Because They Can Make Even Straw Taste Terrific!

We all have foods we love and hate. Sometimes, depending on how they are cooked, they are the same. Most veggies, for example. Roasted asparagus spears or broccoli, drizzled with some olive oil and lemon or salt—mighty fine! Boiled to death—where is the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Vegetables?!

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But the following are the five worst foods to eat because they affect your body in very specific ways.

The food industry uses them to make stuff that tastes like dead, dried straw—or worse—so  good you can’t eat just one.

Your body really wants you to stop eating them.

A goat eating a weed with a partially cloudy sky in the background

1. Your Body Hates Sugar—Really!

At the top of list of the worst foods to eat is refined sugar.

To complicate things, there are several different types of sugar, though nearly all are made from 2 smaller sugars: glucose and fructose. Glucose is kinda sweet but not much fun to eat—and basic energy for every cell in your body. Glucose is so important for us that we can metabolize it from fatty acids and protein.

Fructose, which is a lot of fun to eat, can only be metabolized by the liver. The infamous high-fructose corn syrup is about 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Table sugar, or sucrose, is about 50-50. This small difference is enough to route more calories through the liver, and directly to fat storage.

Your brain can perceive the energy value of glucose, so it will tell you to stop eating. This is not true of fructose[1], especially if you’ve been drinking fructose in a soda or other beverage. So you can consume literally hundreds of calories in a beverage and still be hungry.

Sugar Spikes Your Blood Levels

No matter what type of sugar you eat, it spikes your blood sugar levels, and high levels of blood sugar are poison for every cell in your body. When our blood sugar rises above a certain level, our bodies release more insulin than usual. Some of that sugar is stored in our muscles and liver as ready energy. The rest is stored in our fat cells (including fat cells in our liver, which can cause non-alcoholic fatty liver disease) as a long-term reserve.

Sugar used to be rare and expensive: we got it from fruit, from seasonings like sugar in our tea and honey, and cookies and cakes and candy were treats, not food.

Now, the average American consumes over 150 pounds of added sugars a year.[2] These sugars are in 80% of the 600,000 items in the average American grocery store, hidden under 57 different names.[3] That includes healthy-sounding sugars, such as

  • Agave
  • Honey
  • Molasses

Much of this sugar is in food we think is healthy or do not think of as sweet.

How Sugar Is Used to Make Us Eat More

Manufacturers deliberately use sugar to make us eat more.

There are two reasons for this.

  1. They know high blood sugar causes your body to rapidly release large amounts of insulin, rapidly clearing sugar to fat storage. This makes you very hungry, even dizzy and faint… and instinctively craving more sugar to bring your blood sugar levels up to normal.
  2. They also know that sugar flips very specific neurotransmitters in our brains: it is increasingly recognized to be addictive. When you allow rats to choose between cookies and addictive street drugs like cocaine, they go for…cookies.[4] If you think you might be addicted to sugar, you may find our articles on the subject helpful.

The fact that sugar can be—and is—used as a drug to manipulate us into eating more and more is what makes it truly the very worst foods to eat.

2. Your Body Also Hates Refined Carbohydrates

Number 2 on the list of worst foods to eat is refined carbohydrate, and the average American eats approximately 200 pounds of refined carbohydrates a year. [5]

Refined carbohydrates have the whole grain—and the fat, most of the protein and fiber, as well as many vitamins and other nutrients—removed from them during the refining process. Practically nothing is left but the starch, which your body easily breaks down to glucose.

What happens to the rest of these sugar calories? They get stored as fat. While your body becomes increasingly insulin-resistant and your pancreas is increasingly exhausted by producing more and more insulin. This process can eventually lead to full-blown diabetes, the world’s 8th leading killer and a chronic disease that makes virtually every other disease, like hypertensive heart disease, tracheal, bronchus and lung cancers, stroke and ischemic heart disease—the 10th,  5th, 2nd and 1st leading killers worldwide—worse.[6]

Diabetes used to be fairly rare. Although diabetes does have multiple causes, the modern epidemic of type 2 diabetes tracks with increases in the sugar in our diets, regardless of whether that sugar is from sucrose, high-fructose corn syrup, or refined carbohydrates.[7]

And while you can find whole aisles of refined carbohydrates in the cereal and snack food sections of your supermarket, the shocking truth is that many of these empty carbohydrates are found in what we’ve been taught are healthy.

The fact that manufacturers can and do use refined carbohydrates as an invisible source of sugar makes them another one of the worst foods to eat.

3. Artificial Sweeteners Make Your Body Crazy

Artificial sweeteners seem to be the perfect way to indulge your sweet tooth without having to worry about calories or diabetes. They’re not: they are also among the worst foods to eat. That’s because they are increasingly linked to overweight, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome that is a precursor to full-blown diabetes.

How can it be that something that is used in the tiniest amounts, and has virtually no calories, do this to us?

They Make You Gain Weight…?

When it comes to driving overweight and obesity, it’s pretty simple.

The intense sweet taste of artificial sweeteners tells your brain to expect the energy you would normally get from sugar, but when no calories are forthcoming, your brain says, Slow down and eat more…especially sugar.

In animal studies, rats that ate yogurt that was artificially sweetened ate more, gained more weight, and became fatter than rats who ate glucose-sweetened yogurt.[8] When people drink 1 or 2 cans of sugar-sweetened carbonated beverages a day, their risk of overweight or obesity increases by 33% in 7 to 8 years.

Drinking the same equivalent amount of artificially sweetened drinks increased their risk by 65%.[9]

And Develop Diabetes?!?

A major, fascinating study began by feeding mice aspartame, saccharine or sucralose. These mice quickly developed significantly higher blood sugar levels than mice who ate either no sugar at all—or sugar.

Researchers then transplanted gut bacteria from the mice that ate the sweeteners to mice that been bred to have no gut bacteria and had never eaten sweeteners. Their blood sugar levels quickly increased. Of course, mice are different from humans—but not that different.

In the third phase of the study, the researchers found that people who didn’t eat or drink artificial sweeteners had very different gut bacteria than those who did. So they asked 7 volunteers who didn’t usually eat artificial sweeteners to do so.

It took just 4 days for 57% (4) of the volunteers to develop altered gut bacteria and higher blood sugar levels, putting them well on the way to metabolic syndrome, the precursor to diabetes.[10]

Our gut bacteria, or microbiome, play a very important role in our general health, including diabetes and weight management. Our microbiome clearly responds to the differences between glucose and artificial sweeteners, and in ways that harm us. While the exact mechanisms (which happen at the cellular level and below) are not yet understood, the causal relationship is increasingly clear.

Artificial sweeteners are one of the worst foods to eat because they can be used to trick us into eating more… and increase our risk of diabetes, even when we are trying to take care of ourselves.

4.  Your Heart Hates Trans Fats

Trans fats are another of the worst foods to eat. They’re created by hardening or over-heating vegetable oils, themselves manufactured by harsh industrial processes and often with the aid of toxic chemicals you would never even think about eating.

Hardening liquid vegetable oils, called “hydrogenation”, allows the oils to solidify at room temperature. It makes them more-shelf stable so they don’t spoil as fast, allowing them to be used in baked goods (rather than more expensive butter, tallow or lard). But your body lacks the enzymes to digest trans fats—so they increase high-risk low-density lipoprotein (“bad” cholesterol) levels, which build up as fatty arterial plaque.

Healthy Fat is Important for Healthy Weight

Muscle is your biggest fat-burning organ. And you probably know that protein is important for healthy muscles. However, healthy fats are also extremely important for muscle cells.

Trans fats are useless for repairing your muscles, and they reduce your blood oxygen levels, making it very difficult for you to maintain a healthy weight—or even have good energy levels.

But here’s the thing. We like sugar—up to a certain level that food scientists call the bliss point. Then it’s too sweet. The bliss point for fat is very high, much higher than for sugar: somewhere up around drinking heavy cream.

Even though our brains love fat because it represents a source of energy even more concentrated than sugar—9 calories per gram, vs. 4—most of us won’t do that.

But we will eat pure sugar blended with pure fat—think buttercream frosting—and we will totally love that combination more than we love either sugar or fat alone.

Fat is also a wonderful carrier of flavor and scent, both of which make food tasty.

Trans fats’ low cost means they can be widely used to provide the luscious “mouthfeel” that only fat has, while eating just a few grams of them a day can significantly harm your health.

This make trans fat the most dangerous member of the worst foods to eat list.

5. Your Body Hates Too Much Salt

The good news is, the salt you add to real foods from a shaker or at the dinner table or in the kitchen is not one of the worst foods to eat.

In fact, your body has a real need for salt’s star ingredient, sodium. Like potassium (which also plays a critical role), sodium is an electrolyte. It binds water, maintaining the fluids in and between cells in the right balance. Like potassium, sodium is also electrically charged, which enables it to maintain electrical gradients across cell membranes. In turn, this enables such vital functions as proper nerve signaling and muscle contraction.

Yet excess salt, or sodium, is a significant problem for several reasons.

  1. Because it binds water, high levels of sodium can lead to significant water retention. This doesn’t just contribute to high blood pressure, it’s hard on all your internal organs. People may dismiss losing significant amounts of retained fluid as “just” water weight, but your body isn’t fooled. You feel a lot better when you shed that water weight.
  2. People with kidney disease often need to restrict their sodium intake to about 1500 milligrams, or about ¾ of a teaspoon a day. Of note, the leading cause of kidney disease is diabetes[11], and…
  3. …while the most important driver of diabetes is added sugar, the salt food manufacturers add to foods can make diabetes complications worse.

There are many reasons for food manufacturers to use the large quantities of salt that they do. The most benign reason is that it’s a preservative that’s literally dirt cheap.

But food manufacturers also add salt for more sinister reasons.

First, like trans fats and artificial sweeteners and sugars, they use salt to get you hooked. They even add it to beverages (like soda) so although you’ve had plenty to drink, you’re still thirsty…and drink more.

Second, they use salt to deliver an intense flavor burst, even with sweet foods. So they’re tastier.

That’s because even the food industry admits processed foods that aren’t loaded to the gills with sugars, sweeteners, salt and fat taste really nasty, like…

Cardboard, metal fillings, straw, and warmed-over, wet dog hair.

Yum.

For this reason, salt, while absolutely vital for life, is also on the worst foods to eat list.

What the Worst Foods to Eat Have in Common

Each of these foods share an important characteristic that makes them the worst foods to eat.

They all represent something vital in food that we naturally crave, and so naturally love.

  • The sweet taste of sugar and artificial sweeteners is a safety signal. Very few toxic plants produce fructose. Additionally foods that contain high levels of sugars, including glucose, contain concentrated energy, which until very recently in human history was very rare in the human diet.
  • Fat is an even more concentrated form of energy, has a wonderfully light, rich texture, and is also a powerful carrier of flavor and scent.
  • Salt is absolutely vital to human life.

All of the worst foods to eat have been deliberately manipulated and used in ways to trick us into eating more than is good for us, more than our bodies can handle, and to quite literally addict many of us—to things that we would normally never eat even one of.

If you’d like to learn about the shocking, so-called healthy foods these ingredients are hiding in, and how to eat great-tasting foods that are great for you so you can lose weight, look good and feel better, click here to watch our informative presentation.

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[1] Page KA, Chan O, Arora J, Belfort-Deaguiar R, Dzuira J, Roehmholdt B, Cline GW, Naik S, Sinha R, Constable RT, Sherwin RS. Effects of fructose vs glucose on regional cerebral blood flow in brain regions involved with appetite and reward pathways. JAMA. 2013 Jan 2;309(1):63-70.

[2] United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Factbook Chapter 2: Profiling Food Consumption in America. 2014. Retrieved 20-Apr-2015 from http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf.

[3] Lustig, Robert. Still Believe “A Calorie is a Calorie”? Huffington Post. (27 Feb 2013).

[4]  Ahmed SH, Guillem K, Vandaele Y. (July 2013). Sugar addiction: pushing the drug-sugar analogy to the limit. Curr Opin Clin Nutr Metab Care.

[5] United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). Factbook Chapter 2: Profiling Food Consumption in America. 2014. Retrieved 20-Apr-2015 from http://www.usda.gov/factbook/chapter2.pdf.

[6] World Health Organization. Top 10 Causes of Death. May 2014. Retrieved 20 April 2015.

[7] Basu S, Yoffe P, Hills N, Lustig RH. PLoS One Epub. (Feb 27, 2013).The relationship of sugar to population-level diabetes prevalence: an econometric analysis of repeated cross-sectional data.

[8] Swithers SE, Sample CH, Davidson TL. (April, 2013). Adverse effects of high-intensity sweeteners on energy intake and weight control in male and obesity-prone female rats. Behav Neurosci. 127(2), 262-274

[9] Hazuda H, Fowler SP, Williams K. (June 27, 2011). The San Antonio Longitudinal Study of Aging. University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

[10]  Suez J, Korem T, Zeevi D, et al. (October 9, 2014). Artificial sweeteners induce glucose intolerance by altering the gut microbiota. Nature. 514, 181-186.

[11] United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). National Diabetes Statistics Report, 2014. 2015. Retrieved 20 Apr 2015 from http://www.cdc.gov/diabetes/pubs/statsreport14/national-diabetes-report-web.pdf.

Comments 12

  1. I have low blood pressure. Therefore, my doctor states that I need a high sodium diet, including salt tabs. My condition also has me wheelchair bound because of the risks of serious injuries caused by falling and loss of consciousness. How can I balance my diet to increase sodium, yet, healthy enough to keep the bad cholesterol down?

    • Hi, Rita. Fortunately, the best foods don’t have labels! The most reliable time-saving way to discern “good” foods from “bad” is to favor whole, relatively unprocessed foods rather than those that are pre-made and packaged, and so need a label.
      For an extra tip, check out the foods lists in our Menu Planner application. In general the foods to avoid are in the darkest shade of blue.

      • Hi, you two. The video discussed artificial or overprocessed versions of popular foods that should be healthy, but have been manipulated into being particularly harmful to your goals. Rather than giving up on them altogether, we encourage better versions in their original, natural forms. Note that the foods discussed in the video are only examples, and many other popular foods have been similarly affected—so it’s good to read labels, be aware of how a food is made, and choose whole foods as much as possible.
        1. Regular “whole wheat” bread—this often also contains refined flours, so it is preferred to select “100% whole” grain products (wheat or other). Even with these products, be sure to read the label and avoid hydrogenated fats or similar ingredients such as mono- and diglycerides.
        2. Regular margarine—this is often made from chemically altered fats that create health risks similar to those people are trying to avoid by eating a plant-based product. If you must use a hardened oil, t is better to choose those based on coconut oil, and otherwise to use healthy liquid oils, such as olive, as much as possible.
        3. Artificial sweeteners—you can read more about this here: https://www.trimdownclub.com/the-best-way-to-sweeten-your-tea-2.
        4. Regular orange juice—If it is in a store, it is likely to have been stripped of what makes it healthy. Even if vitamins etc. have been added back in, it really is not the same. Fresh-squeezed is the way to go.
        5. Conventional and overly processed soy—organic is fine, and minimally processed items such as tofu, yogurt, and milk, as well as fermented items such as tempeh and natto are fine. However, most pre-packaged mock meats tend to be a problem.

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