Not everything that comes in a box or bag is bad, but a lot of it is. We got nutrition experts to reveal 11 of the unhealthiest supermarket foods you can buy.
Readymade flavored popcorn—smart? “Hardly,” says Whiteson. “One popular brand earns a heavy load of fat from oils, cheese, and buttermilk. It’s also loaded with salt—a day’s worth in just a few servings. What an adulteration to the simple, high-fiber popcorn that can actually be worked into a healthy diet! Not smart at all!” Flavored popcorn joins the list of surprisingly unhealthy foods to avoid.
2.Noodle soup kits
“Noodle soup kits are among the cheapest meal solutions found in the grocery store—which is why they are known as a college student staple. Still, they are one of the worst excuses for a meal in the entire supermarket,” says Whiteson. These popular dehydrated noodles not only bring zero nutritional value to the table, but they also contain a food additive called Tertiary-butyl hydroquinone (TBHQ), a preservative that is a petroleum-industry byproduct (yes, it’s as gross as it sounds). “They’re also incredibly high in sodium, calories, and saturated fat. The containers packaging these noodles aren’t helping much either. This little brick that magically melts into noodles is a big artery clogger!”
Have you ever looked at frosting nutrition labels? “They look more like a science experiment than a food,” says Pine. “They’re packed with multiple types of sugar, artificial colors, and ingredients that allow for a very long shelf life. One of the most popular brands even uses partially hydrogenated oil, which is code for trans fat, the only type of fat that you want to avoid at all costs. Trans fat increases bad cholesterol, lowers the good kind of cholesterol, and creates bodily inflammation which could lead to heart disease.” When you want to treat yourself, the better option, she says, is to make your own buttercream frosting using real ingredients like butter (you know it’s bad when the better alternative is butter!).
These ones are sneaky! “Adding bouillon cubes seems like a great shortcut to enhance the flavor of homemade soups, but they’re nothing more than sugar, fat, hydrolyzed soy protein, salt, and often MSG,” cautions Pine. “One way to know that you’re buying a bouillon or soup base, which is a better choice is to look at the ingredient list. The first ingredient should be actual chicken, beef, seafood, or veggies, such as in a brand like Better Than Bouillon. Or, skip the bouillon and use reduced sodium chicken broth, such as Pacific Organic Unsalted Chicken Stock.”
“Boxed rice mixes are super tasty because food manufacturers add tons of salt and flavor enhancers like MSG and caramel color,” explains Pine. “Some folks with food sensitivities, especially those susceptible to migraines, can react very poorly to MSG. Make your own healthy pilaf with garlic, onion, and rice. Choose brown, red, or black rice to make it a whole-grain dish for added fiber and nutrients.”
6.Pre-grilled chicken breasts
In short, there’s nothing even remotely redeeming here. “Look at the package when making your grocery store decisions,” says Whiteson. “Pre-cooked chicken is often loaded with lots of bad stuff to make it have a longer shelf life—all the while reducing your life! All that added sodium will bloat you for days!”
7.Lunch kits for kids
If you’re cringing thinking about how many kiddie lunch kits you’ve eaten in your lifetime, you’re not alone! It’s disheartening that products marketed at children and busy moms can be so insanely unhealthy. “These processed snack packs are filled with sodium and saturated fat, and provide little to no fiber,” says Whiteson. “In fact, many versions of these processed snack products can set you back 600mg of sodium—that’s about 30 percent of your recommended daily amount! Your children are probably begging for these snack packs that their friends have at the lunch table. No matter how cheap and convenient they may seem, don’t give in. They are not worth it!”
8.Ranch salad dressing
Commercial salad dressings can be packed with sodium, sugar, and saturated fat, but the real issue is serving size. “Most dressings use one or two tablespoons, smaller than the usual drizzle, as their serving size,” says Whiteson. So when you glop it on, the amounts of those bad ingredients add up big-time. “These dressings can easily add up to an extra 300 calories per day if not more!” she says. Instead, Whiteson recommends topping greens with avocado, poached eggs, or marinated veggies and skipping the dressing altogether. “They’ll contribute heart-healthy fats without the additives and bloat-inducing salt,” she says.
9.Sliced peaches in heavy syrup
There’s no excuse for not eating real fruit—it’s as convenient as it gets! “Little containers of peaches or pears are a nice convenience item to pack in a lunch, but not when they’re drenched in heavy syrup, which is loaded with added, unnecessary sugar,” says Pine. “The ‘lite’ version still has added sugar, and the ‘no sugar added’ variety is usually code for added artificial sweeteners. Emerging research is showing that artificial sweeteners may be harmful to the gut microbiome. If plain fresh or frozen fruits aren’t an option, be sure to choose canned fruit packed in 100 percent juice,” Pine says.
“With a whopping 17g of sugar, there isn’t anything healthy about cereal bars, even the ones that claim to be ‘made with real milk,’” notes Pine. “As a high-carb snack packed with many sources of simple sugars, including high fructose corn syrup, you’ll probably be hungry quickly after eating one. Just because they added these items into the bar doesn’t mean they took out the unhealthier stuff!”
11.Creamy spinach dip
Don’t be fooled by “spinach!” in this product’s name. Varbanova points out that the ingredients in commercially prepared creamy spinach diplutamate, also known as MSG, which has been linked to headaches, obesity, depression, and mental disorders.