Daniel-S-Edwards/ShutterstockA grande iced coffee with skim milk and two Splendas, please? Think again—and hold the sweet stuff. "I do not think there is sufficient evidence to prove that most artificial sweeteners are safe for consumers, so I prefer to stay away from them and indulge in the real thing [sugar] occasionally and mindfully. Plus, there's a plethora of research that shows how consuming diet beverages may counter-intuitively lead to weight gain, which can increase your risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease," registered dietitian and nutritionist, Chelsey Amer says. Once you cut them out, you'll be surprised how much your body will thank you.
Nalaphotos/ShutterstockLove to curl up in front of The Voice with some vino and a buttery bag of popcorn? Resist. "I once ripped open an unpopped microwave popcorn bag and I haven't eaten it since! There are too many artificial chemicals used in the flavorings inside the microwavable bag and I prefer to avoid overly processed products like this as much as possible," Amer explains. But if you're pop-crazy and can't stop, she suggests making your own with popcorn kernels, a brown paper bag and olive oil with a touch of salt.
Processed deli meats
meats-Valerio/ShutterstockWhile it's super-easy to make a turkey club when you buy deli meats in bulk on Sunday for your meal prep, there may be some dangerous ingredients lurking in those slices. "Processed deli meats can contain a wide variety of additives from nitrates to carrageenan that can increase inflammation in the body and have even been scientifically linked to increased risk in colon cancer," says Megan Faletra, MS, an integrative dietitian nutritionist, certified yoga Instructor, and founder of The Well Essentials. Opt for organic, nitrate and antibiotic free deli meats from brands that are focused on changing the way meat products are produced in the USA."
Reduced-fat peanut butter
Brent-Hofacker/ShutterstockYou might think you're doing your body good by getting the low-fat jar; you'd be better off going full fat. "While regular and reduced-fat peanut butter contain roughly the same amount of calories, the reduced fat varieties typically contain more added sugar or artificial sweeteners to improve the taste," says Faletra. "The fat found in peanut butter is healthy for our bodies, so stick to the natural full-fat peanut butters."
Syda-Productions/ShutterstockIf the dairy-free life isn't for you—we feel ya—but you're a waistline watcher, you might be tempted to reach for the "healthier" margarine. Hold that thought: "While many margarine brands are beginning to remove the trans fats from their products in order to comply with FDA regulations by 2018, most margarines rely primarily on highly processed vegetable oils (particularly soybean and palm oil)," Faletra says. "Choosing grass fed organic butter in moderation is a much better option for our health as these butters contain high-levels of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids."
Most frozen meals
Don-Bendickson/ShutterstockWhile nutritionist Ha Nguyen, RD, used to nom on frozen meals as a kid—nearly every day after high school—today, she wouldn't touch one with a 10-foot pole. Why? She explains, "Most prepackaged frozen meals are overly processed, made with refined flour, high in sodium, and full of additives and preservatives. All things that are not good for your body." Learn to recognize the most harmful ingredients in processed food.
Brent-Hofacker/ShutterstockYou might remember these commercials when you were in middle or high school—and maybe even argued with your pals over which flavor was the best—Nguyen recommends keeping 'em out of your shopping cart next time you're at the store. "You mind as well send your kid off to school with a candy bar for breakfast. If you simply look at the first few ingredients they consists of refined sugars including corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, dextrose, and sugar," she says. Opt for these healthier breakfast ideas instead.
Cheese in a can
Louella938/ShutterstockThough arguably super fun to play with when you're 16, as far as a nutritional value, there's not much this canned faux-dairy can offer you. "Cheese spread is highly processed with very little actual 'cheese' in it," says registered dietitian and nutritionist Michelle Jaelin, RD. It comes with a laundry list of artificial ingredients and colors that I don't feel comfortable eating. It is called plastic cheese for a reason! If I want to eat cheese, I eat the real thing," says.
Boutique fruit juices
NAN-SKYBLACK/ShutterstockWhile that carton might claim to give you the vitamins and minerals you need, registered dietitian and nutritionist Andy De Santis, RD, says fruit juices—even the boutique ones—are a slippery slope. "The alarming trend of expensive juices is concerning. These products are generally packed in calories and they won't keep you feeling full or provide anywhere near the full nutritional benefit of eating whole fruits and veggies," he says. "For reference, eating an apple, orange and banana would take me 10 minutes. Drinking them in a juice—maybe 10 seconds?" That's a lot of calories in less than a minute.
Sausages, hot dogs
Africa-Studio/ShutterstockTake yourself out to the ball game, but skip the hot dog. You might be better off with a brewski and a bag of peanuts. "Not only are hot dogs high in fat and relatively low in protein, which is the exact combination you don't want in your meat, but they are generally chock-full of sodium, which none of us need more of," De Santis says. "The icing on the cake? There is a growing body of evidence that connects eating processed meats with an increased risk of cancer in the digestive tract."