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Whether your goal is to lose weight or to improve your health as a result of a diabetes or heart disease diagnosis, you must begin with your diet. For complete nutrition, make sure your meal plan includes plenty of vegetables, fruit, lean protein, and whole grains. Unfortunately, however, we often crave the wrong foods. While an occasional treat is fair, the following six junk foods and beverages should not be a part of your regular diet. Junk food effects can include increased risk for obesity, certain types of cancer, osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease, chronic inflammation, and other serious conditions.
Keeping the following unhealthy items out of your diet is an important step in your overall health and well-being. Here are six of the top foods to stay away from.
If the high amount of sugar found in most regular sodas isn’t enough to keep you away, then you should know that drinking soda is linked to at least seven serious diseases, including liver, kidney, and heart disease as well as stroke and diabetes. And diet soda isn’t much better—studies show that consuming artificial sweeteners can increase glucose levels and alter gut bacteria in humans. Water, unsweetened tea or coffee, low-fat or fat-free milk, and small amounts of 100-percent fruit juice are all healthy thirst-quenchers.
#2. Packaged Cookies
Added sugar is the main culprit in packaged cookies, but what’s even more concerning is the presence of trans fats. Trans fats can cause such serious junk food effects as cancer, infertility, and cognitive disorders. And cookies are just the tip of the iceberg. Processed pastries, cakes, brownies, ice cream bars, and quick bread mixes are still some of the worst offenders—and can be hard to resist despite our heightened awareness of trans fats dangers. Instead, look for treats that are labeled “trans-fat free”—or bake them at home, from scratch, so that you can control the amount of sugar and calories they contain as well as the type of fat used.
#3. Energy Drinks
They’re a popular way to hydrate and energize before, during, or after playing sports, but energy drinks can do more harm than good. They contain a potentially dangerous of amount of sugar, carbohydrates, and caffeine, which can cause heart palpitations, dehydration, headaches, insomnia, and high blood pressure. Studies also show that the amount of acid found in some energy drinks can be harmful to bone, muscle and brain health. A cup or two of coffee can give you a safe energy boost, while coconut water is a good choice for rehydrating after a workout.
#4. White Bread
It makes a great-tasting sandwich, but white bread offers little beyond that. It doesn’t contain many nutrients, and because it’s made from highly processed flour, it can lead to quick spikes and drops in blood sugar, according to a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Switch to whole-grain bread, which is a better source of fiber and essential vitamins and can keep your blood sugar and insulin levels steady.
#5. Fruit Drinks
Fruit drinks contain more sugar than the actual fruit they’re (partially) made from. Most contain large amounts of high fructose corn syrup, which can increase your risk of type 2 diabetes. If you want to consume a beverage with fruity flavor, make sure it’s a small serving of 100-percent fruit juice. Better yet, just eat a piece of fresh fruit. Otherwise, water is your best bet.
While some junk food can be enjoyed in small amounts, we know we can’t eat just one chip. As such, it’s best to steer clear. Some packaged chips and other salty snacks contain a significant amount of trans fats, plus they’re often packed with too much saturated fat, salt, and sugar.
Plus, certain reduced-fat varieties of potato chips and similar snacks are known to contain trans fats as well. Instead, try carrots and celery sticks with hummus or air-popped popcorn for a healthy but still satisfying snack.
Originally published in 2017, this post is regularly updated.