Ten foods to avoid for a healthier lifestyle

These foods may taste delicious but you can stay much healthier by avoiding them

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 10:46am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 December, 2014, 10:46am

How wholesome is the food that passes your lips? According to a recent McGill University study published in the journal Psychological Science, your brain is automatically drawn to more calorie-dense dietary options.

In time-constrained Hong Kong, calorific fast-food temptations abound. So, to avoid eating yourself sick, you must be picky and disciplined, especially because research also shows junk food is addictive.

Here is a round-up of some of the worst nasties on the menu - near toxic, habit-forming foods, drinks and condiments that you are advised to reduce or exclude.

1. White bread

Outwardly innocent and very tasty, white bread actually has very little nutritional value.

Made from refined white flour, white bread contains few nutrients and minimal dietary fibre, which are essential for a healthy digestive system and stable metabolism, according to nutritionist and health coach Olivia Jenkins.

Worse, white bread is packed with sugar and bleached with chemical agents, all of which wreak havoc on your skin, Jenkins says.

2. Alcohol

It's hard to avoid consuming at least a few alcoholic beverages at this time of the year. But alcohol is actually hepatotoxic: the cells that cleanse your body treat it as poison, Jenkins says, adding that alcohol leaves you with a pasty complexion, huge pores and liver damage.

Worse, alcohol dehydrates your skin, leaving it less plump and fresh the next morning. So limit your intake.

3. Refined sugar

That close cousin of alcohol, sugar, may well be one of the worst things you can eat. The sweet crystalline substance changes your brain chemistry, making you crave more, so that you may feel as if that pastry on display at the bakery is positively calling your name.

But when you eat sugar, or foods high in sugar, your body breaks down these carbohydrates into glucose. In step, up goes your level of the hormone insulin, which controls blood sugar levels, according to Jenkins.

When your insulin spikes, you effectively experience a burst of inflammation throughout your body. The inflammation spawns enzymes that break down collagen and "elastin", a protein that helps skin snap back to place when poked or pinched. The result is sagging and wrinkles.

4. Processed meat

Sausages, bacon, hot dogs and deli meats are also bad for your skin because they abound in artificial flavours, fat and salt, Jenkins says, adding that those factors make it hard for your body to digest the flesh. Worse, they heighten inflammation. So swap processed foods for healthy alternatives that aid digestion and keep blood-sugar levels in check.

Sound options include honey, rye bread, grilled foods and unprocessed meats. Stay focused on anti-inflammatory strategies: an anti-inflammatory diet plays a key role in keeping your skin clear and curbing your level of the stress hormone cortisol, according to Jenkins.

5. Packaged dips

Next time you grab a single-serve packet of dip at your favourite fast-food restaurant, think how long it has been sitting around, says nutritionist Courtney Klein Moskal.

Small, shelf-stable condiments such as ketchup, relish and pre-packaged coffee creamers do nothing for your health because they have been artificially engineered not to spoil; they are packed with preservatives and additives.

The line-up of condiment chemicals includes colouring, salt and trans fats, which can lead to heart disease. Other nasties include a silicone used in caulks and sealants called dimethylpolysiloxane. Also used as breast implant filler, it is the key ingredient in Silly Putty.

So think twice before loading up on single-serve condiments: the chemicals they host are a better asset in home improvement materials than your body, Moskal says.

Saturated fat heightens your risk of heart disease and stroke

6. MSG

That suspect staple of Asian cooking MSG (monosodium glutamate) consists of water, sodium and "glutamate", an amino acid used to make proteins in food and your body.

Chefs recruit MSG to boost the natural flavour of meat, soup, seafood, gravies and vegetable dishes, says Moskal, adding that it is usually safe.

But watch out, Moskal says, because some people are sensitive to the glutamate, which can spark symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, heart palpitations, blurred vision, even pain in the face, back or neck. The symptoms but can last for hours and be magnified if you eat MSG-laced food while drinking alcohol or on an empty stomach.

7. Soy sauce

Another staple of Asian cuisine, soy sauce, is no better - in fact you should never put it in your body, according to sports nutrition specialist Ashley Lied.

One spoonful of soy packs 9,000 milligrams of sodium, which is far more than your daily requirements. High sodium can cause water retention and high blood pressure. If your food needs more flavouring, choose herbs and spices, Lied says.

8. Diet soda

Soda is horrible for your body, according to Lied, who says it contains refined sugar and many calories. When diet soda debuted everyone thought it would be a healthy alternative.

Alas, that may not be the case. Diet soda contains the artificial sweetener aspartame, which has been rumoured to cause seizures, brain cancer and kidney issues. While expert agencies in the US and elsewhere that have evaluated aspartame have found it safe for use, the rumours persist and studies are ongoing.

9. Stick margarine

Yet another no-no, stick margarine, consists of hydrogenated vegetable oil, which is high in trans fat, according to Lied. Trans fat is extremely bad for you because it increases bad cholesterol that causes inflammation and increases the risk of heart disease. Worse, it makes you vulnerable to diabetes. A healthier choice would be tub butter, which has no trans fat.

10. Popcorn Despite its innocent image, even popcorn has a dark side to do with those dreaded trans fats. In particular, the cinema version is liable to be drenched in trans fat-rich oil. To put popcorn in perspective, a bag of it has the same nutritional impact as a stick of butter, Lied says.

Both she and Jenkins warn against oil in general. Even vegetable oil does nothing good for your body, it seems. High in fats, it causes hormonal changes and bloating, and is especially harmful when cooked. So, if you must use it, stick with olive oil.

One last pervasive nutrient to skip is whole-milk dairy products, which can be dire in excess, because they are high in saturated fat, according to Lied.

Saturated fat heightens your risk of heart disease and stroke, and promotes migraines, arthritis and premature ageing: a grim payload that seems to prove just how much harm junk food can do.


Tax on junk food falls short

Denmark set a benchmark three years ago by becoming the first country to levy a tax aimed at curbing consumption of saturated fat. Between December 2011 and November 2012, a surcharge was imposed on all foods containing more than 2.3 per cent saturated fat. In Hungary, there is a tax on packaged foods with concentrated ingredients, such as drinks with more than 20mg of caffeine per 100ml. Mexico has several measures in place to counter consumption of unhealthy food. Whether the junk food taxes are working is debatable. Denmark's effort was terminated after retailers grumbled about excessive bureaucracy. Now, it is widely regarded as a flop. A British Medical Journal study found that fat taxes would have to raise the price of unhealthy food by up to 20 per cent to cut consumption by enough to curb obesity, and they should be paired with subsidies on fruits and vegetables to deter consumers from trading one bad habit for another.