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The top 6 unhealthiest things you can consume October 13, 2022

I talk about diet and nutrition quite a bit when consulting with patients regarding their health. Sometimes I feel like a broken record when it comes to dietary practices. But let’s get real here–we all fall short of our desired goals and aspirations every day, especially when it comes to what we put in our mouths. As humans, we all have in our minds the picture of what we want to be. Sometimes reconciling what we want to be and what we really are can be an intense experience. What are the odds that you will actually do the following: 


  1. Listen to what I as your doctor have to say, including the currently known science regarding diet and nutrition,  
  2. Ponder on what was said, 
  3. Ask yourself if what I am saying rings true to you,  
  4. If it does ring true, be willing and open to accept the idea of changing your mind.
  5. Create goals based on this newly discovered perspective.  
  6. Be determined to follow through on executing your goal.


So, having said that, I invite you to consider the following top 6 worst things you can eat (or drink), and why. Then you can decide for yourself if you agree or not.  


  1. Salt. If you already have high blood pressure, adding more salt to your diet increases your risk for heart disease, stroke, or death. Now multiple studies point to higher salt intake and increased death from heart disease and heart attack or stroke, regardless of your blood pressure. Conversely, they have shown that by decreasing salt in your diet, (the DASH diet) your cardiovascular risks go down the more you reduce salt intake.  We’ve known this for a while. Some large studies have started casting some level of doubt on this cause and effect, which is why this is listed as number 6  on the list. I tell people with high blood pressure to avoid foods that are boxed, bottled or canned. They tend to have a lot more sodium than eating whole, naturally harvested foods. Most studies on salt show that your risk of death goes up by about 10-12% as you increase your overall salt intake to over 4 grams per day. 


  1. Partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats). Although banned in 2018 by the FDA, These types of oils may still be found in anything deep fried or in pastries, cookies, or cupcakes and frosting. They are popular because they preserve and enhance taste, and also act as a preservative. Your risk of death goes up somewhere between 6% and 24% (see here and here)  the more trans-fats you ingest over time. Watch out for fully hydrogenated oils, they aren’t as bad, but are bad enough. Avoid these types of foods, usually found at grocery store bakeries and birthday parties, especially in large quantities. 


  1. Processed meat. Why is it that we rarely talk about reducing meat intake during our annual preventive doctor visits? The idea of hot dogs and other deli meats as a cause of many types of heart disease and cancer was made popular by the documentary “Forks over Knives”, based on the book “The China Study”. While heavy red and processed meat eaters had the highest risk, it’s not a slam dunk, however, but this effect seems to be apparent throughout  most of the studies I reviewed (also here, and here). I am not advocating becoming vegetarian though, please don’t misunderstand. Just cut down to 1-2 servings of either beef or pork total per week. Heavy meat eaters should expect a higher risk of dying by about 23%.


  1. Alcohol. You may be old enough to remember the advice every doctor would give adults: “One glass of wine daily for your heart”. For years we were all taught to “look at the French!” and their villas and chateaus, their supposed penchant for a true fine dining experience. Back in the early 2000’s the science told us that “moderate daily alcohol intake is good for the heart”. First of all, what is “moderate”? It’s way too squishy to know what that really means. It turns out that any alcohol intake is actually hard on the heart and just about everything else, including liver, pancreas, and brain. The increase of cancer incidence alone makes this an easy choice to just say no. The negatives of drinking any alcohol are just too hard to ignore. Especially when looking at some of the available data (also see also here).  I’m not telling you what to do, just giving you facts. Although I personally am a “never-drinker”.  


  1. Refined wheat flour. Let’s talk about white flour. It’s bad. It’s #2 on the list. Why is it #2 on the list? Because it’s everywhere. Pizza–check. Dinner rolls–check. Mexican flour tortillas–check. Croutons in the salad–check. Bread that isn’t whole grain–check. This is everywhere. Why is it so bad? It’s like heroine, actually. A highly refined form of sugar that goes directly into your bloodstream and into fat. In fact, you will not lose weight unless you eliminate this. Diabetes, fatty liver, heart attack, stroke, cancers of all sorts. If you eat a lot of this, you will die too soon. Expect up to 30% higher risk of death or heart attack when eating this regularly (also see here). 


  1. White sugar/high fructose corn syrup. This is the worst thing to eat for your health. Highly refined, processed sugar. Added to wheat flour, this is largely responsible for the vast increase in diabetes, obesity, cancer, dementia, and heart disease. This is more dangerous than meat, more dangerous than alcohol, and more dangerous than fat or salt or cholesterol to your metabolic system. Yet it’s ubiquitous–found in almost every food we eat, like soda, ice cream, cookies, snacks, juice, breakfast cereals,  even those “healthy” yogurts, granola bars, and even vitamins! Expect up to 37% increased risk of death with heavy use of refined and added sugars. If sugar is listed in the top 3 ingredients on a label, don’t eat it. Please don’t tell me, “I don’t eat any of that stuff”. Guess what? You do. 

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