrimp eggs. Once it has been used, malachite green will stay in the flesh of shrimp for a very long time – more than 200 days in water that is 50 degrees F. (26)
- Food and Water Watch notes that rotenone is a chemical used to kill off fish living in the pond before it’s stocked with young shrimp. If inhaled, it can cause respiratory paralysis. Studies have also linked rotenone to Parkinson’s symptoms in mice.
- Shrimp farm ponds are often shocked with organotin compounds to kill mollusks before stocking with shrimp. These hormone-disrupting chemicals mimic estrogen and have been dubbed “obesogens.” That mean they mess with the hormonal system in a way that predisposes someone to obesity, regardless of what they eat. (27)
- Oceana found 25 percent of shrimp samples labeled as wild or presumed to be wild (often called “Gulf”) were actually farm-raised shrimp. (28)
9. Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils also fall onto the “health” foods you should never eat list. Hand-in-hand with margarine, vegetable oils like canola oil are highly inflammatory and not healthy by any stretch of the imagination. They are usually genetically modified, are partially hydrogenated and have been linked to: (29, 30)
- Birth defects
- Bone and tendon problems
- Digestive disorders
- Heart disease
- Immune system impairment
- High cholesterol
- Learning disabilities
- Liver problems
- Low birth weights
- Reduced growth
- Sexual dysfunction
- Skin reactions
- Vision reduction
Better option: I recommend pure, cold pressed, extra virgin coconut oil. To make sure you’re really getting the benefits of coconut oil, you should make sure the product smells like coconut when you buy it. Otherwise there’s a good chance it’s been pasteurized and is not as healthy for you.
10. Table Salt
Standard table salt definitely makes my list of top health foods you should never eat. Pretty much everyone has heard that white table salt causes hypertension, yet that hasn’t stopped more than 95 percent of restaurants in the nation from stocking it on every table and food bar. (31)
Originally produced from mined salt, refined table salt technically starts as a “real” food then quickly becomes fake. Manufacturers use harvesting methods that strip it of all its naturally-occurring minerals and then use a number of additives to dry it and heat it to temperatures of about 1,200 degrees.
Because it was destroyed, the naturally occurring iodine is then replaced with potassium iodide in potentially toxic amounts. The salt is then stabilized with dextrose, which turns it purple. Finally it is bleached white.