While everyone knows that a balanced diet is the key to good health, most don’t have the time or money to buy all-organic groceries and grow their own vegetables. Still, there are ways to improve your eating habits without major dietary changes. Start by banishing these particularly pernicious foods from your kitchen.
1. Vanilla extract
Vanilla might be the boring old stand-by favorite when it comes to flavors, but it’s also insanely expensive. The complicated process that needs to happen to grow real vanilla beans means it’s one of the most expensive per-unit foods in your grocery store, and the price-per point of vanilla beans means that extract (the real stuff, not the imitation flavor) can be mind-bogglingly expensive. Sure, it goes a long way, but there’s also no reason to buy it.
First, a bit about what’s in imitation vanilla. That’s made from a compound called vanillin, and chemically, it’s the exact equivalent to the stuff that makes real vanilla, well, vanilla. Vanillin is a lot cheaper, though, and that’s because it’s a byproduct that can be extracted from things like coal and wood. Who wants that in their cookies ?
2. Farm-raised fish
Fish is well-known for its health-promoting properties. Packed with heart-healthy fats and essential micronutrients, fish can be an excellent addition to the diet. In fact, the American Heart Association recommends eating at least two servings of fatty fish every week to optimize your health.
But while wild-caught fish can provide numerous health benefits, you should steer clear of farm-raised fish altogether. For example, farm-raised salmon, which is often marketed under the name “Atlantic salmon.” Farm-raised salmon has actually been shown to be higher in pollutants and toxins.Consuming farmed fish on a regular basis can contribute to serious health problems like insulin resistance and obesity.
Stick to healthier types of fish to get in your daily dose of omega-3 fatty acids and micronutrients. Alaskan wild-caught salmon, Atlantic mackerel, or Pacific sardines are all nutritious and delicious alternatives to farm-raised fish.
3. Diet snacks
Snack foods like veggie chips or pretzels are often marketed as healthy alternatives to high-fat products like potato chips. However, many of these foods are actually deep-fried, while also being high in sodium, fat, refined carbs, and other artificial added ingredients that you’re better off without.
Instead of buying bagged snacks at the store, try baking your own veggie chips at home using kale, carrots, zucchini, or radishes. Other healthy snack alternatives to satisfy your cravings include air-popped popcorn, roasted chickpeas, or toasted pumpkin seeds.
4. Artificial sweeteners
Often lurking in foods marketed as “healthy,” artificial sweeteners are anything but. Studies suggest that artificial sweeteners like aspartame, sucralose, and saccharin may actually increase appetite and cravings, contribute to weight gain, and even disrupt gut health.
Keep your intake of “diet” foods with artificial sweeteners to a minimum and try sweetening your foods on your own instead. Fresh fruit, stevia, raw honey, or maple syrup are all natural ways to add a touch of flavor and satisfy your sweet tooth without the added chemicals and junk found in artificial sweeteners.
5. Fat-Free Cottage Cheese
Culprit: Breakstone Fat-Free Cottage Cheese has 450 mg of sodium per 4-ounce serving (80 calories). That’s like eating 2¼ 1-ounce bags of Lay’s potato chips. In order to give cottage cheese its curds-and-whey consistency, manufacturers must add salt during production. This salt, plus the natural salt contained in the milk used to make the cheese, gives this typical health fixture a surprisingly high sodium level.
Smarter choice: Equally creamy and still diet friendly, Sorrento Low-Fat Ricotta (140 mg sodium and 100 calories per 4 ounces) is worth trying.
“In my mind, [margarine] is one of the worst foods in the food supply,” says Koch. “There’s a common myth that healthy eating is equated with being vegetarian, and that’s not necessarily true.” Besides vegetable oil, margarine is filled with trans-fat, which boosts your risk of developing inflammations, cardiovascular disease, cancer, and high cholesterol.
7. Canned Tomatoes
While the tomato is a terrific source of the essential nutrient lycopene, its canned relative should be avoided. Just like all canned food, the product contains the harmful chemical bisphenol (BPA), whose negative effect is exacerbated by the tomatoes’ acidity. “It’s not the tomatoes that are bad,It’s the way they’re stored.”