With so many mixed messages out there about what constitutes a healthy diet, it can be hard to feel sure that what you are eating is actually good for you.
Here, we’ve rounded up a list of foods that nutritionists say they avoid. Keep reading to find out some surprising foods nutritionists steer clear of when making dietary choices. You just might change your grocery list after you see what the professionals won’t eat!
‘Olive Oil’ Salad Dressing
Read the label on those bottles of salad dressing at the grocery store marked “olive oil.” As registered dietitian Lara Clevenger pointed out to Women’s Health, store-bought blends are just that — blends. Olive oil is on the list of ingredients, but usually in smaller amounts than other oils, like canola or soybean.
There’s a reason some flavored yogurts taste like dessert — they’re full of sugar. Most nutritionists recommend plain yogurt instead, preferably Greek. Top it with fruit to sweeten it up and add fiber in one fell swoop.
If you want to top a dessert with whipped cream, go for the real thing once in a while, registered dietitian nutritionist Ellie Krieger told Food Network. A little goes a long way and tastes good, while artificial whipped topping “tastes like the artificial ingredients it is made of.”
Cocktails And Mixed Drinks
Cocktails are delicious, but they’re full of empty calories. For example, an Applebee’s marg is 310 calories. Yikes! No wonder nutritionists stay away from calorie-laden cocktails.
“One food that I just can’t bring myself to eat is a hot dog,” registered dietitian Karen Ansel told the Independent. Ansel cites the highly processed meats, sodium and nitrates that pack our favorite ballpark snack as plenty of reason never to eat one.
When gluten-free diets became trendy, companies that make gluten-free crackers, cookies and other processed snacks started packaging them with messaging that calls them healthy. However, barring a wheat allergy or celiac disease, gluten-free treats aren’t necessarily good for you.
“Most of the gluten-free flours used to make these products have less [sic] nutrients and fiber than the whole-wheat version,” registered dietitian Kim Melton told Women’s Health.
Light mayonnaise cuts back on the fat and calories, which sounds like a good thing. But you need some healthy fats in your diet because they help your body absorb important nutrients such as vitamins A, D, E and K. So go ahead and stick with real mayo!
Fancy Coffee Drinks
We look forward to the new seasonal drinks at our local Starbucks, but those Frappuccinos and peppermint mochas topped in whipped cream are racking up the sugar (we’re talking way too much sugar) and calories. Add extras and your latte can easily clock in at several hundred calories. Ouch!
There’s nothing quite like bacon, but for some nutritionists, it’s a line they won’t cross. Bacon has tons of sodium, and most of the calories in bacon come from saturated fat. For the record, that’s not the healthy kind of fat. Sorry, folks.
Most cereals are processed into refined carbohydrates, so they don’t make it onto the pantry shelves of nutritionists. Besides that, it’s not filling.
“I don’t really get full off a bowl of cereal, so it turns into three bowls of cereal, and then it’s just like this sloshy mess in my stomach,” Stephanie Howe Violett, who has a Ph.D. in nutrition and exercise science, told Runner’s World. (Three bowls! Well, she is an ultrarunning champion.)
Fat-Free Or Low-Fat Cheese
Fat-free cheese seems to leave a lot of nutritionists wanting.
“It doesn’t melt well and it lacks the creamy mouthfeel of the real deal,” registered dietitian Bonnie Taub-Dix told Women’s Health. In short, it’s not worth the compromise. Just eat real cheese in moderation and pair it with healthy foods, she says.
Diet soda lacks the sugar of regular soda, but artificial sugar substitutes aren’t good for you, either. Diet drinks can actually promote weight gain and even trigger diabetes.
Sorry, Mexican Coke fans, but the real deal is no better.
“It’s just a waste of calories because it’s all sugar and no nutrients,” registered dietitian nutritionist Kim Larson told the Independent. Enough said!
Store-bought veggie burgers and other vegetarian “meat” items are often made with ingredients nutritionists don’t love, such as canola oil, food coloring and processed soy protein. Don’t be fooled by marketing: Burgers labeled “plant-based” could be full of processed foods stripped of fiber and nutrients. Better to make your own so you know what’s in them.
Protein bars are often packed with a mishmash of additives, sweeteners and extra fats. Skip them, or look for post-workout bars that have ingredients you can pronounce instead.
Smoothies you can buy at the grocery store, Target or WalMart might look like a much healthier option than soda. But these smoothies usually have off-the-charts amounts of sugar and calorie counts that are already high before you realize the serving size for the bottle is two, not one. Making your own smoothies at home, where you can control the ingredients, is the way to go.
Donuts are delish, but dietitians are always looking to get a lot of nutritional bang for the caloric buck. That’s where donuts fall short. As registered dietitian nutritionist Liz Weiss told the Food Network, eating donuts in the morning means missing out on the nutrients found in a good breakfast of eggs, fruit or whole grains.
Reduced-Fat Peanut Butter
To give reduced-fat peanut butter spreads a flavor boost (to make up for the missing fat), manufacturers often add sugary, processed fillers, registered dietitian Tanya Zuckerbrot told the Food Network. Besides that, the calorie count is often the same as the natural version of the nut butter without the additives. Best to stick with the original.
Non-dairy creamer is another of those food items that falls under the category of highly processed.
“Typical ingredients include corn syrup, partially hydrogenated oils and a host of various additives,” registered dietitian Alex Caspero told the Food Network. “Yuck, no thank you.”
If you’ve taken a moment to read a package of American cheese more closely, you’ll see it’s not really cheese but a “cheese food.” Yes, it has milk in it, but it’s processed with some extras for texture and flavor.
“Eating highly processed foods is associated with chronic inflammation, a state that is connected with an increased risk of developing most diseases, including cancer and promoting weight gain,” registered dietitian nutritionist Beth Warren told the Independent.
Plenty of nutritionists like the heart-health benefits of oats, but the flavored instant oatmeal packets that we turn to when we’re in a hurry are often packed with sugar and sodium, and don’t have enough protein and fat to keep you feeling full throughout the morning.
Like many cereals, grits are refined to the point of stripping out vitamins and minerals. Another problem with grits: A lot of folks add butter, heavy cream or cheese to them to make them taste good.
Juice is a better option than soda, right? Sure, but it still doesn’t make the cut for the professionals and it’s not the same thing as eating whole fruits. As registered dietitian Megan Kuikman told Runner’s World, “You’re not getting any of the fiber or the same amount of nutrients if you’re drinking a glass of orange juice.”
Margarine might seem like a healthy alternative to butter, but think again. The process of making margarine, which involves hydrogenating vegetable oil, creates trans fats — the “bad” fats that can increase your “bad” cholesterol. Those who have to stick with margarine for medical reasons should seek out a spread with zero trans fats.
Pretzels were a popular snack during the low-fat craze of the 1990s, but this highly refined carbohydrate prompted registered dietitian Cara Walsh to tell Women’s Health they’re “basically made out of sugar.” What’s more, she said, they’re not satisfying, so we tend to eat tons of them.
Lunch meats such as bologna are packed with nitrates and other preservatives. They’re not great for your salt intake, either — one bologna sandwich can easily have 1,000 milligrams of sodium. Slice up your own roast pork or turkey for a healthier alternative for your sandwiches.
Those shiny, wobbly desserts are another example of a food full of empty calories. It’s just sugar and … some other stuff. As one nutritionist told Livestrong, gelatin-based desserts are a “nothing food.”
So-called “diet” meals in the frozen aisle tout themselves as good low-calorie options, but they’re often high in sodium (as a preservative) and don’t include enough vegetables and whole grains. For quick meals at work and on busy weeknights, nutritionists say it’s better to make a big batch of a healthy meal at home and freeze it yourself.
The already-reviled hot dog gets even worse when you bread it and fry it. In addition to the dog’s dirty fillers, the batter is full of refined and processed foods of the sort that are difficult to pronounce. And you won’t even find a single redeeming macronutrient here. As popular “Today” nutritionist Joy Bauer points out, hot dogs don’t even have much protein.
We tend to demonize potato chips and opt for veggie chips to get that crispy, salty fix in a supposedly healthier way. Here’s your first clue that something’s up: potatoes are veggies, and they’re often the first ingredient in a bag of veggie chips, Dr. Adrienne Youdim pointed out to Women’s Health. The problem usually lies in the saturated and trans fats these chips are fried in, she said. Plus, veggie chips often have just as many calories as their potato-only counterparts.