While you should ultimately decide what diet works for your individual body, it's always nice to know what decisions experts make when selecting their daily food. In that spirit, we asked eight top registered dietitians to share the No. 1 food they avoid at all costs. Here's what they had to say:
1. Egg Whites
I don't eat "egg white"-only omelets or products if given the choice to have the whole egg. The yolk is where all the nutrients are (choline, cystine, biotin, and more) and half of the protein. Always go organic, but pasture-raised eggs are the creme de la creme. I try to get them from the farmers market. They have many more nutrients (four times the vitamin D) and taste SO much better than old factory-farmed eggs.
2. Fake Meat
Fake meat. Part of it is emotional—Chik'n brings me back to a past, unhappy life with a vegetarian ex-boyfriend—but from a nutritional standpoint, I find many of these products problematic. Many are made of soy protein isolate (what we're talking about when we talk about "bad" soy), a processed form in which the soy protein is isolated from the plant, so even though we get those grams of protein, we miss out on some of the benefits found in less processed forms of soy like tempeh. The preservatives and sky-high sodium levels found in many of these products also negate the benefits of including meatless meals in your diet.
That said, I know there are companies working on new products to address some of these issues as consumer awareness and demand for less processed options grows. For now, though, if I'm doing a vegetarian meal, I reach instead for beans, peas, lentils, tempeh, tofu, nuts, seeds (especially hemp seeds), nut and seed butters (sunflower seed butter and tahini), or nutritional yeast for protein.
—Jessica Cording, R.D., founder of Jessica Cording Nutrition
3. Processed Soy
Processed or unfermented soy! Processed soy is unnecessarily used and hidden in so many food items in the form of chips, sweets, powders, soy protein isolates, faux-meats, powders, refined oils, etc. These processed foods alone are never healthy, but it's the concentrated phytoestrogens that mimic and disrupt our own hormones that is especially problematic, especially for women. Soy is also more often than not a usual suspect of GMOs. But even in its raw state, soy it extremely hard to digest—yes, that means even edamame is on the no-eat list. If I do consume soy, I make sure it's organic and quality made, using traditional fermentation processes—think miso, tempeh, and natto, that aid in the digestion of the soy proteins, reduction of their anti-nutrients, and also provide benefits of their own from the fermentation process.
4. Protein Bars
Granola bars or protein bars. A lot of people think there are giving their body a nutritious snack when on the run, when in reality most bars are loaded with soy derivatives, sugar, sodium, and preservatives. A better option for a snack would be raw or roasted nuts, fresh fruit with nut butter, unsweetened dried fruit like dates, or a small unsweetened yogurt with fresh fruit.
5. Artificial Colors
I draw the line at all things neon. If it's bright yellow, orange, blue, or leaves an unnaturally bright residue on your fingers, it's not for me! These are usually indicators that unhealthy food dyes or lakes are present in the food product. Various food dyes have been linked with hypersensitivity and tumor genesis in animals. I'll take a pass! (hint: Think sports drinks, gummy candy, colored baked goods, or flavored chips).
I do my absolute best to avoid pop or soda. There's no faster way to ingest an abundance of immune-suppressing refined sugars than pop, and along with the incredible amount of refined sugar found in pop, there is almost always the addition of artificial flavors and colors. When we consume overly processed foods high in refined sugar, or even artificial sweeteners such as aspartame found in "diet" versions of pop, our liver has to work overtime to process out these toxins and chemicals, which robs our bodies of energy and can really put a burden on our body!
—Cristal Sczebel, CHN, founder of Nutritionist In The Kitch
This surprises people, but popcorn is not as healthy as we've been told. It's a favorite snack for many of my clients and one that's hard to cut back on. The problem is, it spikes your blood sugar—three cups of popcorn turns into about 4.5 teaspoons of sugar in your body! Plus, that's assuming you're eating only three cups, which never happens since a typical bag of microwave popcorn is 10 cups, or 15 teaspoons of sugar. Post-popcorn, the blood sugar spike will turn into a blood sugar crash, which could lead to cravings, anxiety, lack of focus, fatigue, or a headache. At that point you will probably eat more carbs as a pick-me-up and the cycle continues. Also, regardless of the sugar, many individuals just don't tolerate any form of corn very well. All that said, if you're going to have popcorn, be mindful of the amount, pop it yourself, and add real butter or coconut oil. The healthy fat will help to reduce the blood sugar spike.
Agave syrup is actually highly processed and very concentrated, so it is too easy to go overboard with portions.