What is healthful and what is not may not always be clear. Even many of the foods on this list have more healthful versions available. The difference is knowing what to look for.
Here are the six most unhealthful foods that people may often consider healthful. We also discuss how to make better choices when incorporating them into the diet.
1. Many breads
Natural 100 percent whole-grain bread is a very nutritious addition to many diets. Breads comprising natural whole wheat still contain the bran and germ of the kernel, which contain much of the nutrients and fiber.
Many processed breads strip the bran and germ from the kernel to give the bread a smooth texture. However, this also affects the bread’s glycemic load, as the fiber in whole-grain bread helps slow down the absorption of the carbohydrates and sugars.
The glycemic index (GI) measures to what extent high-carbohydrate foods raise blood glucose levels. The American Diabetes Association report that white bread is a very high-GI food with a score of 70 or more. However, 100 percent stone-ground, whole-wheat bread is a low-GI food with a score of 55 or less.
There may also be concerns about ingredients such as phytic acid in unsprouted grains. As a 2015 study in the Journal of Food Science and Technology points out, phytic acid binds to micronutrients in other foods a person eats and makes them impossible for the body to absorb.
People incorporating bread in their diet may consider picking 100 percent whole-grain breads. Also, anyone with concerns regarding phytic acid in their breads may want to pick bread containing only sprouted grains, which reduces the phytic acid content.
2. Diet sodas
Many people consider diet sodas to be more healthful versions of soda. This may not be entirely true. While diet sodas do have fewer calories thanks to the lack of sugar, most diet sodas contain non-nutritive sweeteners such as aspartame, which may not be as healthful as many people think.
A study in the journal Research in Nursing & Health revealed that aspartame may affect mood. When eating a high-aspartame diet well below the daily recommended limit, participants had more irritable moods, higher levels of depression, and even worse performance in spatial orientation tests.
Many people also believe that drinking diet sodas will help them lose weight. However, a systematic review from 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal shows that the research does not support the idea that non-nutritive sweeteners will help people lose weight.
Further research is needed to fully understand the long-term risks and benefits of consuming non-nutritive sweeteners.
While a homemade smoothie or fresh fruit juice may be a good way to add fruit to the diet, packaged or store-bought fruit products may not be as healthful as many people believe them to be.
This may be due to what manufacturers leave out of the juices and smoothies, specifically fiber.
In a whole fruit, the fiber of the fruit helps control how fast the body digests sugar.
Fruit juice also contains a high amount of sugar. So, while it may be a better choice than soda, it may still lead to consuming too many calories during the day.
The other issue is the processing that goes into many packaged juices and smoothies. Processing the fruit may make a juice or smoothie last longer, but it might also cause the end product to lose some of the helpful nutrients in the fruit, such as vitamin C, calcium, and fiber. This is according to a study that appeared in the journal Advances in Nutrition.
On the plus side, 100 percent fruit juice does not seem to increase the risk of issues such as diabetes, even if it is high in sugar. A study in the Journal of Nutritional Science suggests that 100 percent fruit juice may not affect glucose levels or the body’s glucose control.
A homemade trail mix of some dry-roasted nuts with a few raisins or dried cranberries may be a good addition to the diet and a perfect on-the-go snack for many people.
However, many store-bought trail mixes are far from this simple blend.
Added ingredients such as chocolate pieces, yogurt-covered fruits, and even salt, sugar, and additional oils can add a lot of calories to an already calorie-rich snack.
People can skip the store-bought trail mix and make a simple blend of dry-roasted or raw nuts at home. It may also help control portions to put a small amount aside each day.
In general, keeping an eye out for additional ingredients, such as sugars or processed grains, can help a person make better nutritional decisions.
One option may be to take a few more minutes to prepare food and avoid store-bought alternatives.
It is also important to note that many foods will have different effects on different people. Anyone uncertain about what foods they should avoid due to an underlying condition or allergy should consider talking to their doctor or nutritionist.
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