When it comes to less nutritious food choices, here’s where these RDs draw the line.
Moderation and balance are two key words nutritionists love to use, and they’ll be the first to admit they dive into a cupcake from time to time. That said, here are 10 foods nutritionists don’t think are worth including in a balanced diet.
1. Fat-free foods
“Usually fat-free foods are just replaced with sugar or other ingredients. Fat (especially healthy fats, such as polyunsaturated fats) are excellent for your health and shouldn’t be avoided!" —Bushra Hassan, MBA, RD, LDN
Learn about the different types of fats here.
2. Processed meats, like deli meat, bacon, or pepperoni
“I prefer to avoid processed meats not only because of the taste but also the added preservatives, sodium, nitrates, and fillers. Too much processed meat has been linked to negative health effects including high blood pressure, heart disease, and cancer.” —Haley Hughes, MS, RD, CDE
3. Soda and other sugar-sweetened beverages (SSBs)
“The calories in these drinks absorb very fast into the body, spiking blood glucose levels and causing an insulin response ... The sugar in soda and other SSBs can also cause dental decay. Fruit juices may seem ‘healthy,’ but in reality, they are missing the fiber and nutrients of whole fruits and provide a lot of sugar per serving ... It is much better to eat our calories than to drink them!” —Juliana Shalek, MS, RD, CDN
4. Artificial sweeteners
“Though they're calorie-free, artificial sweeteners can distort your natural sense of taste and make you lose an appreciation for the real taste of food. ... I prefer a small amount of a natural sweetener like honey or maple syrup, or no sweetener at all. Not everything needs to taste like dessert!” —Jenn LaVardera, MS, RD
Get more details on artificial sweeteners here.
5. Reduced-fat peanut butter
“Full-fat natural peanut butter contains heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. These fats lower total and ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol as well as triglycerides, while keeping ‘good’ HDL cholesterol high.” —Julie Harrington, RD
6. Fruit juice
“Fruit juice is all of the sugar in fruit without any of the beneficial fiber. When you eat an apple, its fiber helps slow down the absorption of sugar by your blood stream. When you take the fiber out and make apple juice, you are essentially drinking liquid sugar. This sugar without the fiber will quickly enter your blood steam and give you a sugar rush, followed by a crash.” —Claire Martin, RD, creator of Being Healthfull
7. Boxed meals
“[These are] almost always highly processed and high in fat, sugar, and sodium … One cup of prepared mac and cheese—a small portion—has 3 grams of saturated fat and almost 1,000 milligrams of sodium. That's more than 15 percent of the saturated fat you should have in a day if you follow a typical 2,000-calorie diet, according to the American Heart Association, and it's over half the recommended daily sodium limit for healthy adults.” —Jennifer Fitzgibbon, MS, RD, CSO, CDN
Learn the sneaky health problems caused by a high-salt diet here.
8. High-sugar yogurts
“On some [yogurt] labels, you’ll notice upwards of 30 grams of sugar. Some brands have more added sugar than a can of soda. Dietitians often eat plain yogurt with fruit mixed in or choose a very low added sugar variety. Your taste buds can adjust to lower sugar content over time if you stick with it.” —Ginger Hultin, MS, RDN, CSO, and Arivale Coach
9. Partially hydrogenated oils, i.e. trans fats
“It basically turns into sludge in our arteries, raises your LDL, and lowers your good HDL cholesterol. [Trans fats] increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke and can even increase your chance to develop type 2 diabetes.” —Jamie Logie, nutritionist, wellness coach, and personal trainer
10. Whatever you don’t want to eat
“I never eat anything I don't want to eat! There is no one food that is so uniquely important, even so-called superfoods, that I have to include it in my diet if I don't want to.” —Sarah Skovran, RDN, LD