100 Days to 100 Years
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6 Surprisingly Risky Everyday Foods You Need to Avoid

These are probably in your kitchen right now, but that doesn’t mean you should eat them. 

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Browsing the pantry aisle, you’ve probably scratched your head over the long, strange ingredients listed on package labels. Even the most health-conscious shoppers can have a tough time knowing which boxed foods to avoid.

That’s why it’s so important to build your diet around whole, fresh foods like fruits and vegetables, says Sanjay Bindra, MD, a cardiologist from Regional Medical Center of San Jose, California. Your diet should also include plenty of:

It shouldn’t include any of the following healthy eating pitfalls.

Don’t mistake margarine for a healthy fat

2 / 8 Don’t mistake margarine for a healthy fat

It’s a myth that margarine is a smart replacement for butter. Even though it has less saturated fat, many varieties—especially hard margarines—contain trans fat. Trans fat increases LDL, or “bad” cholesterol and decreases HDL, or “good” cholesterol. Most brands are high in salt and calories too.

On top of that, both butter and margarine may contain BHA or BHT. “BHA, butylated hydroxyanisole and BHT, butylated hydroxytoluene are added to preserve fats and oils,” says Bindra. These chemicals are considered safe in small amounts by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), but have been linked to cancer in animal studies. Ditch butter and margarine; stick with heart healthy olive oil instead. 

Drop that bacon

3 / 8 Drop that bacon

Diets high in red and processed meats are linked to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and colon cancer. In fact, eating just two ounces of processed meats like bacon per day may raise your colon cancer risk by up to 17 percent.

For a savory breakfast side, opt for fresh salsa or cold sliced tomato with olive oil and cracked black pepper instead. Tomatoes contain a chemical called lycopene, which gives the fruit its red color and may help protect against prostate cancer.

Say no to both regular and diet soda

4 / 8 Say no to both regular and diet soda

Regular soda contains various types of sugar—some cans may actually be up to 60 percent fructose. All that sugar can:

  • Add to your waistline
  • Put you at risk for diabetes
  • Promote tooth decay

It also raises your daily calorie intake without providing any real nutrients. Those excess calories can contribute to obesity, which makes you more prone to cancer and heart disease.

But diet soda isn’t a smart swap. Some evidence suggests the artificial sweeteners in diet soda may trigger cravings and make you store calories as fat, rather than burning them. For a fizzy, thirst-quenching alternative, choose iced sparkling water with muddled fruit. 

Pick a new movie night snack

5 / 8 Pick a new movie night snack

“Microwave popcorn contains high levels of salt and the chemical diacetyl,” says Bindra. Diacetyl gives popcorn its butter flavor and it’s just one of almost 50 chemicals that get released into the air when popcorn heats up. While small doses of diacetyl may be harmless, exposure to large amounts has been linked to a serious breathing condition called popcorn lung—so don’t hover over the bag to breathe in the buttery aroma.

When you also consider the excess calories and salt, you’re better off just popping plain kernels. Throw kernels in a brown paper bag, microwave, and then add your own flavors like:

  • Olive oil and cracked black pepper
  • Chili pepper and lime
  • Dark chocolate drizzle
Avoid unregulated energy drinks

6 / 8 Avoid unregulated energy drinks

From 2007 to 2011 alone, over 20,000 Americans were sent to the emergency room thanks to energy drinks.

Energy drinks may be marketed as “supplements” to avoid FDA regulation, says Bindra. Supplements don’t have to list their ingredients or nutrition facts and get to sidestep FDA safety testing.

Even when brands market themselves as “sodas” because they want FDA approval, the amount of caffeine, sugar, vitamins and chemicals in energy drinks can be extreme. Most brands contain 80 to 350 milligrams of caffeine—the recommended daily limit is 400 milligrams for adults. Drinking more than one a day could easily lead to heart problems, dizziness, nausea, panic attacks and more.

Pass on canned and instant soups

7 / 8 Pass on canned and instant soups

The daily recommended limit for salt, or sodium, is 2,300 mg for healthy adults. Some people—like those with heart disease—should stick to less than 1,500 mg a day. But with instant soup, it’s possible to slurp up most or all of that in one sitting.

“Canned soups may have 400 milligrams of sodium or more per cup,” says Bindra. “High sodium intake can raise your blood pressure, cause you to retain fluid and worsen heart failure symptoms like shortness of breath.”

After a long day, when only a bowl of soup will do, try one of these satisfying, heart-healthy options. Just be sure to always choose low-sodium broth when cooking soups. 

Get personalized healthy eating tips

8 / 8 Get personalized healthy eating tips

For personalized nutrition tips, take Sharecare’s RealAge Test. After asking about your eating, sleeping, exercise habits and more, the test will determine your RealAge, or an estimate of how your overall health compares against your biological age. Based on that, it will offer advice on how to live your longest, healthiest life possible.

Read more from Dr. Bindra.