In my last article, I introduced nine important foods that most people should be eating more often to help balance their nutrient intake. Today, I am focusing on the other end of the spectrum and highlighting two popular food items that should have little or no place in your diet, especially if you are already concerned that your eating habits are not as good as they could be.
Thee foods I will discuss today are high in one or both of calories and sodium, the two dietary components that most people are getting far too much of. While it is true that most foods can fit into a healthy diet in moderation, I am confident that these foods have no justifiable place in the diet of the average person. Despite their popularity and wide consumption, these items are associated with poor health outcomes and imbalanced nutrient intakes.
So, what are these two foods that you should stop eating?
Two Popular Foods to Stop Eating Today
1) Processed Meats: Processed meats are a widely available group of popular food products that include bacon, salami, ham corned beef, sausages and hot dogs. Any meats that are smoked or cured are also in this category. If you are a regular consumer of any of these food items, there is cause for concern.
The allure of processed meats is that they are often the perfect combination of inexpensive, easy to prepare and very delicious. Unfortunately, they are also one of the worst types of foods a person can eat from a health and nutrition perspective. I do not say this lightly.
Why No Processed Meats?
i. Processed meats are generally extremely high in sodium, the one nutrient that the majority of North American population cnosumes so much of that we put ourselves at risk of negative health effects. In Canada, processed meats are the second highest contributor to sodium intake in the average diet.
ii. Processed meats are generally very high in calories and saturated fat and low in protein and nutrients. The consumption of unprocessed meat,poultry and fish is an important part of the diets of most non-vegetarians because meat is a commonly consumed source of protein and nutrients. Processed meats, on the other hand, are often higher in saturated fat and calories ( two things we do not need more of) and much lower in protein and nutrients. They offer little of the benefits of eating unprocessed meat. In the context of the current rates of obesity and generally poor dietary habits in North America, regular consumption of any high calorie, low nutrient food item is a significant public health concerned.
iii. Processed meats may cause cancer. The World Health Organization ( WHO) has identified processed meats as a legitimate contributor to cancer risk. It is extremely rare for a single group of foods to be identified as a cause of a chronic disease, so you can appreciate how significant this point is. The chemical processing that these food items undergo leads to the formation of potential carcinogenic ( cancer-causing) compounds that can be very dangerous to our health, especially if consumed regularly and in large quantities.
2) Sugar Sweetened Beverages: Although technically sugar sweetened beverages a drink, rather than a food, they are without a doubt the other deserving member of this “stop eating” list.
These beverages come in different forms and are most commonly consumed as pop, fruit drinks and energy drinks. Sugar Sweetened Beverages have become a pervasive component of North American food culture. They are heavily marketed, highly accesible and widely consumed, especially by teenagers. As popular and delicious as these drinks may be, there is an ever growing body of evidence that suggests that are a serious public health concern.
Why no Sugar Sweetened Beverages?
i. At the current rates of consumption, the average person is consuming about as much sugar from these drinks as they do from fruit. Given that a can of pop has a similar sugar content to a single large banana, this is quite concerning. The difference being that a can of pop offers none of the numerous nutritional benefits that a piece of fruit does. Overconsumption of any high calorie, low nutrient product is of great public concern.
ii. They may be one of the drivers the obesity epidemic. Although we cannot say that sugar sweetened beverages are the sole cause of obesity in North America, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest they an important contributor to the problem. They are especially problematic for our young people, who consume them at every higher rates than the rest of the population.
iii. They are unnaturally high in added fructose. Partially due to the use of high fructose corn syrup, sweetened drinks are unnaturally high in fructose. This added dietary fructose load may have health consequences, especially for our liver and digestive system. We often hear concerns about cancer, heart disease, high blood pressure and cholesterol but it is actually our livers that are especially vulnerable to pops and sodas. Excessive soft drink consumption is very likely one of the driving forces behind the reality that the primary cause of liver disease in adolescents and young adults is no longer alcohol-related.
Bottom line? The great majority of people will be doing themselves a great service by discontinuing the consumption of processed meats and sugar sweetened beverages. If you are a frequent consumer of these items, I sincerely hope you will reconsider. Doing so will not only contribute to your long-term health and wellbeing but also help you to balance your current nutrient intake in the short-term by cutting down on empty calories and sodium.
Now, if you have an impeccably balanced diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables and other important dietary components, it may matter less if you infrequently indulge on these food items. No matter how well you eat, I will stand by my suggestion that the consumption of these foods should be heavily limited. The reality is that many North Americans do not consume such a great diet and are thus particularly vulnerable to the negative effects of regularly consuming these particular foods. If this sounds like you, please heed today’s message. As always, I wish you the best in your food and nutrition endeavours.
Andy De Santis RD MPH