The untouchables: 7 foods to avoid at all costs

By Naveed Saleh, MD, MS, for MDLinx
Published August 23, 2019

Key Takeaways

Many people consider themselves food experts. After all, we’ve all been eating food for our whole lives, haven’t we? But there are certain foods that are unhealthy, and it’s not always obvious which ones they are.

To help, MDLinx has compiled a list of foods you should avoid.

And while it’s probably unrealistic to think that you’d never eat any of the foods on this list again, for the benefit of your health, it’s probably best to eschew them at all costs. The risks of eating these health culprits are downright scary and can contribute to several different types of disease—both acute (ie, infection) and chronic (ie, heart disease).

Processed deli meats

Preservatives are the main difference in processed vs unprocessed meats, with sodium levels being about 400 times higher in processed meats. Too much sodium is bad for you, and disrupts intra- and intercellular fluid levels. (To find out what the optimal sodium intake is, go here.)

And don’t be tricked by the “low-fat” claim in deli meats. Researchers of a meta-analysis including 448,568 adult participants without cancer, heart disease, or myocardial infarction, found a moderate positive correlation between processed meat consumption and mortality—not only from cardiovascular disease but cancer as well.

After controlling for measurement error, consumption of unprocessed red meat was not significantly linked to total or cause-specific mortality. It was, however, correlated with a 30% higher rate of cardiovascular disease (per 50 g/d; relative risk: 1.30; 95% CI: 1.17 to 1.45), as well as higher cancer mortality. Of note, similar effects were not observed with poultry.

Specifically, the researchers estimated that 3.3% (95% CI: 1.5% to 5.0%) of deaths observed in the study could have been prevented if all participants ate fewer than 20 g/d of processed meat.

Please keep in mind that although unprocessed red meats are neutral for CVD risk, there are better options available such as fish, nuts, legumes, fruits, and veggies.

Ramen noodles

You may remember the first time you tasted Ramen noodles. Cheap, easy to prepare, and delicious, Ramen noodles are a favorite of many. But, they’re really bad for you.

According to the research, Ramen noodles could have the following ill effects:

  • A significantly increased risk of metabolic syndrome in women when eaten twice a week
  • Weight gain
  • Digestive tract stress
  • Liver damage because your body has trouble breaking down preservatives contained in the noodles
  • Increased risk of heart failure


No surprise here: doughnuts are not intended for human consumption. Why? One single glazed doughnut from Dunkin’ Donuts packs a whopping 14 g of fat, which equals 22% of your recommended daily intake (RDA). They also contain 6 g saturated fat, equal to 30% of your RDA. To put these values in perspective, it would take the average person 70 minutes of walking at 3 miles per hour to burn off one glazed doughnut.

Movie theater popcorn

Avoiding movie theater popcorn altogether has two advantages. First, it’s super expensive, costing around $9 for a large tub. Second, it’s ridiculously bad for you.

A large tub of popcorn at Regal Cinemas, for instance, includes 20 cups of popcorn and has 1,200 calories, 980 mg sodium, and 60 g saturated fat. And that’s without any additional butter topping!

Raw oysters

Despite the fact that oysters are bivalve filter feeders that munch on ocean sediment, people seem to love eating them raw. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association estimated the 2011 economic value of US commercial bivalve mollusk harvesting was $1 billion per year, totaling 153.6 million lbs.

However, oysters are filled with bacteria and viruses. In most people, these pathogens can result in vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps that may last a few days. But in some, including those with liver disease, diabetes, or compromised immune systems, the Vibrio vulnificus bacteria found in oysters can lead to sepsis, shock, and death. 

Of note, cooking oysters does not necessarily kill all the bacteria and viruses that they contain. And perhaps most problematic of all, differentiating between contaminated and non-contaminated oysters is just not possible.

Sugar-sweetened fruit juices

Fruit juice may sound healthy because it has “fruit” in the name, but research has shown that sugar-sweetened fruit juice is just as unhealthy as other sugar-sweetened beverages.

In a 2019 cohort study in 13,440 adults, intake of each additional 12-ounce serving per day of sugary beverages was linked to an 11% higher all-cause mortality risk. Furthermore, intake of each additional 12-ounce serving per day was linked to a 24% heightened risk of all-cause mortality. Of note, similar associations were not observed between sugary drinks and coronary artery disease.

Ultimately, as with any other sugar-sweetened beverage, it’s best to steer clear of fruit juice unless it’s freshly squeezed.

Reduced-fat peanut butter

Sure, peanut butter is high in fat. But reduced-fat options are no healthier and contain just as many calories. Why? Because when manufacturers extract the fat from peanuts, they need to replace it with something, and that something is corn starches and sugars. Moreover, the fats in peanut butter are healthy monounsaturated ones, whereas the refined carbohydrates used to replace this fat can disrupt blood sugar levels. Ultimately, reduced-fat peanut butter is unhealthier than the regular variety.

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