Processed foods are popular because they’re convenient, even though we all know junk food is bad for us. Families with children are particularly susceptible to the lure of processed foods because they are so pressed for time. But while they’re fine on occasion, the easy, cheap calories in processed foods are damaging our health and it’s best to avoid them whenever possible. Here’s a look at 15 of the very worst offenders.
Soda 1 of 15Regular sodas are loaded with sugar and, with little to no nutritional value, should only be consumed very infrequently. But what's surprising is that diet soda drinkers are actually more likely to develop metabolic syndrome and in some studies appear more likely to gain weight. While the causes aren't clear, one thing we know for certain is that there's nothing wrong with an old-fashioned glass of water while which keeps the body hydrated, and promotes better digestion, and protects tissue and organs.
Does diet soda cause weight gain?
Margarine 2 of 15Think of stick margarine as a big block of trans fat — hydrogenated oil helps liquid oils to be solid at room temperature, and is a key ingredient in margarine. Trans fat adversely affects both good and bad cholesterol, not to mention increasing triglycerides, lipoprotein, and inflammation. For buttery goodness, go with the real thing, or opt for a flavorful olive oil.
Boost flavor with herbed compound butter
Image: Helge HÃ¶pfner
Potato Chips 3 of 15Nobody thinks potato chips are good for you, but according to a very broad study of obesity published in the New England Journal of Medicine, no single food contributed more to obesity than potato chips. It may seem strange that a food that's not a sweet would top the list, but potato chips are a food that people just naturally overeat.
Top 5 foods for weight gainâ€¨
French Fries 4 of 15A small serving of french fries has about 275 calories and nearly 15 grams of fat; but the real issue is the nearly 4 grams of trans fat in a single serving. For a healthier option, try simple roast potatoes or homemade oven fries.
Make healthier oven fries
Blended Coffee Drinks 5 of 15A grande vanilla frappuccino from Starbucks without whipped cream has 300 calories. The same amount of black coffee has five calories. Better to get your caffeine fix without getting your sweets fix. But if you must feed your sweet tooth, you would actually get less calories from drinking a cup of coffee and eating some fudge.
The 10 most expensive ways to enjoy coffee
Microwave Popcorn 6 of 15Popcorn is often touted as a healthy snack option, but beware since lots of name-brand microwave popcorn is actually full of trans fat — one brand has 5 grams of trans fat per serving (even more than margarine). Microwave popcorn can also be packed with sodium. Don't skip the popcorn all together, but consider buying a plain variety and adding your own flavors, or reading the label very carefully before you buy.
Make healthier popcornâ€¨
Image: Jaime Mormann
Hot Dogs 7 of 15This one hurts because hot dogs are a personal favorite. But even if you can put what parts of the animal are actually in them out of your mind, one hot dog still has 20 percent of your daily recommended intake of sodium and is loaded with saturated fat to boot.â€¨
For a healthier alternative, try veggie dogs
Image: Renee Comet
Processed Cheese Dip 8 of 15Two tablespoons of Cheez Whiz have 90 calories. That compares favorably with something like mayonnaise, but whereas two tablespoons of mayo is more than enough, the amount of Cheez Whiz you eat with something like nachos is a lot more than two tablespoons. It's also loaded with fat and sodium.
Try these 7 ways to add veggies to your mac and cheese
Grocery Store Cookies 9 of 15Sugary and loaded with fat, these high-calorie cookies aren't completely awful for you if you stick to the serving size. Three cookies come in around 160 calories (or over 50 calories each) with about 8 grams of fat. But the thing is, are you really only going to eat three chocolate chip cookies?
For a healthier alternative with whole grains and fruit, try oatmeal cranberry cookies
Donuts 10 of 15I'm sure you don't need me to tell you that these aren't very good for you. A single glazed donut has about 260 calories and 14 grams of fat, including 30 percent of your daily allowance of saturated fat. Though many kinds are now free of them, donuts frequently contain trans fats too.
Try whole wheat banana muffins for a healthier breakfast choice
Bacon 11 of 15Look, I don't want to diss a fave, but bacon is a processed meat that's loaded with fat, saturated fat, and sodium. Just 2 strips of bacon have 12 percent of your DV sodium! Most bacon also contains nitrates and other preservatives.
For a healthier take on bacon, try green salad with pears, bacon, and homemade buttermilk dressing
Frozen Dinners 12 of 15Not all frozen dinners are created equal, and the processed food industry is rife with "health washing." Keep in mind that many brands serve up salty, fatty dishes, and "healthier" options may have questionable additives and ingredients, or compensate for a loss of other flavors with loads of sodium.
Shop smart: what to look for in a healthy frozen mealâ€¨
Image: Smile Lee
Giant Fast Food Burgers 13 of 15Hamburgers are getting bigger and bigger, but here we'll stick with the modestly enormous BK Double Whopper which has 990 calories, 2.5 grams trans fat, 195 milligrams cholesterol, and 1,520 milligrams sodium. Yum?
Make it healthier: 11 healthy twists on junk food classics
Bologna 14 of 15Just 2 slices of bologna have over 600mg of sodium which is over 20 percent of the recommended daily value. Even worse is that bologna is most often marketed to kids. Steer clear of this salty, preservative-filled mystery meat.
Try roast turkey instead
Non-Dairy Creamer 15 of 15Made with partially hydrogenated oil, most non-dairy creamers contain trans fat. The label will tell you otherwise, but only because the serving size is miniscule — 1 teaspoon. I'd need at least 10 teaspoons for my morning coffee! Stick to alternative milks like soy and nut if you can't have dairy.
Image: Tim Boyd from Brooklyn
For some processed food choices you can feel good about, check out Self‘s 2012 Food Awards.
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