Avoiding unhealthy foods isn’t always possible. In fact, many times it’s much easier to go for the unhealthy option because, usually, that option is the cheapest and the fastest. Breakfast burritos and coffee are easy to get on the way into work, and burgers and soda are easy to get on the way home.
And in today’s world of fast food restaurants, frozen meals, and parents working 9-5 every day what is healthiest can often fall to the wayside. Though not a death sentence, especially if only ingested every so often, there are some foods out there with dangerous hidden additives.
Below is a comprehensive list of some of the worst offenders, and ones that will have you checking the nutrition facts on the back of the package just a little bit closer next time.
1. American cheese
Don’t let its name fool you: American “cheese” is as much cheese as Splenda is real sugar. It is, instead, a factory-made concoction of milk fats, solids, whey protein, emulsifiers, and food coloring. American cheese is also high in fat, making it just as dangerous as #3 on our list.
Margarine has been the subject of debate for years now: one second it’s good for you and healthier than real butter, and the next it’s back to being demonized. Originally touted as the alternative to butter because of its base of vegetable oil and therefore less cholesterol, new studies have shown that dietary cholesterol isn’t quite the bad guy that it was made out to be all those years ago.
Margarine is high in salt and trans fats, which can clog arteries and increase cholesterol levels. Not all margarine is bad for you, though: the product sold in tubs is a bit healthier, and the ones with olive oil in them are healthier yet.
3. Processed meats
Hot dogs, ham, salami, bacon. What do these four meats have in common? How about the fact that, in the US, these processed meats have up to 400 percent more sodium than unprocessed red meats. Worse still is that these foods also contain nitrates and nitrites, which have been linked to various cancers.
4. Regular soda
Regular soda has had headlines for years about how bad it is for you. New York State even went as far as to enact a ban on all oversized soft drinks. The average 8oz can contains 10 teaspoons of sugar, which kicks your insulin production into overtime. This response over time, especially if you drink one soda a day, can increase your risk of diabetes.
And the caramel coloring in soda has been linked to cancer, upping your chances by as much as 58 percent, according to a study.
5. Diet soda
Aspartame can lead to things like weight gain, depression and addiction, as well as cancer. And since it is designed to be stronger than real sugar, over time it can dull our sensitivity to naturally sweet things like fruit.
6. Chicken and eggs
Non-organic chicken is something that you want to steer clear of at all costs. Many chicken farms raise their chickens with things like antibiotics, which studies have proven are not very healthy for us. Also, organic eggs and chicken are less likely to spread salmonella.
7. Packaged food with mystery ingredients
Any packaged food where you can’t pronounce the ingredients warrants a second thought and perhaps its place back on the shelf. Though many additives are generally recognized as safe—or GRAS—generally is not a vague term most people want associated with the food that they feed themselves and their families.
Though additive is a broad term and encompasses things such as pepper and garlic powder, loopholes also allow other things to slip in. It’s always best to check the package before buying.
8. Sugar-free candies
Like diet soda, sugar-free candies are made with sugar substitutes that the body has a hard time breaking down. And since it is easier to go overboard with candy than with soda, it makes the artificial sweeteners that much more dangerous.
9. Conventionally grown apples
Organic apples and traditionally-grown apples have no difference nutrition-wise. What they do have a difference in, however, is the use of pesticide. The chemicals used to kill off any fruit-damaging insects can in turn damage our brain and nervous system, can lead to cancer, and can disrupt your hormones. And pesticides are resilient, too: washing fruits and vegetables isn’t always enough.
10. Microwave popcorn
Back to additives that you can’t pronounce: microwave popcorn contains one called perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (or PFOS), which has been shown to affect fertility as well as increase your cancer risk. And besides having vague labels such as “artificial flavors” on their packaging many include MSG, which can cause headaches and nausea.
11. Muffins made with propylparaben
Muffins are a hard-to-avoid treat no matter the time of day. If you choose to eat one, be sure you check the packaging: many contain the ingredient propylparaben, which is a common cosmetic ingredient.
Though research on this one is scant, propylparaben can mess with your system because it contains estrogen, resulting in things like fertility problems and an accelerated growth of breast cancer cells.
It isn’t an easy task to avoid foods that we know are bad for us, especially when they’re easy. But in terms of protecting your health, maybe it’s time to take a second, much closer look before you buy, and stop and think hard about whether or not that fast food joint on the way home from work is truly worth those unknown ingredients.