It’s resolution time again – and the vast majority of us are hoping to eat better, lose weight, and get in shape in the New Year.
Easier said than done. We already know the drill: We certainly know we need to eat lean proteins, heart-healthy “good” fats, rich whole grains, fresh vegetables and fruit as well as drink lots and lots of water.
On the flip side, there are specific foods we should stay away from in order to achieve maximum good health.
Last year cheese fries, hot dogs and microwave popcorn made our list of foods to avoid at all costs. This year, The Fiscal Times asked a few experts for their input on foods to fear - and helped us compose our new list for 2015:
Cookies, Candy Bars and Other Foods Made with Refined Sugar
“The health bogeyman of the year is sugar – and for good reason,” said Nina Teicholz, author of the noteworthy 2014 book, The Big Fat Surprise: Why Butter, Meat and Cheese Belong in a Healthy Diet.
Sugar is found in the obvious snack foods: cookies, donuts, candy bars and more – and sugar-drenched foods are no-brainers to avoid. But sugar is also added to many other foods, including salad dressings, canned soup and peanut butter – where we forget it’s hiding. So we need to read labels and understand ingredients.
“For decades we were told that sugar was just ‘empty calories,’ and the American Heart Association even used to recommend that people choose sugary candies like gumdrops as snacks, in order to avoid fatty foods,” said Teicholz, who spent more than eight years researching food and diet issues. “It turns out that sugar, far from benign, is a potent cause of obesity and diabetes if not also heart disease.”
“Sugar is roughly a 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose. Glucose has been far better studied to date, and its damage results mainly from spurring the body to produce insulin, which is the king of all hormones in storing fat. Glucose is therefore efficiently converted into body fat. Insulin circulating chronically in the blood eventually exhausts the body’s ability to process it, which leads to type 2 diabetes.”
As for fructose in sugar, it spikes blood markers such as triglycerides – which raises one’s cardiovascular risks. “Most people don’t realize that the 50-50 mix of glucose and fructose is also found in high-fructose corn syrup, the other major sweetener used in everything from ketchup to soda. Overall, it’s best to avoid both these refined sugars if you aim to lose weight and stay healthy in 2015.”
This recently trendy treat is not just laden with sugar – it’s salt heavy as well. Some have called this fixture of state fairs the perfect mix of sweet and savory. But chocolate-covered bacon, no matter how delicious, has few fans among nutrition and health experts.
“This may be one of those foods I personally would never eat,” said Janet Epstein-Blum, a New Jersey-based nutritionist and certified health coach. “At just two slices, chocolate-covered bacon packs in over 400 calories and over 500 mg of sodium – not to mention 16 grams of artery-clogging saturated fat.”
As a health coach, Epstein-Blum added that she generally doesn’t like to tell people “never” to eat something. “When people are told that, they typically want that food even more.” Instead, she counsels making smart choices: “If someone is offered a treat like chocolate-covered bacon, I ask the person to stop for a moment, challenge whether eating that slice of chocolate-covered salty fat will bring them closer to optimal health or further away – and then make their choice.”
Corn Dogs, French Fries and Other Foods Deep-Fried in Vegetable Oils
Most health experts advise staying clear of fried foods heated at high temperatures in unsaturated vegetable oils – such as popular grease-laden foods like corn dogs, French fries, onion rings, and even Twinkies deep-fried in restaurant fryers.
“I would avoid these at all times,” said Nina Teicholz. “The vegetable oils – like peanut, corn and soybean – oxidize easily when heated to high temperatures, especially over long periods of time. In those conditions, oils produce oxidation products, some highly toxic to human health. They lead to massive inflammation in the body and the most dangerous kind of oxidized cholesterol in the bloodstream.”
She emphasized it’s not the fried foods themselves that are unhealthy – it’s the intensely heated unsaturated vegetable oils. The current push to rid our food of trans fats has meant a return to using the regular oils, with the same old worrisome oxidation products, she said.
“When the FDA decided to get rid of trans fats, it didn’t consider what alternatives would need to be used. I wouldn’t eat things fried in regular trans-free vegetable oils, because they are very likely to be the kind of oil that is unstable when heated and produces huge amounts of toxic oxidation products.”
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