Last Updated on January 26, 2023 by Lori Geurin
I enjoy the occasional junk food as much as the next person. But when it comes to my health, I want to ensure that I consume the healthiest foods possible. Unfortunately, many of the foods that are marketed as being healthy are quite unhealthy. And some of the unhealthiest foods in America are considered healthy options!
They’re also cheap, easy to buy, and addictive. Unfortunately, these same foods are packed with preservatives and lack nutritional value. Worse, research shows that consuming these processed foods can lead to overeating and obesity.[*] Below are 25 of the unhealthiest foods in America, along with healthier alternatives.
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- 1. Sugar
- 2. Refined White Flour
- 3. Microwave Popcorn
- 4. Deep-Fried Foods
- 5. Low-Fat Or Diet Foods
- 6. Most Fast Food
- 7. Processed Meat
- 8. Most Fruit Juices
- 9. Candy
- 10. Sugary Sodas
- 11. Diet Sodas
- 12. Coffee Creamer
- 13. Sugary Cereal
- 14. Low-Fat Yogurt
- 15. Gluten-Free Processed Foods
- 16. Packaged Cakes, Pies, And Cookies
- 17. Refined Vegetable Oils
- 18. Margarine And Crisco
- 19. Ice Cream
- 20. Processed Cheese
- 21. Candy Bars
- 22. High-Sugar Coffee Drinks
- 23. Frozen Meals
- 24. Splenda
- 25. Unhealthy Energy Drinks
- Final Thought – The Unhealthiest Foods In America
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The 25 Unhealthiest Foods In America and What To Eat Instead
This first one is likely no surprise. The cause of many modern-day diseases, sugar, is heavily linked to obesity, cancer, diabetes, asthma, fatty liver disease, and heart disease. It’s highly addictive and full of empty calories.
Sugar, not fat, is arguably the leading cause of obesity in the United States.
Healthier Options: When you crave that sweet taste, the ideal substitute is natural whole-leaf Stevia because it doesn’t raise your blood sugar. Other natural alternatives include:
- Lo Han sweetener (monk fruit)
- Raw organic local honey
- Pure maple syrup
- Xylitol, Erythritol, and other sugar alcohols
Please remember that any sugar – natural or otherwise – will increase your cravings for the sweet taste. Even many of the natural options are high in fructose. Stevia and monk fruit have health benefits and are low glycemic, so they’re good choices.
Related: Stevia Health Benefits, Safety, And Inside Information
2. Refined White Flour
White flour has no nutritional benefits whatsoever. Plus, many people with gluten intolerance, celiac disease, and other allergies cannot eat white flour. Fortunately, there are some excellent options.
Healthier Options: Some healthy flour substitutes include
- Brown rice flour
- Quinoa flour
- Chickpea flour
- Coconut flour
- Almond flour
3. Microwave Popcorn
The FDA reports that a chemical used in making microwave popcorn breaks down into a substance called perfluorooctanoic, which is “likely to cause cancer in humans.”[*]
Healthier Options: Pop your own popcorn on the stovetop in coconut oil and add some Himalayan pink salt for the most savory treat! Or using an air popper is a great option too.
Related: Pink Himalayan Salt Benefits That Boost Your Health
4. Deep-Fried Foods
Recent research shows that eating fried foods at least once a week can raise cancer risk. When food is cooked at the high temperatures required for deep frying, toxic carcinogens are released into the food.[*]
Healthier Options: Grill or bake your foods in the oven whenever possible.
5. Low-Fat Or Diet Foods
These foods notoriously contain added sugars and chemicals. You must add something when you take the good stuff out to make it taste better. So why not simply enjoy the real thing instead?
Healthier Options: You’ve heard me say it before, but fat has gotten a bad rap. Yes, we need to avoid “bad” trans fats. But our bodies need fat to be healthy.
And eating fat does not make you fat!
So enjoy a scoop of natural peanut butter (or almond butter) with a piece of dark chocolate. Or whip up a batch of guacamole with creamy avocados, tomatoes, onions, and cilantro.
For 20 healthy snack choices, check out our Top 20 Best Healthy Snacks: The Ultimate Guide.
6. Most Fast Food
If you eat much fast food you’re getting a lot of phthalates that are found in plastic and food wrappers. These are a class of endocrine-disrupting toxins that are linked to inflammation, metabolic syndrome, and weight gain.
Healthier Options: The best option is to eat real meals cooked at home. But…many of us lead busy, fast-paced lives and have to eat on the run. In this case, you could look for a fast sit-down restaurant that offers a home-cooked meal. Or purchase a rotisserie chicken and some green salad at the market to throw together when you get home.
Another healthy option is to meal prep on the weekends, so you have everything on hand to throw a healthy meal together in seconds.
Related: A Beginner’s Guide To Healthy Meal Prep
7. Processed Meat
Deli meats, hot dogs, sausages, and more contain nitrates, nitrites, and other inflammatory compounds. When cooked at high temperatures, cured meats can produce carcinogens, making them one of the unhealthiest foods in America.
Healthier Options: Look for all-natural, uncured nitrate, and nitrite-free meats. Also, if you’re grilling or heating your meats, try to keep the temps low.
8. Most Fruit Juices
Those “all-natural” labels can be deceptive, especially regarding fruit juices. Why? Because they’re loaded with fructose sugar – yep, the one that increases belly fat.
Surprisingly, fruit juice contains nearly the same amount of fructose as soda. No wonder kids like it so much!
Healthier Options: Whole pieces of fruit contain fiber and are more satisfying than guzzling a cup of juice. If you’re looking for a thirst-quenching beverage, pure, filtered water with lemon is an excellent option. Also,
- Detox Organics (Use my Coupon Code: HEALTHYLIFE for an extra 15% off)
- Soda water
Related: 9 Surprising Benefits Of Lemon Water
Need I say more? Likely not, but I will mention that the artificial colorings and flavorings, harmful fats, and crazy high amounts of sugar found in candy make it highly addictive.
Healthier Options: Ultra dark chocolate, Unreal Non-GMO Chocolate, fruit, full-fat yogurt, low-carb protein shakes, and whey protein shakes are good alternatives.
Related: 20 Proven Reasons Why Refined Sugar Is Bad For Your Health
10. Sugary Sodas
Do you note a trend developing? Sugar, preservatives, artificial coloring, and more sugar make soda one of the unhealthiest foods in America you can consume.
Healthier Options: Water with lemon, green tea, coffee, soda water with lemon, or infused with berries
Related: Sparkling Advice to Kick Your Soda Habit
11. Diet Sodas
Did you realize your favorite diet soda contains flame retardants? I’ll bet that got your attention. (nervous laugh)
Plus, caramel coloring is a possible human carcinogen, and the artificial sweetener aspartame used in diet sodas converts into increased belly fat and weight gain.[*]
Wait? Do you mean that the diet soda I’ve been drinking daily makes me GAIN weight?
Yep. It very well could be.
Healthier Options: Coffee, tea, water with lemon and soda water
12. Coffee Creamer
Most brands of store-bought coffee creamer don’t even contain cream, but they’re full of trans fats! These harmful fats can harm your memory and increase your heart disease risk.
Healthier Options: Cream, half and half, cow’s whole milk, or plant-based milk like
- Cashew milk
- Coconut milk
- Macadamia milk
- Almond milk
My favorite “healthy coffee creamer” is a splash of almond milk or cream and a few drops of whole-leaf Stevia for a kiss of sweetness.
Related: Healthy Coffee Drink (With Coconut Oil) Recipe
13. Sugary Cereal
Sugar is toxic. This we know. And the amount of sugar in a single serving of many kinds of cereal is high.
To make matters worse, many of the most popular brands, including Fruity Pebbles and Frosted Flakes, contain BHT and BHA. These ingredients are banned in many other countries because they are believed to cause cancer.
Healthier Options: There are a couple of chemical-free brands, such as Cascadian Farms and Nature’s Path. Just watch out for the sugar content. Plus, here are 25 delicious, low-carb, grain-free cereal recipes. Enjoy!
Related: General Mills Bringing Back The Artificial Colors In Trix Cereal
14. Low-Fat Yogurt
Unfortunately, many yogurts sold in grocery stores are pasteurized after fermentation. This kills all the bacteria (probiotics). Plus, the fat is usually removed and replaced with loads of sugar to make it taste better after removing the stuff that makes it taste good in the first place.
This makes me wonder why they’d change such a healthful food and make it so much worse. Fortunately, there are better options available. But you may have to search a little harder to find them.
Healthier Options: Select full-fat yogurt with live or active cultures.
Related: 7 Reasons To Take Probiotics: Your Gut Will Thank You
15. Gluten-Free Processed Foods
Many people in the U.S. are trying to avoid gluten for health reasons. The problem is that they’re often turning to gluten-free processed foods as a replacement, which are full of sugar and unrefined grains.
Healthier Options: Focus on eating real food that is naturally gluten-free and doesn’t come in a package. Meats, vegetables, fruit, and dairy are excellent choices for most people.
Related: Paleo Diet Quick Guide: What To Eat & Avoid
16. Packaged Cakes, Pies, And Cookies
These are some of the worst foods to eat healthwise. (Don’t shoot the messenger.)
Partially hydrogenated oils are added to keep these products moist and well-preserved. I mean, the trans fats are off the charts! Plus, the high sugar content doesn’t do them any favors.
Healthier Options: naturally sweet fruit, low-carb cheesecake, or dark chocolate
17. Refined Vegetable Oils
These include soybean, cottonseed, canola, and corn oils.
Remember when they (the government) told us canola oil was healthy? Well, forget that.
There are serious
Healthier Options: Coconut oil, grass-fed butter, avocado oil, grass-fed ghee butter, and extra virgin olive oil are healthful options.
Related: Simple Ways To Stay Fit With A Healthy Diet And Exercise
18. Margarine And Crisco
For years we were told that butter was out and margarine was in. As much as the government wanted us all to believe that highly-processed margarine was the cure to all our diseases, we’ve learned the opposite is true. It’s genuinely unhealthy in so many ways.
Margarine contains many artificial ingredients and harmful trans fats.
Healthier Options: Grass-fed butter and coconut butter (yum!) are sound options. As I always say, “Everything is better with butter!”
19. Ice Cream
Okay, I dislike this one as much as the next girl. I’ll confess I used to have a large bowl of ice cream every night before bed. I looked forward to it every. single. night. Because I was addicted to sugar and the creamy texture.
You could say I’m a reformed ice cream addict. I don’t deprive myself of it (especially the homemade variety). But for me, eating ice cream is now a rare treat.
Here’s the problem with ice cream. This creamy delight is loaded with sugar and an excess of calories (not to mention the added artificial coloring and flavoring). I typically don’t count calories, but it becomes a health concern when you consider how easy it is to consume vast quantities of ice cream in one sitting.
Healthier Options: Believe it or not, there are healthy ice cream recipes you can make yourself. Here are 10 healthy ice cream recipes from Chocolate Covered Katie.
So, let’s celebrate with some Nice Cream!
20. Processed Cheese
You know about processed cheese if you ever sprayed Easy Cheese in your mouth as a kid (hand raised). Or what about those cute little packets of white crackers that come with the plastic cheese spreader and the fluffy orange cheese? I remember taking them for snacks to elementary school.
Real cheese has some nice health benefits, but processed cheese is nothing like the real thing.
Healthier Options: Select organic cheese that’s free of preservatives and artificial colors, and fillers. And if you have trouble digesting dairy you may want to try an aged white cheddar for its lower lactose levels.
21. Candy Bars
They’re strategically placed by the checkout line, so when you’re tired and hungry and need a little energy boost, you can grab one for under a dollar, and you’re good to go – until the sugar crash hits.
Sound like drug addiction?
According to recent studies, sugar may be just as (or more) addictive as cocaine.[*]
According to Cassie Bjork, R.D., L.D., and founder of Healthy Simple Life,
“Research shows that sugar can be even more addicting than cocaine. Sugar activates the opiate receptors in our brain and affects the reward center, which leads to compulsive behavior, despite the negative consequences like weight gain, headaches, hormone imbalances, and more.”
Tasty and sweet candy bars may fill you up short term, but the sugar crash will follow. And don’t forget the refined flour, trans fats, and everything they contain.
Healthier Options: Enjoy a piece of high-quality dark chocolate or a piece of luscious fruit.
22. High-Sugar Coffee Drinks
By itself, coffee is higher in antioxidants than nearly any other food on earth. It’s what we add to our coffee that is so damaging. Black coffee has a variety of health benefits, including disease prevention.
Healthier Options: Black coffee is always a perfect choice. But if you want to amp it up, feel free to add a splash of cream, coconut milk, whole milk, cinnamon, and Stevia.
Related: 9 Impressive Health Benefits of Coffee
23. Frozen Meals
Many, if not most, frozen boxed meals contain trans fats, preservatives, and a high sodium count.
British physician Dr. Richard Hoffman, a nutritional biochemist, says that many of these meals contain ingredients linked to dementia, diabetes, and cancer.[*]
Healthier Options: Whole, fresh, unprocessed foods are the best choices.
Related: Top 4 Foods To Improve Your Eyesight
The Sucralose in Splenda is linked to weight gain. So be very leery of any calorie-free sweeteners because they often have harmful, unwanted side effects.
Healthier Options: All-natural whole-leaf Stevia and monk fruit are low on the glycemic index and have nutritional benefits. Also, a drop or two of local honey contains many antioxidants and can even help with allergy symptoms.
Related: Chocolate Coconut Energy Balls: Protein-Rich And Delicious!
25. Unhealthy Energy Drinks
High in caffeine, glucose, and sucrose, these chemical-laden drinks can do some real damage to your body. A 2016 report published in BMJ Case Reports recorded how a 50-year-old man developed acute hepatitis after he drank four to five energy drinks daily for three weeks.[*]
Also, energy drinks are extremely damaging to your tooth enamel.
Healthier Options: Coffee, green tea, iced water with lemon, and soda water are great energy boosters.
Related: How To Boost Your Energy Levels And Fight Fatigue
Final Thought – The Unhealthiest Foods In America
When you eat unhealthy junk food, your body suffers. And after years of eating an unhealthy diet, people are more susceptible to chronic illness and disease.
Foods to avoid include those high in sugar and highly processed foods. Eliminating these foods as much as possible and replacing them with healthy options, such as the ones listed above, will help you make significant strides towards improving your health and quality of life.
Remember that when you are used to eating a certain way for years, your body craves those foods, especially when they’re full of sugar and trans fats. (I know because I used to be a carb and sugar addict before I discovered intermittent fasting and low-carb eating.)
It can take a little bit of time to acclimate to a new, healthier way of eating, so be patient with yourself and feel free to make a gradual shift. Or, you may want to go all-in and throw out all your unhealthy food, eliminating all temptation.
Either way, know it’s normal to have some setbacks along the way. The important thing is to remember that you are making healthy choices for yourself as a whole and will benefit from them.
Gravitating toward healthier choices will help you feel better, keep off unwanted pounds, and even avoid disease.
Were you surprised by any of the unhealthy foods listed above? What are some healthy food choices you can share? Let me know what you think below! I’d love to hear your thoughts!
12 thoughts on “25 Unhealthiest Foods in America With Healthy Options”
I’m happy to say that I don’t consume any of this list, but I still eat sourdough bread and drink kombucha, I don’t see you have them on your list, what’s your opinion?
Hi there, Anna! Wow, it sounds like you’re doing great – that’s awesome!
I’m a huge fan of kombucha and make my own homemade bucha. I love it for the probiotics and *kick of flavor it provides. I may be a little addicted because I drink it every afternoon. I wrote a blog post – https://lorigeurin.com/health-benefits-of-drinking-kombucha/ just in case you want to check it out. 🙂
And I’ve read that sourdough is super healthy too because of the prebiotics and probiotics, high levels of antioxidants and folate. I love the taste, especially for sandwiches but rarely eat bread because I’m doing the keto lifestyle. I’m thinking I need to make some exceptions though because of the great benefits it gives. Plus, it’s supposed to help with blood sugar control – so there’s that too!
Do you have a favorite recipe?
Thank you so much for sharing this, Anna! You really have my wheels turning about the sourdough bread. Now I want to go to the bakery and buy a loaf, or better yet, bake one in my bread maker. X, Lori
Ugh! I’m stuck on coffee creamer! I’ll need to try some of your alternatives! Thanks!
Hey, Patricia! I’ll admit that coffee creamer was one of the toughest habits I’ve had to break….but now I love the taste of pure cream and a few drops in my coffee. It is an adjustment, but it’s funny how you start craving the healthier options once your body gets a break from the junkier stuff. 🙂
Yikes, most of these are my regular eats! Love that you are sharing healthy alternatives with them!
Hello there, Mary! If we’re honest, most of us would admit to eating these foods at one time or another. 😉 Thank you for the kind words!
I try and cut out as much sugar as possible! It’s amazing how bad it really is!
That’s great, Adriana! Probably one of the best choices you can make, healthwise!
It is hard to kick the habit of indulging in a lot of these. I recently found I have a lot of food intolerances so I have skipped out on most of these by avoiding soy, gluten, dairy, and grain.
That’s true, Theresa, it can be hard to kick the habit – especially when the food industry adds chemicals and sugar that actually make us crave more. I’m sure eliminating the foods you named must be quite an adjustment to your eating plan. I wish you the best in your healthy endeavors and hope you feel encouraged along the way. Hope to see you back soon! Thanks!
I tell people all the time that just because it has ‘diet’ in the name does not make it healthy. I try to find the foods with the least ingredients on the label, not the least calories.
Hey, Jordan! You’re soo right – such great advice! Real food is where it’s at. Thanks for sharing this. 🙂