Some foods are better off avoided or eaten only in very limited amounts, regardless of how much you like them. This includes foods that contain ingredients that increase your risk for health problems, as well as those that provide a lot of calories without providing many nutrients.
Processed meats like lunch meat, hot dogs, bacon, ham and sausages are usually high in both fat and salt, and often also contain nitrates or nitrites, which may increase your risk for cancer. A study published in "Circulation" in 2010 found that eating processed meats may increase your risk for diabetes and heart disease. These meats may also increase your risk for lung and colon cancer, according to a study published in "PLoS Medicine" in December 2007. Instead, eat lean meat, poultry or fish, or choose vegetarian protein sources.
Foods Containing Trans Fats
Avoid foods containing trans fats as much as possible, keeping calories from trans fats under 1 percent of your total calories. Not only do these fats increase your levels of low-density lipoprotein, or bad cholesterol, but they also decrease your high-density lipoprotein, or good cholesterol, thus increasing your heart disease risk. Baked goods and fried foods are some common sources of trans fats. Shortening and margarine also sometimes contain trans fat. Look for "partially hydrogenated oil" on the ingredients list, as this indicates the presence of at least some trans fat in the food, even if the label says the food is trans fat free.
While you don't have to avoid all salt in your diet, you should limit your sodium intake to no more than 2,300 milligrams per day. Consuming more sodium than this increases your risk for high blood pressure and heart disease. Most of the salt you get in your diet comes from restaurant foods and processed foods, so using fewer processed foods, purchasing only low-sodium versions of processed foods and asking that no salt be added to your food when ordering in restaurants can help you limit your sodium intake. Avoid salty junk-food snacks, canned soups and processed cheese as these are particularly unhealthy salty foods.
If you have a sweet tooth and eat a lot of sugary foods, you may be putting yourself at an increased risk for cavities, obesity and chronic diseases. Check the labels on the foods you buy to find the brand with the least amount of added sugar. Drink water instead of sugary drinks, and choose plain yogurt over flavored varieties. Avoid breakfast cereals with more than 5 grams of sugar per serving. Limit your portion size of desserts and candy, and eat these foods only on special occasions rather than on a daily basis.
Instead of eating foods made with refined grains, choose those made with whole grains. Making this switch may help you lower your risk for heart disease, according to a study published in the "American Journal of Clinical Nutrition" in September 2003. Switching from white rice, white bread and other foods made with refined grains to brown rice and foods made with whole grains may also decrease your diabetes risk, according to MayoClinic.com.
- MayoClinic.com: Kitchen Land Mines: 10 Foods to Avoid
- MayoClinic.com: Trans Fat is Double Trouble for Your Heart Health
- Circulation: Red and Processed Meat Consumption and Risk of Incident Coronary Heart Disease, Stroke, and Diabetes Mellitus
- PLoS Medicine: A Prospective Study of Red and Processed Meat Intake in Relation to Cancer Risk
- Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Sodium: The Facts
- World Health Organization: Populations With High Sugar Consumption Are At Increased Risk of Chronic Disease, South African Researchers Report
Based in Massachusetts, Jessica Bruso has been writing since 2008. She holds a master of science degree in food policy and applied nutrition and a bachelor of arts degree in international relations, both from Tufts University.