Physicians are faced with mounting health problems in areas that directly impinge on the dietary habits of modern culture, such as metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, cardiac and circulatory diseases and obesity. Individual and family health can be improved by making wise choices in meal planning and food buying. Because so many households rely at least in part on processed food, label reading and consumer education is vital. When planning meals and grocery shopping, there are at least 10 foods to avoid.
Sugar-containing foods used to be a rare treat kept for holidays and special occasions. Now they are on our plates every day. Refined sugars quickly raise one’s blood sugar level, initiating a surge of insulin release. Blood sugar is quickly lowered, producing hypoglycemia and a need to eat more sugar. A roller coaster effect arises, which can lead to metabolic syndrome and insulin resistance. Refined sugar is in baked goods, drink mixes, sodas, fruit drinks, sweetened beverages, dairy products, breakfast cereals and processed foods. Look for sucrose, glucose, lactose, corn syrup, dextrose and corn sugar on labels.
Foods with Added Sodium
This encompasses nearly all processed food. The culprit is not just salt but the sodium ion. Canned soups and baked beans, cured meats (like bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages and lunch meats), chips and snack foods are high in sodium. Baked goods contain both salt and sodium leavening agents. Many processed foods have sodium preservatives. Excess sodium can raise blood pressure and result in water retention.
Foods High in Omega-6 Fatty Acids
According to Dr. Artemis Simopoulos in “The Omega Diet,” increased consumption of omega-6 oils containing linoleic acid likely contributes to increased rates of cancer, obesity, depression, insulin resistance, allergies and autoimmune diseases. Oils to avoid include corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil, cottonseed oil, sesame oil, grapeseed oil, borage oil and primrose oil.
Foods with Trans Fat
Trans fats can lead to heart disease–and they are everywhere. Margarine and hydrogenated shortenings, packaged baking mixes, soup mixes, frozen foods, fast foods, commercial baked goods, crackers, chips, breakfast foods and cereal bars, toppings, dips and salad dressings all contain trans fats.
Unwashed Fruits and Vegetables
Fresh fruits and vegetables are good diet additions, but they should be properly prepared. Washing gets rid of contaminants from field chemicals, fungal spores, bacterial contaminants, insect contaminants and waxes and products applied to prolong storage life or improve appearance.
Drinks with Caffeine
Cola drinks and some sodas, coffees, teas and hot chocolates contain caffeine. Overuse can give rise to anxiety, panic, irregular heart beats, increased stomach acid production, fatigue and headaches.
Artificially Sweetened Foods
Artificial sweeteners such as aspartame and saccharin have drawbacks or potential health concerns. Many people tolerate them without side effects, but people sensitive to aspartame can show increased anxiety, nervousness and an increased heart beat.
Refined Flours and Grains
Refined flours and grains lack the husk, which contains most of the nutritive value. They contribute to higher blood sugar levels because they are more easily broken down into sugars and do not contribute to fiber in the diet. Avoid white flour, white rice and refined grain pastas and mixes.
When consumed in excess, alcohol can worsen anxiety, mood swings and female health problems such as menopausal symptoms as well as increase hypoglycemia. It can lead to liver malfunction or damage, destroy brain cells and increase susceptibility to yeast infections.
Fast foods contain trans fats, high sodium levels, refined sugars and refined grains. They often contain monosodium glutamate, which causes problems for some people. Fast food salad dressings, sauces and dips are usually made with omega-6 oils. Foods are low in fiber and nutrients and high in calories. A study published in “The Lancet” in 2004 showed that young adults who ate at fast food restaurants more than twice a week had increased weight gain and insulin resistance.
References and ResourcesHealthy Net: Foods to Avoid or Limit
"What Your Doctor May Not Tell You About Breast Cancer"; John Lee et al., 2003
"The Omega Diet"; Artemis Simopoulos and Jo Robinson; 1999
University of Pennsylvania Office of Health Education: The Top 10 Foods to Beware
National Institutes of Health News: Eating at Fast-Food Restaurants More Than Twice Per Week Is Associated with More Weight Gain