Let’s face it: we all have our favorite foods that we crave on a consistent basis. If you have a sweet tooth, maybe you dream of cupcakes, frosting, sprinkles, or ice cream. Or maybe you’re more of a savory salt-lover who can’t wait to get their hands on a bag of chips, an order of French fries, or a crispy piece of bacon. Some of our favorite treats are healthier than others, and some are downright unhealthy. In fact, some of them may be considered some of the unhealthiest foods available, and you may not even be aware.
Unfortunately, even though it’s okay to treat yourself to your favorite things, it’s also important to make sure you know what is actually in the foods you’re eating. This is especially true in the U.S., where so many of our foods are full of added sugars, sodium, saturated and trans fat, and chemicals we don’t even know to pronounce.
To help you better understand what is in the foods you love and crave all the time, and why certain ingredients may be harmful, we put together this list of the unhealthiest foods on the planet. And while you’re learning more about the potential risks of these items, give yourself some good news by reading about these 21 Superfoods That Are Surprisingly High in Protein.
The problem with certain unhealthy coffee creamers is that some don’t actually have that much cream. For example, the first three ingredients listed on Nestle’s Coffee-Mate’s Vanilla Bean Liquid Creamer are water, sugar, and vegetable oil. Is that what you want to add to your morning cup of joe? Coffee creamers can also have synthetic additives like mono and diglycerides. Although the FDA says that monoglycerides are safe in small amounts, many monoglycerides contain trans fat. According to the National Library of Medicine, trans fat can potentially raise cholesterol levels, as well as increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
Drink this instead: If you are able to drink dairy, cow’s milk is an option that can provide a nice protein boost in your morning cup of coffee. If you’re wanting something with more flavor, you can also try a low-sugar, plant-based creamer like Natural Bliss Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer or a plant-based powdered creamer like Coconut Cloud Vanilla Coconut Milk Creamer.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Bleaching chemicals such as azodicarbonamide
If the ingredients label on your loaf of bread mentions bleached flour, you’re very likely munching on some undesirable chemicals. Some manufacturers use an ingredient called azodicarbonamide, a plastic dough conditioner used to make bread dough fluffier. The Center for Science in the Public Interest says you should avoid it, citing evidence that azodicarbonamide breaks down into a chemical called urethane during the baking process, and this chemical is considered a carcinogen—AKA a substance that can lead to cancer.
Eat this instead: There are plenty of whole-grain and whole-wheat breads that don’t include bleaching chemicals. Not only that, but they are better for you in a variety of other ways, too because many of them include sprouted or whole grains, providing you with much more fiber. For instance, try one of Dave’s Killer Bread loaves or Might Manna bread.
Unhealthy Ingredient: Added sugars, fiber-less fruit, high-fructose corn syrup
Juice may seem like a healthy choice at first, but not all fruit juices are created equal. While things like 100% pomegranate juice offer tons of antioxidants and vitamins, as well as natural sugars, some store-bought juice brands just sell products that are more added sugar than actual fruit.
For example, Simply Cranberry Cocktail contains 29 grams of added sugar per serving, and according to their website, only 27% of this drink is made with not-from-concentrate cranberry juice. What’s more, most of the sweetness in juice comes from fructose, a type of sugar associated with the development of visceral adipose tissue in overweight people—yep, that’s belly fat—according to a study in the Journal of Clinical Investigation.
Drink this instead: Stick to 100% juice and avoid things with “cocktail” in the name to cut out added sugars from your drink. “For example, every bottle of POM Wonderful 100-percent pomegranate juice has the juice of whole-pressed pomegranates and nothing else – no fillers, and never any added sugar,” says Lauren Manaker, MS, RDN, registered dietitian and author of The First Time Mom’s Pregnancy Cookbook and Fueling Male Fertility.