Americans are so busy in their everyday lives that reaching for ready-to-eat foods is sometimes a matter of survival and not just convenience.
But certain processed foods could be more harmful to your health than you realize.
Primary care doctor shares the top foods to avoid
According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, processed food includes “any food that has been purposely changed in some way prior to consumption” and falls on a spectrum from minimally to heavily processed.
Here are some examples:
- Minimally processed foods: Pre-cut apple slices, canned tuna, roasted nuts
- Heavily processed foods: Frozen pizza, deli meat, crackers
It’s those heavily processed foods with hidden sugar, sodium and fat that are concerning to doctors. They’ve been associated with obesity, high blood pressure and diabetes.
Deciding which foods to avoid can be difficult, so we asked primary care physician Dr. John Hong for some pointers.
“What I try to live by, and also I ask my patients to try to follow, is to choose fresh over processed,” said Dr. Hong. “If someone fiddled with the food, it’s more likely that it’s not as healthy for you.”
Here are the foods Dr. Hong rarely eats:
Sodium-filled frozen entrées
Dr. Hong says, “Processed foods are things that are easier to cook because they’re already kind of pre-made and altered so that they taste better and last longer on the shelf. However, they’re also often filled with salt, saturated fats and calories.”
Refined carbs: Pizza, pancakes, white bread and sweetened cereals
Dr. Hong says, “When it comes to carbohydrates, whole grains are much healthier than refined foods because when you refine something you mill out all the fiber and vitamins and all those important nutrients.”
- Wheat bread over white bread
- Steel cut oatmeal over instant oatmeal
Dr. Hong says, “I try to get every day two fresh servings of fruits and two fresh servings of vegetables. It’s amazing to me how many people will buy canned this and canned that. It’s processed!”
Soda and other sweetened drinks
Dr. Hong says, “I avoid high fructose corn syrup because many studies show there’s a link between high fructose corn syrup and it turning straight to belly fat. I don’t even drink diet soda at this point. Water is free.”
Meat that’s red before you cook it
Dr. Hong says, “I love red meat, but my cholesterol does not love red meat. If I eat red meat more than once a week, my cholesterol goes through the roof.”
- Egg whites
Trans fats in fried foods
Dr. Hong says, “Fat! It tastes so good, especially trans fatty acids that are used in a lot of fast foods, as well as fried foods from french fries to potato chips. However, it is highly linked to having heart disease. Healthier fats are like olive oil, things that aren’t saturated.”
Dr. Hong, 50, says he’s not perfect, but avoiding the foods on this list has helped him keep his body fat to 10%. He also works out on the elliptical and practices yoga.
Remember Dr. Hong’s tips:
- 2 servings of fresh fruits per day
- 2 servings of fresh vegetables per day
- 25 grams of fiber per day
- Low saturated fats
- Eat lean meats
- Limit heavily processed foods