Ideally lollipops, cookies, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato chips and processed meats will never appear in your shopping cart. Credit: Matt/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA
By Clare Collins, University of Newcastle
Want to stack the nutrition odds in your favor? The key is good food so here are five things to never let into your shopping trolley: candies, cookies, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato chips and processed meats.
Known as discretionary foods, all five are high in either added sugars, saturated fat or salt. Discretionary foods provide calories but not many nutrients.
Consuming a lot of discretionary foods and drinks increases your risks of weight gain, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Unless you’re extremely active, it is unlikely that you can eat a lot of these foods and also be a healthy weight.
Dental caries or cavities (holes in your teeth) are the most common and expensive preventable diet-related problem. It’s bad enough that one in five adults rate their oral health as fair or poor, the prevalence of dental caries in children is also increasing. If you or your kids are candy addicts, the best way to avoid dental disease is to give up grazing on confectionery.Susan/Flickr, CC BY
Sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates from highly processed foods are major risk factors for both the start and progress of dental disease. The more candy you eat, and the more often you eat them, the bigger the risk.
What’s more, they’ll make you fat. Just 100 grams of jelly babies has over 1,400 calories and over 50 grams of sugar, which is about ten teaspoons. Dump the candy bag and swap to sugar-free chewing gum to save the calories and your teeth.
Sugar-sweetened beverages include sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice drinks and cordial.calories arbyreed/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND
In a trial of over 15,000 adults who were followed up for 15 years, researchers found drinking one or more cups of soft drink a day increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 29%, compared to drinking less than one glass a month. And a US study estimated drinking one can of soft drink a day could contribute to over six kilograms of weight gain in just a year, if the calories were not offset by increasing physical activity or by cutting back on food intake.
Since we know these extra calories are usually not offset, you can see why drinking sweet drinks regularly increases the risk of weight gain.
Swap to diet drinks, or soda water if you want the fizz without the calories. Better still, drink water. Unless you’re an elite athlete, plain water is all you need during sport.
Chips of all kinds
Crisps, including potato chips, Burger Rings, Twisties and corn chips, are some of the most popular snack foods in the developed world. And the bigger the bag, the more we eat.Alan/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA
A healthy low-calorie alternative is air-popped popcorn. So put the multi-bag of chips back on the shelf, grab a bag of popcorn kernels, and pop them yourself at home.
Popcorn is wholegrain, more satisfying and cheap. One cup of air-popped popcorn has 150 calories, compared to 550 calories in a 25-gram individual packet of potato crisps. This approximately 400-calorie saving is the equivalent of the energy burned up in about a 25-minute walk.
Most cookies are consumed with a cup of tea or coffee. But the problem is that cookies provide more than crunchiness. They contain large amounts of calories, unhealthy fats and highly processed carbohydrates. What’s more, they’re mostly low in fiber and whole grains.Rob Faulkner/Flickr, CC BY
Look at it this way: two cream-filled biscuits contain around 860 calories. You’d need to push your shopping cart for about an hour to burn that up.
Instead load up on fruit and save on calories. One cup of strawberries has 150 calories, a small bunch of grapes has 350 calories and a medium banana has 365 calories.
Processed meat includes meat products preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of preservatives including nitrite, nitrates, phosphate, glutamate or ascorbic acid. They include bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, corned beef, chorizo, devon, fritz, luncheon meats, some sausages, hot dogs, cabanossi and kabana.
There’s no completely safe level of intake for these foods. The more processed meats you eat, the greater your risk of developing bowel cancer over a lifetime.Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA
Keep processed meat for when there are no other choices available. Whenever possible, load up with tomatoes and mushrooms, and swap the breakfast bacon for an egg with baked beans and a mixed vegetable grill.
Grab a pack of fresh chicken breast and cook it for use on sandwiches, or buy reduced-fat cheese, canned tuna and salmon, or small cans of four-bean mix.
If you have a recipe that calls for chopped bacon, replace it with diced browned onion and garlic, mixed with a couple of tablespoons of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.
Avoiding the five foods discussed here and replacing them with the suggestions I have outlined will put you on track to a long, healthy life. Ideally these foods will never appear in your shopping cart, unlike the five foods that should be there every time you’re filling up the shopping cart.
Clare Collins, Professor in Nutrition and Dietetics at University of Newcastle, has received funding from NHMRC, ARC, MLA, HMRI and the University of Newcastle.