It’s a good habit to keep a red flag in our mind for a small set of foods that are particularly unhealthy or dangerous. I am adverse to the mindset of being perennially obsessed by food dangers, but there are some cases where -yes- it is wise to keep the attention level very high, always.
It’s the case of the foods that I put in this short list: they are so harmful, so abundantly and mindlessly proposed in our daily diet, that it’s better to keep them flagged in our brain’s “cache memory” to, hopefully, reject them almost automatically as we are offered. Let’s see what we have.
1. BURNT FOOD
You like burnt pizza crusts? Crunchy overcooked toasts? Barbecue meat? Well, I hope you’ll like them less when you read this: you are eating the worst, most damaging, toxins-loaded food I can ever think of. You see those black spots? They are pure cancer.
Burnt food is one step above all the other elements in this list, and I have no doubt about putting it in first place: while all the other foods here are “only” unhealthy, this is dangerous.
Dangerous because when overcooked, the starches in foods like pizza and toasts, change their structure and produce compounds that have been analyzed and declared toxic in many studies.
The most known of these toxins produced is called Acrylamide, a substance present also in chips and deep fried foods. Acrylamide is of concern as carcinogen, as neurotoxin and as cause of infertility.
Then we have barbecue, another awful presence in your diet. Not only it’s typically based on red meat, which is not the healthiest food itself, and not only this meat is usually overcooked or burnt too. No, there’s a plus: the barbecue cooking process. It produces huge amounts of dioxin, and if you inhale that smoke for awhile it’s the equivalent of smoking thousands of cigarettes. Like having your personal incinerator at home.
How do you protect yourself from these foods? My advice is:
– when you cook, cook at low temperatures for longer, and prefer methods like baking or steaming, fry the less you can, if you really have to make barbecue don’t put your food directly on the flame, and stay near the grill the minimum necessary
– when others cook, remove the black spots from pizza (so often the bottom is burnt), fries, meat and in general avoid the burnt parts of the foods you eat.
2. REFINED SUGAR (& PASTRIES)
Knowing what crusade I do against it (I completely quit eating/drinking anything with refined sugar in it more than ten years ago!) some friends who will read this list will be surprised to find sugar “only” in second. So let’s clarify: burnt food comes in first because it’s seriously carcinogenic and nothing beats that, but refined sugar is still a bad, bad, bad, bad, bad guy.
Refined sugar is undoubtly one of the major long-term causes of death (and also of reduced physical/mental abilities of people) in modern societies, where sugary processed craps are terribly abundant in the diet.
Sugar is the worst empty-calorie food. Full of calories (fattening), zero nutrients (useless for our body). It causes tooth decay. It causes diabetes. It upsets the metabolism, it causes spikes in blood sugar, with the result that people who consume a lot of it are usually sluggish, slow, drowsy.
Don’t misunderstand: you do need sugar in your diet. And it’s perfectly ok to crave sweets. Just take sugar from naturally sweet foods (like fruits or honey) and leave refined sugar alone.
And a final note: refined sugar multiplies its horrific impact when eaten in conjunction with refined white flour (all this I wrote for refined sugar is basically the same for refined white flour). This happens in all pastries, cakes, croissants, biscuits. These are all great foods…if you want to get fat and get diseases.
The idea that chips are made of vegetables and therefore could have some healthy benefits should really not cross your mind! I used to eat a lot of these years ago, now that I know how unhealthy they are, I try to never eat them. When I crave some junky snack, I go for homemade popcorn or even peanuts, that are much better, despite being very caloric.
First, yes, they are made from vegetables: potatoes. But in the first place potatoes are not the most nutrient-dense in the realm of vegetables, in fact it’s quite true the opposite: they are pretty low in nutrients.
And of course they are starchy foods, rich in carbohydrates. This is why they are usually one of the most classical booboos among bodybuilders.
Second, to produce industrial chips the potato slices are deep fried (in low quality oils), so that the few nutrients present are completely destroyed. Frying also produces high amounts of acrylamide, similarly for what happens with black-burnt foods (even if not to those extreme levels).
Third, enormous amounts of sodium are added to make chips more addictive (once you start eating you feel thirsthy and you crave more and more). So much sodium is not your friend: among the several negative effects, it raises your blood pressure a lot.
Stay away from industrial chips, and in general from all deep fried foods.
It tells a lot that Wikipedia defines Margarine as a “foodstuff”, “an instance of material which may be used as food”. I wouldn’t know how to say it better.
Margarine has been “invented” in the 1800s as an industrial counterpart of butter, a very cheap one. Butter and margarine have a similar amount of fat, a similar texture, a similar color. Here is where similarities end.
Now let’s see the differences. Classic margarine is not a dairy product but it’s made of vegetal oils, obtained by pressing non edible plants. These oils are extra-poor in terms of nutrition, dangerous for the coronaries and frequently come from gmo plants.
The oils are hydrogenated to create a solid product that can be marketed in the stores, but unfortunately the hydrogenation produces trans fats that are something you really need to avoid, because they interfere with the mechanisms of regulation of cholesterol.
The color itself (slight yellow) is obtained by adding colorants, to remember butter. It’s an horrible food. Avoid margarine. If you really can’t get used to eat healthy fats (like nuts, seeds, avocado…) then at least go for butter. It’s much healthier.
Of course, it tastes good. But I can imagine only two reasons why people would want to eat processed meat: either they don’t want to know, or they don’t care to know. Know what?
Simple, they don’t want/care to know how it’s produced and how unhealthy it is.
This kind of meat is made using the residuals of other types of meat that are more valuable. What’s inside these pink pipes are leftovers. I can just imagine what animal parts end up in those machines to be grinded. Is it likely that a commercial meat industry would avoid to use tails, or ears of the animals for example? I don’t think so… Anyway.
The meat, from whatever part of the animal’s body it comes from, is grinded to produce a sort of paste. To the paste are added sugars (fructose, sucrose, glucose, lactose) to help preservability and to create a substrate favorable for lactobacilli. Lactobacilli produce lactic acid, which has a low pH and inhibits the growth of undesired microorganisms.
Then milk powder and caseine derivatives are added, typically from 2 to 4%, to improve the texture and omogeneity on the paste.
Additives are added as well: especially nitrites and nitrates (sodium and potassium), to make the meat look more red, and slow down the deterioration caused by bacteria. These preservatives are a serious concern as causes of cancer.
Interestingly, one of the nitrates commonly used, potassium nitrate, has also another name: saltpeter. And it’s not only used as food additive… but also as gunpowder!
6. PROCESSED FISH: SURIMI
Right after processed meat, comes its fish alter-ego: surimi.
This food is a huge lie. It’s not crab’s pulp at all. It is processed to look like it. Colorants are added to make it look like it.
But it actually a paste made from the leftovers of the fish processing industry, with undefined ingredients from asiatic industrial waste, oils, fats and various additives.
It’s one of the foods with the highest records of alterations, due in many cases to unproper sterilization of the product. It can can contain almost everything, including polyphosphates. It also comes shaped as shrimps sometimes. But don’t get fooled…
Surprise surprise. I am sure many were not expecting this. But I have no doubt about it: despite tasty, cheese is surely one of the worst foods for your health.
Cheese is basically all salt and cholesterol. Just this.
The common belief is that cheese is good because it has calcium, which is true. But it’s not the most easily assimilable type of calcium (some studies reported how populations that consume more dairy products have higher rates of bone fractures and osteoporosys) and it comes with lots of undesirable downsides.
Cheese also causes very often an overproduction of phlegm in the respiratory system, this is why one of the first advice given to singing students is to limit or ideally remove cheese from their diet. Cheese is typically banned from the diet of singers, speakers, and people who work with their voice.
I personally experienced this: when I drastically reduced the amount of cheese in my diet my breathing improved dramatically, not to mention how “lighter” my body started to feel.
I admit that cheese tastes very good, in fact I still eat once/twice a week a small piece of mozzarella or parmigiano. It’s difficult to give up completely. But when you eat it, just eat it with the awareness that it’s not the best food, so knowing that, try to limit the quantities you consume.
PS: I voluntarily excluded fast food and commercial foods from this top 7. There is no point in putting them in, since they’re a combination of everything that’s bad: sugar, salt, refined flours, hydrogenated fats, additives, colorants, preservatives… It’s obvious that they are the worst of the worst!