What not to eat if you want to be healthy

We’ve reached the third installment in this series about the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. In the first post, I talked about the facts behind the guidelines (like the fact that most preventable chronic diseases are directly related to a sub-par eating patterns and a sedentary lifestyle). In the second post, I discussed how to eat healthy over the lifespan (like eating a variety of foods on the daily).

Now that you know what you should be eating, it’s time to talk about the opposite. In this post, I’ll be focusing on what NOT to eat if you want to lead a healthy lifestyle. The 2015 Dietary Guidelines states that Americans should limit four things: added sugar, saturated fat, sodium and alcohol. Let’s look at eat one individually.

What not to eat #1: Added sugar

The question is: Where can we find added sugar? The answer: Just about EVERYWHERE. The more conscious you become of the ingredients in your food, the more you’ll realize that sugar is added to nearly every processed food out there. From junk foods like candy and pop to “healthier” items such as ketchup and jelly, added sugar is difficult to avoid if you eat from packaged foods.

donuts image from ChooseMyPlate.govThe Dietary Guidelines recommend that you only get 10 percent of your daily calories from added sugar. That would equal about 10 teaspoons (50g) a day if you’re following a 2,000-calorie diet. The truth is, though, most Americans consume double that at 20 teaspoons each day. It’s no wonder how that happens when you consider that one 16-oz bottle of regular soda has 44 grams of sugar in it. Whoa!

It is important to note that even though there are some natural sweeteners out there, they are still considered added sugar. Some examples include honey, agave and stevia. These should also be limited.

So what’s not considered an added sugar, then? Any food that – in its natural, whole form – contains sugar. A prime example here is fruits. Whole fruits in their unprocessed form are not considered added sugar, but fruit juices (even if they’re 100 percent fruit juice) are considered an added sugar. That’s because you’re stripping a good portion of the other nutrients away in juice form (most notably the fiber).

To sum it up: It is nearly impossible to cut down on your daily intake of added sugars without cutting out some processed foods. If you want to avoid added sugar in your diet, stick to foods in their natural, unprocessed form as much as possible. This includes fruits, vegetables, whole grains and dairy without added sugars.

What not to eat #2: Saturated fat

First thing’s first, what is saturated fat? And where do we find it? Simply put (in chemical terms), saturated fats are those that have no double bonds and are saturated with hydrogen molecules. (Whoa chemistry!) Even more simply put, saturated fats are usually solid at room temperature.

picture of butter on a plate from ChooseMyPlate.govIn general, we find saturated fat in animal products – meat, dairy, eggs. That said, it’s a good idea to limit the intake of these foods. There are also some plant-based sources of saturated fats – most notably coconut oil and palm oil. While there has been a lot of talk about the health benefits of these oils, it is important to note that no matter what your source of saturated fat is (whether it’s a hamburger or a teaspoon of coconut oil), your total amount of saturated fat should not go over 10 percent of your daily calories.

To break this down even more, that means if you follow a 2,000-calorie diet, your limit for saturated fat would be 50 grams per day. To put that in perspective, that would be the same as eating a hamburger patty (8g) sauteed in coconut oil (12g) topped with a tablespoon of mayo (3g) and a slice of cheese (6g), a glass of whole milk (5g), french fries (3g), and a slice of cheesecake for dessert (12g).

What not to eat #3: Sodium

Sodium, like added sugar, is found in nearly everything. The current guidelines specify that a maximum of 2,300 mg of sodium should be consumed each day. But if you’re like the average American, you’re going above and beyond that on the daily. In fact, Americans eat 3,400 mg per day per person on average!

Did you know: One teaspoon of salt contains 2,325 mg of sodium.

There are benefits of some sodium in your daily diet, such as maintaining fluid balance and contracting muscles. That said, there are more than a handful of negative outcomes from a high-sodium diet. Heart failure, kidney disease, increased blood pressure and stroke are just some of the risks.

Luckily, you have the ability to limit the amount of sodium you consume in your diet. Eating more fresh foods (fruits, veggies, homemade recipes) will help cut back on sodium. Here are some foods that are high in sodium (and should therefore be limited):

  • Frozen meals (read: pizza and TV dinners)
  • Bread
  • Fast food
  • Cold cuts and bacon
  • Soy sauce and other condiments

What not to eat #4: Alcohol

The Dietary Guidelines state that women can drink up to one alcoholic beverage per day while men can drink up to two. While there is some research that shows that drinking alcohol can be beneficial to health (like lowering the risk of a heart attack), it’s a double-edged sword. There are plenty of negative side effects of consuming too much alcohol, including increasing the risk of breast cancer, increasing blood pressure and increasing the risk of liver damage.

Alcoholic beverage (by Mick Stephenson via WikiCommons)Apart from those negative effects, drinking alcohol regularly will probably not help you with your weight loss goals. When you start looking at alcohol as calorie-laden beverages, their appeal starts to dwindle. Here’s an example: One can of beer has about 150 calories. If you added one beer to your routine each day for a year, that would be adding more than 54,000 calories. That’s the same as gaining 15 pounds! No wonder it’s one of the “what not to eat” food items!

Even though there are some noted benefits of drinking certain types of alcohol, it is important to note that if you don’t currently drink one (women) or two (men) alcoholic beverages per day, you should not be adding this to your diet. In addition – though it may seem obvious – you should only consume alcohol if you’re of legal drinking age.

What not to eat: Summing it up

In summary, added sugar, saturated fat, sodium and alcohol should be consumed in moderation. When it comes to added sugar and sodium, the easiest way to cut back is to limit your intake of processed foods. To lower how much saturated fat you’re eating, eat less meet, eggs and dairy. If you’re not ready or willing to cut alcohol out of your diet, be sure not to consume more than one serving a day if you’re a woman and two drinks if you’re a man.

In the next blog post about the health guidelines, I’ll go more in-depth about diet and physical activity as well as diving deeper into what following a healthy-eating lifestyle encompasses.

3 thoughts on “What not to eat if you want to be healthy

  1. Pingback: The truth about the low fat diet craze | MunA YogaMunA Yoga

  2. Pingback: What is a healthy eating pattern | Body and Mind By Muna

  3. Pingback: 3 reasons you should avoid sugary drinks immediately | Body and Mind By Muna

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *