12 Things Nutritionists and Dietitians Would Never Eat from 12 Things Nutritionists and Dietitians Would Never Eat

12 Things Nutritionists and Dietitians Would Never Eat

There are foods that should be eaten in moderation (think, ice cream, cookies, cake, cocktails), and then there are foods (or maybe I should say “food-like products”) that should probably never be eaten all.

No doubt, items in the latter category may have a certain "tasty" appeal (honestly, who doesn’t love Cheetos?), but since they offer hardly any nutritional value and in some cases might even pose a threat to your health, for the most part it’s better to avoid them altogether.

What kinds of foods and products fall into this realm? Well, we recruited the help of a several nutritionists and dietitians to find out. Of course, no one eats perfectly 100 percent of the time, but if anyone out there best knows what foods to avoid, it’s definitely the experts who make a living showing others how to eat healthy.   

Here’s a look at the foods and products they said they certainly wouldn’t consume.

Non-Natural Peanut Butter

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“Like Skippy and Jif or any peanut butters that contain sugar and hydrogenated oils,” said Jennifer Cassetta, a Los Angeles-based clinical nutritionist and personal trainer. “Nut butters should contain one or two ingredients — the nut and salt. That's it. No sugar necessary and certainly no trans fats to help keep them on the shelf longer.”

Raw Spinach

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“There have been several recalls of washed raw spinach contaminated with E.coli and Salmonella, which may lead to foodborne illnesses,” said Jennifer Glockner, a registered dietitian nutritionist and the creator of the Smartee Plate e-book series for children. “Unfortunately, additional washing at home doesn't remove the pathogens. Consequently, I recently stopped eating raw spinach. However, I love spinach and eat it cooked." Glockner noted that cooking spinach may be more important for the elderly, immunocompromised people, pregnant women and kids.

Soda and Sugary Drinks

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If you’re aware of the effects of sugar on the body, then this probably doesn’t come as much of a surprise. Still, nearly every nutritionist and dietitian we spoke with said, for the most part, they entirely avoid soda, diet soda and all other sugary beverages. “Soda pop or bottled teas, coffees, energy drinks, and most smoothies are sugar water,” said Elizabeth Somer, M.A.,R.D., an Oregon-based dietitian, Oster Ambassador and author of Eat Your Way to Happiness. “A wealth of research shows they are directly linked to weight gain and all the diseases associated with it, from diabetes, heart disease and hypertension to cancer, dementia and infertility. In fact, a person’s risk for being overweight increases for every ounce of these sweetened beverages consumed each week.” 

Fake Cheese

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“I will not eat anything with a ‘cheese’ powder on it, such as Cheetos or nacho-flavored chips,” said Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., a New York City-based dietitian. “There is so much processing that goes into making those food items taste like cheese, and I just can’t justify putting that in my body.” 

Mandy Unanski Enright, M.S., R.D.N., R.Y.T., creator of Nutrition Nuptials, agrees. “Real cheese is one of my favorite foods, but these snack food items don’t taste anything like the real deal,” she said. “Anytime cheese comes in powdered or plastic form, that should be cause for alarm. And just like the fake cheese used in snack foods, these items come in an unnatural shade of orange.” Speaking of "unnatural shades," it's also worth noting that many of the experts we talked with suggested avoiding artificially colored foods, as many dyes (like Yellow 5, Red 40) have been associated with risks like  hyperactivity in children, cancer (in animal studies), and allergic reactions, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Instant Noodles and Soups

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Tehzeeb Lalani, a Mumbai-based clinical nutritionist and sole proprietor of Scale Beyond Scale, said she avoids instant noodles and soups because they often contain excess salt, MSG, and added colors and flavors. She explained that they have a very poor nutrient profile and that MSG is linked to short-term side effects like headaches, dizziness and fatigue. “Recently, in India, a popular brand of instant noodles was recalled in several states because very high levels of the toxin lead were found in it,” Lalani said. “Increased lead levels in the body, amongst other things, leads to developmental delays in children and behavioral issues in both adults and children.”

Foods with Hydrogenated Oils

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Similar to Cassetta, Sarah Jacobs and Rachel Brown, holistic nutritional counselors and founders of The Wellness Project, said they both avoid any foods that contain hydrogenated oils. But non-natural peanut butters aren't the only place to look out for this overly-processed ingredient, which has been linked to increased LDL (bad) cholesterol levels and an increased risk for heart disease, stroke and type 2 diabetes.  “Heavily processed foods are full of these cheap oils,” Jacobs and Brown said.  Keep an eye out for it in foods like margarine, salad dressings and any packaged snacks.

Coffee Creamer

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“Most are made with partially hydrogenated soybean or cottonseed oil,” explained Jenifer Swartzentruber, M.S., R.D., C.D.E., a registered dietitian at NEST Integrative Medicine Spa in Santa Barbara. “Fat-free varieties often have added sugar to compensate for the loss of flavor, and sugar-free varieties may have potentially harmful artificial sweeteners like acesulfame potassium.” Instead, she suggested, just stick with half and half.

Sandwich Meats

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“From hot dogs and bologna to sliced turkey breast and ham, the research shows that processed meats are particularly harmful, raising risks for everything from heart disease to infertility,” Somer said. “The nitrites and nitrates alone in these processed foods increase inflammation in the body. Instead, use real 100 percent turkey or real chicken when making sandwiches.”

Pre-Packaged Lunch Kits for Kids

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Not only would many nutrition experts never eat these, but they wouldn’t feed them to their kids either. “Probably some of the worst items in the grocery store are geared to children,” Somer said. “They are high in fat, salt, sugar and refined grains and low in fiber, vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.” Not to mention, pre-packaged lunch kits often contain processed meats and cheeses and sugary fruit drinks, none of which offer much nutritional value.

Packaged Gluten-Free Products

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“If you have been diagnosed by a physician with gluten intolerance or have celiac disease, then gluten-free is a must,” Somer explained. “However, don’t assume just because a product is gluten-free that it is nutritious. In fact, many products on the market take out the flour and replace it with tapioca or corn starch, both of which are the equivalent of sugar. These ingredients have no nutrients and are only super-refined starch.” If you do need to avoid gluten for health reasons, Somer recommended you remain judicious at the grocery store and suggested looking for whole grain products that are built on nutritious ingredients. 

Artificial Sweeteners

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“These are chemical compounds fabricated in a laboratory,” Swartzentruber said. “Often called ‘non-nutritive’ or ‘non-caloric’ they trick the body into thinking it has had sugar. This disrupts typical hormonal and physiological responses and can actually lead to weight gain.” Swartzentruber noted that many artificial sweeteners can be hard to recognize in ingredient lists, so it’s important to know what to look for when you’re scanning food items. “They are typically found in processed foods, light yogurts and diet drinks,” she said. A few in particular to watch out for include, sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and acesulfame potassium. 

Microwave Popcorn

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“To start, the bag the popcorn comes in contains a chemical called perfluoroctonic acid (PFOA) that is carcinogenic,” Swartzentruber said. “The fake butter flavoring contains diacetyl (or a similar product), a compound that can cause lung damage. Lastly, most brands also contain preservatives and GMO-derived ingredients. It’s best to make it fresh on the stove.” 

12 Things Nutritionists and Dietitians Would Never Eat