Dining Dangerously: 10 Foods You Should Never Eat, According to Nutritionists and Health Experts

Unhealthy eating


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Unhealthy eating
Soda machine McDonald's
Soda machine McDonald's by Sarah Gilbert (CC BY-NC-SA)

1. Soda

“Soda tops my list of foods to never, ever eat,” says Dan Gallagher, a registered dietician from Aegle Nutrition. Regular soda provides a high dose of sugar — around seven to 10 teaspoons in a 12-ounce serving — without any nutritional benefits. Even diet soda can be harmful because of the artificial sweeteners, Gallagher tells Cheapism. Some research has linked sugar substitutes to an elevated risk of stroke, heart disease, and death, according to the Mayo Clinic, though it’s unclear whether artificial sweeteners are the culprit.

French fries

2. Ultra-Processed Foods

Ultra-processed foods make up nearly 60% of the American diet. These “industrial formulations” are not only loaded with salt, sugar, oil, and fat, but they're also packed with artificial colors, preservatives, and other additives. We’re talking about foods like Flamin’ Hot Cheetos, McDonald’s french fries, and sugary breakfast cereals. Registered Dietician Meaghan Greenwood, who works as a health coach at Hourglass Waist, tells Cheapism that these foods “can contribute to weight gain, chronic diseases, and nutritional deficiencies.”

Snickers candy bars

3. Candy and Sweets

“Candies, chocolates, and other sugary treats provide little nutritional value and can lead to rapid spikes and crashes in blood sugar levels,” Greenwood says, adding that overconsumption can lead to weight gain, Type 2 diabetes, and insulin resistance. The average adult in America consumes far too much sugar, averaging 17 teaspoons a day. That’s more than two to three times the recommended amount for men and women, respectively, according to the American Heart Association.

Cheesy Pepperoni Pizza

4. Foods High in Trans Fats

The Mayo Clinic calls trans fats “the worst type of fat to eat,” explaining that trans-fatty acids raise bad cholesterol (LDL) and lower good cholesterol (HDL). These harmful fats are so noxious that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration banned artificial trans fats in 2018.  To avoid trans-fatty acids, skip processed and fried foods with hydrogenated oils, such as microwave popcorn, frozen pizza, doughnuts, and french fries.

Kayem Beef Hot Dogs

5. Processed Meats

With their high levels of sodium and saturated fats, highly processed meats can increase your risk for heart disease, stroke, and cancer, Greenwood tells Cheapism. That means you should stay away from hot dogs, bacon, sausages, and other meats that have been preserved by salting or smoking.

Loaf of butter milk white Bread

6. Refined Grains

When food producers refine grains, they remove the seed’s bran and germ, giving them a finer texture and longer shelf life, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The tradeoff is that you lose important nutrients: B vitamins, iron, fiber, phytochemicals, and other vitamins and minerals. Because refined grains lack fiber and nutrients, Greenwood says they can cause spikes in blood sugar, along with Type 2 diabetes and weight gain. Swap white rice, white bread, and sugary cereals with brown rice, whole-grain bread, and oats.

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fried chicken meal

7. Deep-Fried Foods

“Foods that are deep-fried, such as french fries, fried chicken, and doughnuts, absorb a significant amount of unhealthy trans fats and saturated fats from the cooking oil,” Greenwood explains. These fats can clog your arteries and damage the walls of your blood vessels. That shows in the data, too. In a meta-analysis that looked at 19 different studies, researchers found a connection between the consumption of fried foods and an increased risk for stroke, heart failure, major cardiac events, and coronary artery disease.

Related: Secrets for Eating Healthy on a Budget

Kettle Chips Pile
Lacey Muszynski / Cheapism

8. Foods High in Sodium

The human body needs around 500 milligrams of salt every day to function, according to Harvard T.H. Chan’s School of Public Health. Americans eat nearly seven times that amount, the Food and Drug Administration says, noting that current guidelines recommend less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily. It’s clear, then, that most of us should avoid salty foods. 

Barbara Kovalenko, a registered dietician nutritionist and consultant at Lasta, tells Cheapism that excessive sodium intake can lead to high blood pressure and bloating. To eliminate high-sodium foods, reduce or avoid these 10 foods listed on the Centers for Disease Control website, which account for more than 40% of sodium consumption. 

Related: The Best Foods to Eat If You Have High Blood Pressure

Fast Food
Ziga Plahutar / istockphoto

9. Fast Food

We feel a bit hypocritical telling our readers not to eat fast food, but the fact is that most of it is quite harmful. That’s because fast food is often ultra-processed, deep-fried, high in sodium, sweet, and packed with refined grains. In other words, burgers, fried chicken sandwiches, and french fries contain most (if not all) of the ingredients experts warn us about with little nutritional benefit. 

That said, eating out at fast-food joints isn’t always a terrible idea. In an interview with the Cleveland Clinic, Registered Dietician Nutritionist ​​Nancy Geib says that eating the occasional fast-food meal won’t ruin your life, especially if you pay attention to the nutrition facts. “If you do your research and you look for the best options, you can definitely still go to a fast-food restaurant if that’s all you have,” she explains.

Related: 15 Healthy Fast Food Menu Items at McDonald's, Wendy's, and Beyond

Closeup Glass with Alcohol in Cocktail Bar
Mpak ART studio | Ilarion Ananiev/istockphoto

10. Alcohol

There’s a common misconception that having a glass of wine after work might be fine, even beneficial. But in a 2023 statement, the World Health Organization declared that no level of alcohol consumption is safe for our health. The public health agency cited research that shows that drinking alcohol in light or moderate amounts can lead to cancer

“We cannot talk about a so-called safe level of alcohol use,” explains Dr. Carina Ferreira-Borges, acting Unit Lead for Noncommunicable Disease Management and Regional Advisor for Alcohol and Illicit Drugs in the WHO Regional Office for Europe. “It doesn’t matter how much you drink – the risk to the drinker’s health starts from the first drop of any alcoholic beverage.”