Now don’t get me wrong, if you looked in my kitchen you wouldn’t find it stocked with only healthy items like protein powder, lean meats, nuts and veggies. After all, I do recommend a cheat meal once a week to boost your metabolism, kick up your thyroid and help you stick to your diet. That being said, there are a few things that are on my avoidance list all the time:
1. Inflammatory oils
Trans fats get a bad rap, and for good reason. The consumption of trans fats increases the risk of coronary heart disease by boosting levels of “bad” LDL cholesterol and lowering levels of “good” HDL cholesterol. Trans fatty acids are found in hydrogenated oils, partially hydrogenated oils, shortenings and margarine. One lesser known fact is that they can also make you moody.
Researchers at the University of California have shown that consumption of dietary trans fatty acids (dTFAs) is associated with irritability and aggression. The study, of nearly 1,000 men and women, provides the first evidence linking dTFAs with adverse behaviours ranging from impatience to overt aggression.
Bottom line: Unhealthy inflammatory fats also include vegetable oils, soy oil, peanut oil, cotton seed oil and palm oil. Too much of these oils in our diet can turn on the hormonal signals involved in inflammation and even stimulate abnormal cell growth. And as the old saying goes, you are what you eat.
2. Charred meat
While everyone loves a good barbeque, grilling meats can produce carcinogens (cancer causing agents) if you aren’t careful. The two most associated with charring are HCAs and PAHs.
HCAs are produced when the meat is cooked at high temperatures and PAHs are created when the flames touch the meat or when fat drips into the flames and produces smoke, which then rises and coats the food.
Bottom line: To grill more healthfully, lower the heat on your gas grill, or increase the distance between the fire and the meat if you prefer charcoal grills. Choose smaller cuts of meat, flip often and use a meat thermometer when cooking at lower temperatures to ensure it’s fully cooked.
Marinating the meat ahead of time may reduce the risk of HCAs and you can also opt to envelop meats and veggies in aluminum foil for a healthy alternative.
3. Canned foods
The thought of opening a can of soup on a cold day certainly sounds appealing, that I can’t deny. But despite what you’d assume, it’s actually the can itself, more than the added salt and sugar, that can harm your health.
A study from the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) found that a group of volunteers who consumed a serving of canned soup each day for five days had a more than 1,000 percent increase in urinary bisphenol A (BPA) concentrations compared with those who consumed fresh soup daily for five days.
Bottom line: Make your soups at home and store in glass containers. You’ll avoid these risk factors along with cutting sodium levels. See all of our soup recipes here.
4. Microwavable foods
The microwave has been shown to deplete the nutritional value of the food, among other negative health consequences.
A study published in The Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture found that microwaved broccoli loses up to 97 percent of its beneficial flavonoids, along with some phenolic compounds and glucosinolates – the key reasons why you were encouraged to eat your veggies as a kid.
If you haven’t heard of the science experiment that used microwave-heated water on plants you should, it’s as good a reason as any to avoid your microwave. In the experiment, one plant was given microwaved water while a second plant was given filtered water heated on a conventional stove – both were allowed to cool first. By day three the first plant began to wilt and by the ninth day it had sunk into the soil. Meanwhile, the second plant flourished.
Bottom line: Perhaps the most popular microwaveable food – popcorn – tops my list as one of an unhealthiest food choices as it’s been shown to be highly toxic. Cook popcorn kernels on the stove and avoid loading with butter and salt.
5. Corn syrup
By now you’ve heard of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS). What you may not know however, is how easy it is to miss on a label if you’re not actively looking for it. It’s found in popular cough syrups, processed foods, baked goods, yogurt, dressings and even some tomato-based sauces.
A Harvard review has linked the consumption of high fructose-sweetened soft drinks to the obesity epidemic and insulin resistance. Dr. Robert Lustig has a must-watch video on YouTube on this very issue called ‘Sugar: The Bitter Truth’. When you consume too much HFCS – or any high sugar or high carb item – it overloads the liver and excess glycogen then gets converted into fat. Some of that glucose also ends up in the bloodstream and increases inflammation, which boosts your LDL cholesterol (much like trans fats) and your risk of heart disease.
Bottom line: Be sure you’re flipping around every item at the grocery store and taking a look at the ingredient label. Better yet, try to avoid any food with a label at all!
Natasha Turner, N.D. is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist, and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet and The Supercharged Hormone Diet. Her newest release, The Carb Sensitivity Program, is now available across Canada. She is also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique.
For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.