Sorry, but there’s not much truth to the saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” when it comes to your diet. While it’s fine to consume just about all foods in moderation, the longer and more frequently you consume certain ones, the higher likelihood there is that you’ll experience some negative side effects (yes, even death). There are a handful of popular foods that can damage your body in more ways than one—we’re talking weight gain, an increased risk of heart disease and stroke, and more.
In an effort to keep you in tip-top shape, we asked a team of registered dietitians to name the popular foods that can have a negative impact on your body. Read on to see their picks—and for more on how to eat healthy, don’t miss the 7 Healthiest Foods to Eat Right Now.
“Grilled meats can be wrecking your body when grilled at high temperatures to produce a char on the outside. Grilled meats can be a source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which are considered potential carcinogens,” says Holly Klamer, RDN, a Michigan-based dietitian and writer with My Crohn’s and Colitis Team.
In order to minimize the damage that grilled meats cause, Klamer has a few pointers. “These effects can be minimized by grilling leaner cuts of meat instead of higher-fat meats,” she says. Less fat means less fat dripping, burning, and smoking on the fire, which one Food Chemistry study found to be the main contributor to PAH formation when grilling meat.
“Another way to lower risk of PAHs and HCAs is to marinate meat before grilling,” Klamer adds, saying that “the marinade can act as an extra layer of protection to stop fat from dripping down on the heat source which is how HCAs and PAHs can form.”
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“Processed deli meats are not only high in sodium, but they often have nitrates and nitrates added from curing and processing,” says Diana Gariglio-Clelland, RD, a registered dietitian on staff at NextLuxury. “While there are some potential health benefits, nitrates and nitrites have been linked with an increased risk of cancer.”
“Soda only provides empty calories with no nutritional benefits. It is loaded with sugar or artificial sugars, chemicals, sometimes colorings and preservatives,” says Alicia Galvin, RD, a Dallas-based resident dietitian to Sovereign Laboratories. “Over time, this can lead to insulin resistance and fatty liver or diabetes if you’re constantly consuming pure sugar.”
“Similar to soda, there are no nutritional benefits to consuming candy, and it just provides chemicals, calories, sugar, and artificial colors,” Galvin says. “Consuming candy regularly can lead to elevated blood sugars, insulin dysregulation, potentially diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver, and weight gain.”
“Unfortunately, most breakfast cereals are loaded with sugar and artificial sweeteners and colorings. A typical serving can have as much as 12 grams of sugar, which is about one tablespoon of granulated sugar,” Galvin points out. “And as far as protein and fiber? Only about two grams of each depending on the brand.”
Galvin advises doing your research before picking a go-to breakfast cereal. “Read the label of your favorite cereal before you buy it to make sure it’s low in sugar, high in fiber and protein,” she says. Or, check out our guide: 10 Best Healthy Cereal Brands for Weight Loss.
Other sugary drinks, such as fruit juice, bottled smoothies, or even sweetened iced teas, can be just as harmful as soda. “While it’s probably not news that sugary drinks aren’t good for you, the negative health impacts go far beyond cavities and potential weight gain,” Gariglio-Clelland says. “There is an association between drinking sugary drinks and cardiovascular disease risk, which is associated with heart attack and stroke.”
Read more: Dangerous Side Effects of Drinking Sugary Beverages, According to Science
“Fried foods are usually fried in an unhealthy oil, and the frying process itself leads to certain toxic compounds like advanced glycation end products, or AGEs,” Galvin says. “AGEs are harmful compounds that are formed when protein or fat combine with sugar. This process can happen in the bloodstream or in foods, especially when food is heated to high temperatures, such as during grilling, frying, or toasting.”
“High levels of AGEs have been linked to the development of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, kidney failure, and Alzheimer’s, as well as premature aging.” In addition to watching your fried food intake, if you want to stay looking young for as long as possible, consider investing in the Best Supplements That Fight Aging, According to Experts.