8 foods that really are evil: some foods are so bad for you, they don't deserve a place in your diet. Here, what to avoid and some delicious substitutions - Nutrition
Dietitians are fond of reciting the mantra 'all foods can fit into a healthy diet' and telling people that there are no "good' or "bad" foods. But considering that 64 percent of adults (plus an alarming 15 percent of children) are categorized by the government as overweight, some experts say this message is baloney (which happens to be a really bad food!).
"The idea that there are no bad foods is a marketing gimmick thought up by the food industry to defend their products," says Bonnie Liebman, M.S., director of nutrition at the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), a nonprofit health-advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. "The whole notion is full of holes and makes no sense."
Evil is the only appropriate word to describe foods that promise pleasure but deliver misery in the form of heart disease and obesity. Although a Whoopie Pie isn't going to sprout fangs and go for your jugular, it's wise to watch your back when traveling the dark alley of empty calories. A sweet, creamy taste and jazzy packaging can be hiding a food that will only do you wrong. That's the thing about evil: Sometimes it looks so good.
The Dark Side of the supermarket
What makes a food really, really scary? In the edibles department, a food gets the seal of disapproval if it does more harm than good -- that is, if it supplies calories but little else, and also contains heart-disease-promoting substances like saturated and trans fats. Trans fats are the nasty man-made fats used to give foods a longer shelf life. Manufacturers hydrogenate oil to make it solid and literally twist the molecule into a form that wreaks havoc in the body.
Every food pyramid -- including the Shape Pyramid -- advocates a plant-based diet in which these destructive fats (as well as sweets) are "used sparingly." Unfortunately, supermarkets are brimming with such high-calorie, low-nutrient choices. Perhaps the biggest problem with foods that we are supposed to eat sparingly is that they simply are everywhere.
"The pendulum swings from abstinence to binge," says Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D., author of Nutrition for Women, Second Edition (Owl Books, 2003). "In our culture if you tell someone no, they only want to do it more,' she says. So instead of banning a bad food, choose a healthier substitute most of the time. And once in a while, when you really need to have a hot-fudge sundae or batch of nachos, opt for a small portion, sit down and savor every bite.
Following are eight foods to avoid or save for very special occasions because of the damage they inflict in calories, unhealthy fats and sodium -- plus some healthy and tasty substitutes that offer savings in calories and fat.
RELATED ARTICLE: 8 BAD ROODS TO AVOID (and their good alternatives)
1. Cola drinks
The damage (12 ounces) 150 calories, 0 g fat (10 teaspoons of sugar!) We take a hard line with soft drinks -- and cola is the worst offender. Full of sugar, corn syrup or other sweeteners and not much else, soft drinks pack 150 empty calories and have been pegged by research studies as being associated with both adult and childhood obesity, Cola drinks have the added detriment of a caffeine jolt that many of us just don't need. And it's easy to supersize yourself if you regularly consume the 42-ounce, 410-calorie versions served at fast-food restaurants and convenience stores.
"I recommend that patients stay away from sugar-sweetened beverages because these drinks may be replacing more healthful foods in the diet," says Cara Ebbeling, Ph.D., research associate at Children's Hospital in Boston. "In addition, there is evidence that when we take in calories in liquid form, the body doesn't fully compensate by reducing calories from other foods." In other words, your body doesn't register that you've just consumed a bunch of calories, because you don't feel full. This may lead to overeating.
Finally, sipping cola and other soft drinks bathes your teeth in cavity-promoting sugars -- whose effects continue up to 40 minutes after your last sip.
Healthy alternative Fruit spritzers (12 ounces): 0-15 calories, 0 g fat Sugar-sweetened beverages are easy to replace. Add a spritz of your favorite juice to flavored seltzer water or diet tonic water. Another idea: Add a few drops of vanilla extract to plain seltzer (steer clear of club soda, which contains sodium). Or enjoy a can of your favorite flavor of diet soda or sugar-free iced tea or coffee. You save 135-150 calories, 0 grams fat
2. Sour cream and onion potato chips
The damage (12 chips) 150 calories, 10 g fat (3 g saturated), 210 mg sodium Can't believe you ate the whole bag? Join the club! Empty calories, fat and sodium deliver a triple whammy that is the downfall of many. To make things worse, manufacturers take potato abuse to a new low by adding sour cream and onion flavoring to chips -- complete with extra saturated and trans fats and a dash of MSG.
Healthy alternative Raw veggies with homemade yogurt dip (1/2 cup veggies with 1/4 cup dip): 72 calories, 0 g fat, 106 g sodium (Mix 1/4 cup plain nonfat yogurt with 1 teaspoon fresh or dried herbs like parsley or dill. Add minced garlic or onion for extra zip.) It's surprising how satisfying it can be to munch on carrot sticks dipped in a tangy yogurt sauce -- honest! You save 78 calories, log fat, 104 g sodium.
3. Store-bought chocolate chip cookies
The damage (1 small cookie) 80 calories, 4.5 g fat (1.5 g saturated) Commercial baked goods like snack cakes, cookies and crackers are the source of most of our trans fat intake. And ounce for ounce, chocolate chip cookies take the cake when it comes to excess fat and calories. Some products are worse than others: If the label lists sugar, hydrogenated oil, white flour or a bunch of chemicals that read like a Material Safety Data Sheet, you know this product has gone over to the Dark Side of the supermarket.
Healthy alternative Fig bars (1 small fig bar): 60 calories, 1 g fat Figs, like all dried fruit, can really hit the sweet spot. Fortunately, there are several brands that don't use hydrogenated oils. One to try: Newman's Own Organics Fig Newmans. Or make your own healthful cookies or muffins using whole-grain flour and canola oil. You save 20 calories, 3.5 g fat.
4. Full-fat cheeses
The damage (1 ounce) 120 calories, 9-10 g fat (6 g saturated) Cheese, butter and ice cream all contain saturated fat, which can lead to heart disease and other health problems. Full-fat cheeses can have as many as 10 grams of fat per ounce, with more than half of those grams saturated, but for some reason we tend to consider cheese a healthy choice. "Most people think of lasagna as a good food,' Liebman says. "But with all that cheese, it's loaded with saturated fat!"
Healthy alternative Low fat ricotta (1/4 cup): 60 calories, 3 q fat No need to eat full-fat cheese when there are so many other acceptable dairy products: lowfat and fatfree ricotta and cottage cheese, skim milk or even plain yogurt (add your own fruit). You save 60 calories, 6-7 g fat.
5. Chocolate doughnuts
The damage (1 doughnut) 300 calories, 19 g fat (6 g saturated) All doughnuts are high in trans fat, sugar and calories. And although "bad doughnuts' may seem redundant, the chocolate-covered varieties cross the line into evil. Supermarket versions are the worst, at 19 grams of fat per doughnut, with doughnut-shop varieties a close second at about 16 grams.
Healthy alternative Raisin toast with peanut butter (1 slice raisin toast and 1 tablespoon reduced-fat peanut butter): 166 calories, 7 g fat (1.5 g saturated) You save 134 calories, 13 g fat (4.5 g saturated).
6. Regular bacon
The damage (2 slices, cooked and drained) 120 calories, 10 q fat (3 g saturated) Pigging out on bacon -- basically fried fat and salt -- can lead to more than expanding thighs. Cured meats like bacon, corned beef, ham and pastrami contain preservatives called nitrates that have been linked to stomach and colon cancers.
Healthy alternative Vegetarian sausage (2 links, cooked and drained): 80 calories, 3 g fat (0.5 g saturated) Instead of bringing home the bacon, why not fry up some veggie links? Morningstar Farms makes delicious vegetarian alternatives to pork and beef sausage. Turkey bacon is also a much healthier choice than pork. You save 40 calories, 7g fat (2.5 g saturated).
7. Beef hot dogs The damage (1 hot dog without bun) 180 calories, 16 q fat (7 g saturated), 550 mg sodium Hot dogs can make a cookout more fun, but when it comes to nutritional value, they bite! The original "mystery meat," almost all of these dirty dogs are loaded with fat -- not to mention pig and cow parts that are unusable in other meat products, plus sodium and nitrates. As a red meat, hot dogs also may increase cancer risk. And beef is a source of trans fat because cows hydrogenate fat in their stomachs.
Healthy alternative Ball Park turkey hot dog (1 turkey dog without bun): 45 calories, O g fat, 420mg sodium Ball Park Turkey Franks are unusually low in calories and sodium. Or try Applegate Farms, which has no nitrates or antibiotics. You save 135 calories, 16 q (at (7 g saturated), 130 trig sodium.
8. Chocolate truffles
The damage (I truffle) 220 calories, 13 q fat (11 q saturated) This one might be a "duh," but it is alarming just how much sugar we consume each year in the form of candy -- according to government statistics, 23 pounds per person, or the equivalent of 184 candy bars. Chocolate truffles, for example, contain highly saturated palm or coconut oils -- making them among the worst culprits in the candy department.
Healthy alternative Chocolate-covered strawberries (4 strawberries dunked in 1/4 cup lite chocolate syrup: 114 calories, O g fat; or Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Sorbet Bar: 80 calories, O g fat) When that sweet tooth beckons, try nature's candy: fruit. Strawberries will give you sweetness and crunch and save your waistline, while the syrup will satisfy your craving for chocolate. When only chocolate will do, a Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Sorbet Bar is guaranteed to satisfy your sweet tooth. You save 106 calories, 13 q fat (11 g saturated) with the chocolate-covered strawberries, and 140 calories and 13 q fat with the Haagen-Dazs Chocolate Sorbet Bar
Candace Combe, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., is a nutrition consultant at The Mind/Body Medical Institute in Chestnut Hill, Mass., and a freelance writer.