Regular and diet soda
Soda is one food that health experts and dieticians alike unanimously agree should be cut out of your diet completely if possible. A can of cola contains around 10 teaspoons of sugar, and when you consider that the recommended daily allowance of sugar is six teaspoons, it quickly becomes apparent why these drinks should be avoided. The diet versions aren’t any better; a study by researchers at Purdue University found that people who regularly have diet soft drinks are more likely to be obese than those who don’t, due to the mixture of artificial sweeteners these drinks contain causing increased levels of hunger.
Try instead: You can easily make a drink that’s sweet and carbonated but still healthy. Mix natural fruit juice with sparkling water to create your own super-healthy soda.
Cinema and microwave popcorn
Popcorn has long been seen as a great healthy snack choice, and that’s led many people to believe they can enjoy the movie-theatre variety guilt free. Sadly when you delve deeper into the nutritional value of cinema-produced popcorn, you’ll soon find those people are wrong. According to the Food Standards Agency, an average bag of cinema popcorn contains over 1,500 calories, which is 75 per cent of the recommended daily amount for a woman. A lot of that is down to the oil used to make this popcorn, which contains more than 90 per cent saturated fat. Research published in the American Journal of Pathology also suggests that you should avoid microwaved popcorn, as the sweetener pentanedione has been shown to cause respiratory problems.
Try instead: Making your own popcorn is both simple and healthy. All you need to do is mix some popcorn kernels with olive oil and salt, put it in the microwave and pop away.
Pre-made pasta sauces
Pre-made pasta sauces are tasty, affordable and easy to cook with. What’s not to like? Well, take a closer look at the label and you’ll see most of them are extremely unhealthy. This is one area where food manufacturers like to stretch the truth on their food labels. For example, a Ragu brand tomato, garlic and onion sauce claims to contain two and a half servings of vegetables per serving, but that one serving actually only contains one measly gram of fibre, and less than 10 per cent of the vitamins you need to be eating every day. And that’s not even the worst part. Behind that healthy label is hiding huge amounts of sugar and sodium, with over a third of your recommended daily amount of both in one serving.
Try instead: Yep you guessed it; make your own. Starting to see a pattern here? Whipping up a pasta sauce is simply a case of combining chopped tomatoes, onions and herbs to your liking.
A surprise addition to this list but a worthwhile one; the only apples you should ever be eating are organic ones. According to food expert Mark Kastel, non-organic apples are notorious for being ‘doused in pesticides’ more than any other fruit, and should be avoided wherever possible. This is because of the way these apples are grown, which means they don’t develop a natural resistance to pests. These pesticides can be extremely harmful, and Kastel explains that farm workers who have been exposed to them display higher rates of various types of cancer. Researchers at the Sanford-Burnham Medical Research Institute also identified links between pesticides and Parkinson’s disease.
Try instead: Organic apples are the obvious alternative here, and they’re better for you in every way. Not only are they pesticide free, but they also contain higher levels of important nutrients, as discovered by scientists at Warsaw Agriculture University.
Even if they claim to be ‘low fat’ or have a ‘light recipe’, processed foods are bad for you. End of story. That’s because of the high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) they contain, which is the number one source of calories in America. HFCS is a sweetener, but you’ll find it in all sorts of surprising places such as microwave pizzas and long-lasting bread. Countless studies have shown that HFCS is bad for your body, but the most alarming of them all is perhaps one conducted at UCLA. They found that far from just making you fat, HFCS actually affects your brain to the point that it can inhibit both learning and memory.
Try instead: Whenever you’re considering eating processed foods, it’s usually safe to assume that the natural alternative is much better for you. If you’re tempted by the lower prices of processed foods in supermarkets, head down to your local market and you’ll find plenty of fresh produce much cheaper.