Imagine you had the chance to peek into the kitchens of the world's best nutritionists and dietitians—the people who know exactly what to eat for a fitter body, slimmer belly, and a longer life. You probably wouldn't be surprised by what you see: Lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, fish, some olive oil—nothing surprising there. But what might surprise you is what you won't see—the common, so-called "healthy" foods that probably populate your own pantry, but which those in the know have long banned from their own homes.
We assembled a panel of experts and got a sneak peek into the eating habits of those who live and breathe nutrition daily, and learned about which foods should never be in your kitchen if you want to lose weight. Throw these foods that aren't doing any favors for your body into the trash and start trying out these 21 Best Healthy Cooking Hacks of All Time!
Rice cakes are an old-school diet staple. But the simple carbohydrates rank notoriously high on the glycemic index (GI) — a measure of how quickly blood rises in response to food on a scale of one to 100 (rice cakes come in at 82). High GI foods provide a rush of energy but can leave you hungry within a few hours. Researchers at the New Balance Foundation Obesity Prevention Center found high-GI snacks caused excessive hunger and increased activity in craving and reward area of the brain — the perfect storm for overeating and weight gain.
Massive Mugs of Coffee
"I try to avoid excessive caffeine," says Dr. Mamta M. Mamik, Assistant Professor of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Science at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. "An adult can safely consume up to 400 milligrams of caffeine a day—which is equivalent to four 8-ounce cups of coffee—but drinking any more than that can cause calcium excretion, which, over time, may lead to osteoporosis. Avoiding excess caffeine also helps to ward off uncomfortable withdrawal symptoms like lethargy, insomnia, headaches, and irritability."
"Although I love them, I try to stay away from cream-based soups. They not only bother my stomach, but they are also loaded with empty calories and often have concerning fillers like hydrolyzed proteins, food dyes and corn syrup that I find out about later!" says, Dr. Taz Bhatia, integrative health expert and author of The 21-Day Belly Fix.
"I try to avoid foods that contains trans fats, corn syrup, and added sugars," says Eugenia Gianos, MD, cardiologist, Co-Clinical Director, Center for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Often listed as hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, synthetically engineered trans-fats increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol levels and decrease your good (HDL) cholesterol levels, upping your risk of heart attack and stroke." Oftentimes, grocery chains or bakers will use partially hydrogenated oils to extend the shelf life of their "fresh" baked goods. Besides the potential for PHOs, these pastries are often times calorie-dense, and won't do much to keep you energized all morning.
"I avoid soymilk," notes Guillem Gonzalez-Lomas, MD, sports medicine specialist and assistant professor of Orthopaedic Surgery at NYU Langone Medical Center. "Yes, the horror stories linking overconsumption of soy products to estrogen-like effects–like the development of enlarged breasts in otherwise healthy males–are exceptional. However, the fact is that soy mimics estrogen and activates estrogen receptors in the body. Do you want to take that risk? There are plenty of other milk substitutes—like almond milk—that don't carry the same potential side effects."
"As a plastic surgeon, I'm always thinking about my figure," says New York City-based physician, Lara Devgan, MD. "To that end, I never eat energy bars or granola bars. Although they can be tasty, for the amount of calorie-dense carbs and fat they contain, you might as well eat a candy bar. Many of these bars are packed with simple sugars, and they aren't quite filling enough to substitute for a meal or snack."
"This is as far removed from a natural egg as you can get," says Dana James CDN, a nutritionist from Food Coach NYC. "Heat pasteurized and made from factory-farmed eggs, this product is processed so much that makers actually have to add in synthetic vitamins to boost its nutrient density. "Go for the real thing instead," says James. Choline, found in eggs, lean meats, seafood and collard greens, attacks the gene mechanism that triggers your body to store fat around your liver.
High-Cal Fruit Smoothies
A fruit smoothie sounds like a virtuous choice for an afternoon pick-me-up, but be forewarned: Many store-bought options are blended with high-calorie dairy bases and cheap sweeteners that make them more dessert-like than diet-friendly. Take Naked's Might Mango Fruit Smoothie, which has 57 grams of sugar per bottle.
"Talk about turning a good food bad," says Leah Kaufman, MS, RD, CDN a New York City-based Registered Dietitian. "When you transform produce into juice, you take away its fiber—one of the major benefits of consuming whole fruits and vegetables. What you wind up with is a drink that's so concentrated with sweetness, it can have as much sugar as a soda." More and more research has begun to show that some fruits are actually better at fighting belly fat than others. And the master fruits all have one thing in common: they're red, or at least reddish. Raspberries, strawberries, blueberries—they're packed with polyphenols, powerful natural chemicals that can actually stop fat from forming.
"I don't drink soda. A long time ago cola had cocaine in it, and it's arguably gotten even more unhealthy since then," says Gonzalez-Lomas. "Most sodas contain phosphorus, which binds to calcium and increases calcium loss, which is terrible for bone health. Plus, just one can is filled with 40 grams of sugar—the equivalent of 20 sugar cubes—which makes it challenging for the body to maintain healthy glucose and insulin levels. And diet soda is potentially worse. Diet beverages contain low doses of carcinogens and artificial sweeteners that have potentially dangerous effects on the brain and metabolism. While everything in moderation is reasonable, I steer clear of sodas—high risk, no reward."
Don't miss finding out What Happens to Your Body When You Give Soda!
"One of the leading health food impostors!" says Lisa Moskovitz, RD, founder of The NY Nutrition Group. "One tiny cup of granola has nearly 600 calories, 30 grams of fat, and 24 grams of sugar. That's the equivalent of starting your morning with two slices of cheesecake." Moskovitz adds, "If I want a crunch cereal, I'll go for a lighter alternative like Cheerios or Special K. They pack the same satisfying crunch with a fraction of the calories, fat, and sugar," she says.
"I eat a very clean, plant-based diet so the avoid list is long for me. However, even for those who eat meat, the processed varieties are a bad choice," warns David L. Katz, MD, MPH, Director of the Yale University Prevention Research Center and President of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine. "While the link between meat and chronic disease is fairly tenuous, the connection between salt-, sugar- and chemical-laden processed meats and chronic disease risk is strong and consistent. If you eat meat, it should be pure—like you want your own muscles to be. If you eat the highly processed, adulterated meats they may pay it forward to the meat on your own bones."
For a list of the purest proteins, click on this essential list of The 29 Best Proteins for Weight Loss.
Low-Fat Packaged Baked Goods
"I avoid any product marketed as 'low-fat.' Typically, these items are extensively processed and packed with chemicals that are added to try to achieve the consistency or reproduce the flavor of the full-fat models on which they are based," explains Rebekah Gross, MD, a gastroenterologist at the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women's Health at NYU Langone Medical Center. "I'd rather indulge in a smaller portion of a food naturally high in fat or sugar than ingest an artificial substitute. In most cases, the real deal tastes better, is more satisfying, and doesn't cause the gastrointestinal upset that can be associated with highly processed foods," says Gross.
"It's called ketchup because, over time, it's going to catch up to you," jokes Moskovitz. "Just two measly tablespoons has up to 8 grams of sugar and 40 calories. And most of those calories come from high fructose corn syrup, which has been shown to increase appetite and, over time, lead to health problems such as obesity and diabetes." If you really can't live without the stuff, "use an all-natural version with no added sugar, chemicals or HFCS," says Moskovitz.
"Most cold cereals—even the ones that seem healthy—are carb-laden, sweet and highly processed. They are definitely not the breakfast of champions—at least not thin champions," says Lauren Slayton, MS, RD, founder of Foodtrainers. Instead, "Starting your day with lean protein, like eggs, is the best way to ensure that you'll stay energized and full into early afternoon," says Slayton.
Flavored Coffee Creamer
"I avoid flavored coffee creamers because they are filled with fake ingredients that can do more harm than the flavor is worth: trans fats, artificial sweeteners, carrageenan and artificial coloring," says Gina Consalvo, MA, RD, LDN, Pennsylvania-based owner of Eat Well with Gina. "Over time, your morning shot of non-dairy creamer can raise dangerous LDL cholesterol levels and increase the risk of blood clots and heart attack. "Lighten your coffee with a half and half that only lists milk and cream as ingredients," she says.
"Nutella is one of those foods that people believe to be healthy because it contains a nut," says Kaufman. "But check the ingredients: spreads like Nutella are primarily sugar and palm oil, with almost no actual nuts involved. With over 20 grams of added sugar and only two grams of protein, the spread just winds up at your waist."
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Americans typically eat only one-third of their recommended daily intake, so you may be surprised to hear us knock any form of vegetable. Unfortunately, we've got to go there. Why? Some veggies of this variety are stored in cans that are laced with BPA, an industrial chemical used in various food and beverages containers. "There is a lot of controversy around BPA," says Consalvo. "It is thought to pose some health risks in fetuses, infants and young children's brain development." She notes that there are many brands that are now using BPA-free cans and hard plastics. We suggest going with fresh or frozen veggies, which tend to be healthier and free of salt and preservatives, too.
"We've been conditioned to look for low-cost food instead of the high-quality food," Dan Roberts, celebrity trainer and creator of Methodology X tells us. "Now, to eat organic seems like a luxury when it really isn't. For both moral and health reasons (it's free of growth hormones), I always buy and eat free-range organic chicken."
Nutrient- Stripped Breads
Jim White RD, ACSM HFS, Owner of Jim White Fitness and Nutrition Studios says that "White bread has been bleached and stripped of its bran and germ, the elements of the grain that contain beneficial nutrients. For this reason, white bread isn't very filling, has almost no nutritional value and is converted into sugar once you eat it. Like table sugar, it then spikes insulin levels, which promotes fat storage." Jay Cardiello, NSCA, personal-trainer to the stars, adds, "Also, don't get caught up in phrases like, 'made with whole grains'. This catchy phrase can make you think your bread is a healthy choice, but it only means that the bread is made up of a mixture of whole-wheat flour and some other less nutritious flour that won't benefit your health."
"Tossing back a handful of candy may not seem like a big deal, but it's the equivalent of chowing down on pure sugar. I would never do that and neither should anyone else," explains Lori-Ann Marchese, fitness celebrity and owner of Body Construct LLC.