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15 Foods You Should Always Avoid, According to Experts

Experts reveal some of the unhealthiest foods on the planet.
FACT CHECKED BY Christopher Roback

Even if you aren't trying to lose weight, eating the right food – and avoiding the wrong – is a key part of health. Food is linked to everything from heart and brain health to overall longevity. So what food should you avoid at all costs? Here is what the experts say. 

Doughnuts

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Blanca Garcia, RDN, and nutrition specialist at www.healthcanal.com, recommends avoiding doughnuts. "Although very tasty, doughnuts are sugar on top of sugar; the dough that it's made of is refined flour, which, when consumed, gets absorbed quickly into the bloodstream, increasing sugar levels. But also, most doughnuts are coated with actual sugar, sugary toppings, and sugary fillings," she says. "They are also dipped in oil, which increases the fat content. Doughnuts have an excess amount of simple carbohydrates and fat. There is no protein or vitamins and minerals to contribute to health, at no point is doughnut healthy."

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Soda

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Blanca also suggests avoiding mainstream soft drinks. "Soda is such a common beverage in homes, restaurants, gatherings, and work gatherings. Regular soda only contributes sugar, no proteins, vitamins or minerals. There is nothing soda can do to contribute to health, it actually displaces the space of foods that do contribute to nutrients," she says. 

Fried Chicken

Breaded Fried Chicken Wings, Fingers and Drumsticks on Wooden Rustic Background Top View. Hot Crispy Chicken Nuggets, Fillet Strips, Meat Pieces in Breadcrumbs
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Chicken is a source of protein, some vitamins and minerals can be healthy if baked, broiled, or grilled, says Blanca. "However, when deep fried with coating, it increases in simple carbohydrates from the coating and is fully engulfed in fat, which significantly increases its fat content besides the already natural fat content found in chicken."

Nutritionally Empty Foods

French fries or potato chips with sour cream and ketchup
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Kaytee Hadley, MS, RDN, IFMCP, CPT functional medicine dietitian and founder of Holistic Health and Wellness, stresses the importance of avoiding all nutritionally empty foods. "To lose weight, both nutrients and quality ingredients matter. 'Nutritionally empty' foods like chips, baked goods, fried food, and sugary beverages can get in the way of progress because they all contain lots of simple carbohydrates that are high calorie but not very filling, leaving you hungry or improperly fueled," she says.

Sugary Drinks

Soft drinks
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"Starting the day with a sugary coffee like Starbucks frappuccinos could be seriously impeding your weight loss goals," says Hadley, pointing out that one Frappuccino "can easily add 300+ calories to your day without any nutrients to help keep you feeling satisfied, fueled, or even full."

Fried Foods

French fries in hot fat in a deep fryer
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Focusing on macronutrients like protein and fat is a common goal for many looking to lose weight, but it's important to recognize that quality also matters, says Hadley. "Fried chicken, for example, may have high protein content but the fried food can increase levels of inflammation that may actually lead to weight gain. Instead, opt for minimally processed ingredients, gentle cooking methods, and focus on adding colors from fruit and veg to fuel your body at a cellular level."

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Foods with Ingredients You Can't Pronounce

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Mark Hyman, MD, one of the world's leading physicians and one of Gwyneth Paltrow's go-to health experts, discussed foods to avoid on episode 818 of his podcast, The Doctors Farmacy. "First of all, if you read something on a label and you don't know what it is and you can't pronounce it, don't eat it," Hyman instructed, listing Butylated hydroxytoluene, or BHT, as an example as it "is a known carcinogen that's banned in most countries except the United States." He adds that food is "not a chemistry project," so "if you can't pronounce it, don't eat it." 

Refined Oils

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Refined oils are a no-no, according to Hyman. This includes canola, vegetable, soybean, corn oils, and margarine. 

Hydrogenated Fats

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Hydrogenated fats are also a big fat no. Hyman explains it "means they've chemically altered the fat. It's a plant oil that is liquid at room temperature and they've injected it with hydrogen to bind to the fats, and it's kind of a chemical thing." He adds that "there's no doubt, there's no controversy, there's no nutrition scientist, no professional association, no government that says that this is something we should be consuming anymore. It's just a hard no." 

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High Fructose Corn Syrup

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Another "hard rule" according to Dr. Hyman is avoiding high fructose corn syrup, because it is "not a whole food" and is "a highly processed industrial food product." He adds that it has mercury in it and is "basically deconstructed" food. "So in normal sugar, glucose and fructose are bound together. In high fructose corn syrup, they're not, they're free, and it's free fructose," he says, explaining that it enters your body and causes insulin resistance, inflammation, and elevates uric acid. In order to absorb fructose unlike glucose, "it requires a lot more energy," he continues, "and so when you're eating a lot of fructose, it takes a lot of energy in the gut and that actually causes the gut to weaken and leak and become leaky. And then you get these holes in your intestine and that causes food and bacteria to leak in, causing inflammation throughout the body, which leads to heart disease, diabetes, obesity, cancer, Alzheimer's, you name it, it's really bad."

Fast Food

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Another "no brainer" according to Hyman? "Don't go to fast food restaurants." He explains that a chicken nugget has "27 or 37 ingredients and one of which is chicken. Just don't eat that food. It's made in ways that are really bad. In fact, a burger at McDonald's is actually, I think only 50% beef and in the rest of it's all this weird filler and stuff that we should be eating."

Anything with MSG

Monosodium glutamate, MSG on wooden spoon. Copy space., a flavor enhancer in many asian food
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Hyman says that "you have to be really diligent" about identifying foods that have MSG, or monosodium glutamate. "Now, this is an excitotoxin. This is something that glutamate is an important neurotransmitter that regulates something called NMDA receptors in the brain. And if you overstimulate these, it actually can lead to all kinds of brain issues and cognitive dysfunction," he explains. 

Mostly Everything in Aerosol Cans

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While certain spray cans are okay, "aerosol is just bad for the environment. It's bad for the ozone layer, and I wouldn't eat it," says Hyman.

Artificial Sweeteners

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Artificial sweeteners should also be avoided, says Hyman. Not only could they lead to weight gain, but it affects your microbiome, and can create inflammation. "It has a huge effect on your microbiome. It causes fermentation, bloating, distension, and I would really encourage you all just to stay away from the sugar alcohols for that reason," he says. "I think stevia may be all right, monk fruit may be all right. We're still trying to figure that out. But I would really stay away from all the other artificial sweeteners."

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Processed Foods

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"Processed foods that have added sugars, trans fats, and artificial ingredients should be avoided at all costs. They tend to cause weight gain, swelling/inflammation, and even chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease," says Antoni Adamrovich, MSN, BA, APRN, FNP-C; the Chief of Medicine and Co-Founder of tb2.health.

"Try to limit your intake of beverages with high sugar (e.g., soda, artificially sweetened juices, etc.) and high-sodium foods (e.g., processed snacks, fast food, etc.). Pack your diet with nutrient-dense foods (e.g., fruit, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, healthy fats, etc.)," he says. "Regularly eating these types of foods will go a long way in supporting your health and well-being. They provide your body with the essential vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants you need, while minimizing the intake of empty calories."

💪🔥Body Booster: A good rule to follow? If you can't pronounce an ingredient, you might not want to eat it. 

Leah Groth
Leah Groth has decades of experience covering all things health, wellness and fitness related. Read more
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