What are the absolute worst foods to eat in the United States? We establish criteria to consider, and identify those foods that do the most harm to your health.
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What are the absolute worst foods to eat in the country? The franken-foods that we should all perhaps avoid (or at least limit our consumption of) if we’re looking to live a healthy, active lifestyle long into the future?
It’s a great question, and today we’re going to take a deep dive into it – exploring all things sugary & saturated.
Some will come as no surprise, but there are a number of products listed below that may give you some pause for thought – sneakily disguising themselves as ‘health foods’.
Read on to discover our list of the bad and ugly – the 100 worst foods in the United States, and why it may be worth considering giving them a wide berth.
Top 100 Worst Foods
What if we said that most of the so-called ‘food’ on supermarket shelves is destroying your health & expanding your waistline? Here are the 100 absolute worst offenders (and what to eat instead).
Remember: Moderation Not Deprivation
As with anything in life, it’s important to practice moderation in our diet. You may read through the list of the most unhealthy foods below and realize you’re eating a fair few of them on a regular basis.
Does this mean you should cut them all out right away and never let a mozzarella stick pass your lips again?
The short answer is no. This list wasn’t created to scare you into starvation mode, take away your favorite desserts or highlight foods to never eat again! It’s just here to serve as a reminder that we can all benefit from being more of what we put into our bodies, and how it can impact our health and wellbeing.
It’s definitely not about perfection – it’s about doing your best and taking small steps every day in the direction you’d like to head!
The ‘Worst Foods’ Criteria:
With our disclaimer out the way, now let’s establish some basic criteria for determining our worst foods for your body.
Those found on our unhealthy food list include 30% or more of the DV for the following markers (or contain 20% or more of at least two markers – trans fat is the exception):
1. Refined Sugar
Refined sugar may excite the taste buds, but it’s also a surefire way to spike your blood sugar.
When this happens on the regular, it increases your risk for insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and tooth decay. Weight gain is also likely because excess sugar can be stored as fat. The DV for added sugar is 50 grams.
Consuming too much salt on a regular basis can increase water retention and may raise blood pressure levels.
This increases the risk of chronic diseases such as heart and kidney disease, amongst other things. The DV for salt is 2300 mg.
3. Saturated + Trans Fat
Saturated fat may raise blood cholesterol (“good” & “bad”) and can also impact blood sugar too – a double whammy. The current DV for saturated fat is 20 grams.
Trans fat may raise bad cholesterol and decrease good, but there’s currently no DV for trans fat. Both saturated and trans fat can cause plaque buildup in arteries, increasing your risk of heart disease.
The Top 100 Worst Foods List
As we touched on above, consuming refined sugar on a regular basis can spike blood sugar, cause insulin resistance, and eventually lead to diabetes & fat storage. Here are some of the worst culprits by the numbers:
The food coloring Red 40 is still used in some maraschino cherries, which are used in fruit cocktails. For those who are sensitive to artificial colors, Red 40 can cause allergy-like symptoms.
Healthy alternative: fresh fruit salad.
Fruit and Yogurt Parfait
This may seem like a strange addition to our unhealthy food list. Purchasing a low-fat yogurt option may seem like a healthier alternative, but the fat is often replaced with added sugar.
Healthy alternative: Plain Coconut or Greek yogurt topped with fresh fruit
Toaster Breakfast Tart
One of the worst foods to eat when it comes to artificial preservatives, such as benzoates and sulfates, which may aggravate asthma symptoms in affected people
Healthy alternative: Whole grain toast with low sugar jam
Other foods high in sugar:
- Apple Pie
- Pancake Syrup
- Blueberry Muffin
- Boxed Cake Mix
- Cake Pop
- Chocolate Ice Cream
- Cotton Candy
- Gummy Bears
- Chocolate Bar
- Peanut Butter Cups
- Taffy Candy
- Vanilla Buttercream Cupcake
- Yogurt Covered Pretzels
- Glazed Donut
- Macaroni Salad
- Candy Corn
- Wafer Cookies
- Pecan Pie
- Caramel Corn
- Strawberry Funnel Cake
- Chocolate Chip Cookie
- Fried Ice Cream
- Rock Candy Stick
- Fruit Tart
- Banana Foster
Sodium is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to water retention, bloating, and potentially even increase blood pressure levels. Some of the worst foods to eat when it comes to salt content include:
Bacon Cheese Burger
Bacon and other cured/processed meat typically contain Nitrates and Nitrites which can turn into a harmful molecule called nitrosamine when cooked at high heat (such as frying). Nitrosamines are carcinogens that are also present in cigarette smoke.
Healthy alternative: Cheese and turkey club sandwich
Buttered Microwave Popcorn
The lining of popcorn bags often contains the chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid), which may be a carcinogen. Diacetyl is another chemical often found in artificial butter – linked to lung problems if buttery fumes are inhaled.
Healthy alternative: Unbuttered, plain popcorn
Acrylamide, a chemical that is a potential carcinogen, may be produced when starchy foods such as potatoes are fried or cooked at high temperatures.
Healthy alternative: boiled potato or sweet potato.
Contains mechanically separated chicken, meaning it may include bone/bone marrow, skin, nerves, blood vessels, etc – primarily the parts of the chicken that are not the muscle/actual meat.
Healthy alternative: baked chicken strips.
Other foods high in sodium:
- Meatlover’s Deep Dish Pizza
- Biscuits and Gravy
- Buffalo Wings
- Buttermilk Crispy Chicken Sandwich
- Canned Chicken Noodle Soup
- Caesar Salad
- Canned Ravioli
- Chow Mein
- Corn Dog
- Country Fried Steak w/Gravy
- Crispy Calamari
- Cup Noodles/Instant Noodles
- Egg Roll
- Fried Chicken
- Fried Rice
- Frozen Dinner
- Honey Walnut Shrimp
- Kung Pao Chicken
- Mozzarella Sticks
- Parmesan Risotto
- Pastrami Sandwich
- Pork Rinds
- Refried Beans
- Teriyaki Chicken
- Sloppy Joe Sandwich
- Potato Salad
- Corned Beef
- BLT Sandwich
- Cheese Crackers
- Vienna Sausages
Saturated & Trans Fat
Saturated and trans fats may raise blood cholesterol (“good” and “bad”) and can impact our blood sugar. Some of the highest-fat, unhealthiest foods you might want to be mindful of include:
Fish and Chips
If you purchase frozen fish sticks, they may contain Sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) – used to help retain moisture but increases sodium and is a possible neurotoxin
Healthy alternative: grilled fish and steamed veggies.
Like many processed foods, hot pockets contain a preservative called sodium phosphate and when consumed regularly can cause a phosphorus and calcium imbalance in the body, increasing the risk of osteoporosis and kidney disease
Healthy alternative: Home-made pizza.
Potassium bromate is often added to hamburger buns and other bread to bleach the dough and increase elasticity. It’s been linked to numerous health conditions and banned in certain countries
Healthy alternative: lettuce wrap with lean meat.
Other foods high in saturated and trans fat:
- Bacon and Cheese Quiche
- Blooming Onion appetizer
- Chicken and Waffles
- Chicken Cordon Bleu
- Chili Cheese Fries
- Cream Cheese Bagel
- Creme Brulee
- Fried Mac and Cheese Balls
- Grilled Cheese
- Ham and Cheese Croissant
- Italian Sausages
- Loaded Nachos with Chicken
- Onion Rings
- Sausage, Egg, and Cheese Breakfast Muffin
- Spaghetti Carbonara
- Spinach Artichoke Dip
- Custard Danish Pastry
- Carne Asada Taco
- Philly Cheese Sandwich
- Steak Enchilada
Beyond the Big Takeaway: What Should We Eat Instead?
So there we have it:
100 of the most unhealthy foods in the U.S. today.
The question begs:
If we’re going to be mindful of these products and limit them in our diet, what should we eat instead?
There’s not necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution, but something we’re passionate about here at Fresh n’ Lean is filing up on whole, unrefined, natural produce. Fruits, veggies, legumes nuts and seeds. And that’s exactly what we include in our ready-to-eat meal delivery service – wholesome meals made from organic ingredients, sourced from local producers, designed to help you thrive.
The simple truth remains:
Whether you opt for home delivery or choose to learn more about how to meal prep yourself, becoming more in tune with the ingredients you put into your body and going as natural as possible when it comes to your produce is almost always going to be a big step in the right direction.
Reviewed and fact checked by: Ysabel Montemayor, RD