4 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.

Medically reviewed in February 2021

young man grocery shopping
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Browsing the supermarket 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, bagged, canned and jarred 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:

  • Nuts and legumes (beans, lentils, etc.)
  • Whole grains
  • Skinless poultry and fish
  • Low fat dairy products

As for foods you should limit, experts suggest restricting your intake of the following items—or even ditching them altogether.

bacon on a plate
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Diets high in red and processed meats are linked to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and colon cancer. In fact, eating just 1.8 ounces of a processed meat like bacon each day is associated with an 18 percent increased risk of colorectal cancer, according to a 2017 review in the Journal of Internal Medicine.

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.

close up on soda
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Regular soda contains various types of sugar—and some cans may be up to 65 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 is linked 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.

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

These beverages may be marketed as “supplements” to avoid being regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), says Dr. 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. Many brands contain 80 to 350 milligrams (mg) of caffeine; the recommended daily limit is 400 mg for healthy adults. Drinking more than one a day could easily lead to heart problems, dizziness, nausea, panic attacks and more.  

alphabet soup
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The daily recommended limit for 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 your day’s allowance for salt in one sitting.

“Canned soups may have 400 mg 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:

woman with coffee on a cellphone
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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 to your biological age. Based on that, it will offer advice on how to live your longest, healthiest life possible.


American Heart Association. “How much sodium should I eat per day?” 2018. Accessed July 30, 2020.
A Wolk. “Potential health hazards of eating red meat.” Journal of Internal Medicine. February 2017. Volume 281, Issue 2, Pages 106-122.
Dan Sperling, MD. “Lycopene and Prostate Cancer.” Sperling Prostate Center. March 20, 2014.
P Chen, W Zhang, et al. “Lycopene and Risk of Prostate Cancer: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis.” Medicine (Baltimore). 2015;94(33):e1260.
EE Ventura, JN Davis, MI Goran. “Sugar content of popular sweetened beverages based on objective laboratory analysis: focus on fructose content.” Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011;19(4):868-874.
Johns Hopkins Medicine. “Obesity, Sugar and Heart Health.” 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “Simple Steps to Preventing Diabetes.” 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
University of Illinois at Chicago College of Dentistry. “Thinking About Another Sweet Gulp? Think Again.” March 24, 2017.
Alice Park. “There’s Even More Sugar In Soda Than You Think.” Time. June 5, 2014.
Markham Heid. “Diet soda and cancer: What you should know.” University of Texas MD Anderson Center. October 2014. Accessed July 30, 2020.
M Pearlman, J Obert, L Casey. “The Association Between Artificial Sweeteners and Obesity.” Current Gastroenterology Reports. 2017;19(12):64. Published November 21, 2017.
Anna Medaris Miller. “Are Energy Drinks Really That Bad?” U.S. News & World Report. January 16, 2015.
MedlinePlus. “Caffeine Overdose.” 2019. Accessed July 30, 2020.
Mayo Clinic. “Caffeine: How much is too much?” 2020. Accessed July 30, 2020.
Harvard Health Publishing. “Sodium, salt, and you.” November 2009. Accessed July 30, 2020.

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