As a cardiothoracic surgeon (Dr. Oz) and an internist and chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic (Dr. Roizen), we see every day the way that what you eat can affect your health in countless ways—both good and bad. Food can be medicine, but food also can do felonious acts on your body. Here are the six things we never torture our bodies with. We don’t think anyone should.
Trans Fat Trans fat is No. 1 because it’s the worst of the bunch. Also called trans fatty acid, it’s most often found in cookies, crackers, chips and in many foods cooked at fast food restaurants—especially fried foods. What makes it so bad? Trans fat alters metabolic processes and increases the hardening (and thus aging) of your arteries. Studies show that the more trans fat a person eats, the faster the cardiovascular system ages.
Saturated Fat Unlike trans fat, which is created artificially, saturated fat occurs naturally. But that doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Saturated fat ages your arteries by causing inflammation that augments the buildup of fatty tissue on their inner linings. Found in red meats, full-fat dairy products, palm and coconut oils, and to a lesser extent in poultry skin and other animal products, saturated fat makes it easier for inflammatory substances to populate your bloodstream. There is actually a safe amount of saturated fat you can consume, but it is so small—4 grams in an hour—that it’s hard to eat any without going over that limit. If you eat a 4-ounce lean pork tenderloin for dinner, it uses up your total saturated fat allotment for that hour.
Added Sugar There are two main types of sugars—sugar that occurs naturally in foods like vegetables and fruits; and refined or added sugars (aka simple sugars), which are added to foods for sweetness. Added sugars are any sugar that does not naturally occur in the food—like sugar added to bottled ketchup, sweetened jellies and obviously super sweet desserts such as ice cream and cupcakes. Extra sugar causes the proteins in your body to be less functional and, as a result, directly ages your immune and arterial systems and even your joints. Stick to no more than 4 grams of added sugars per hour.
Syrups We all know that manmade high-fructose corn syrup is a serious nutritional no-no that increases the risk of obesity and metabolic syndrome. But at the end of the day, a sugar is a sugar is a sugar, which means that all syrups—corn, maple, malt and others—are as bad for you as the other added sugars discussed above. That includes the sticky sweet syrup that canned and jarred fruit often comes in.
Anything Less Than 100 Percent Whole Grain Whole grains contain a lot of fiber, which is important for preventing arterial aging and reducing the risk of cancer. The problem is that unless the bread or pasta you’re eating is made from 100 percent whole grain (and says so in the number one spot in the ingredient list), it’s been stripped of the outer layers that contain most of the fiber and many of the key nutrients. When you eat these products (breads and pastas made with enriched, bleached, unbleached, semolina or durum flour), your body quickly converts this carbohydrate to sugar in your bloodstream and we’re back to the same health problems you get from consuming added sugars. One hundred percent whole grains, meanwhile, take longer to convert to sugar and also stay in your intestines longer, which means you stay fuller longer.
Cold Cuts and Cured Meats The preservatives and even red meat in lunchmeats add a criminal amount of nitrates, carnitine and sodium to your meals. Too much salt can decrease calcium levels in your body, weakening your bones. Not to mention wrinkles and the fact that no one looks good with eye bags and a puffy face the day after a salty-food fest. If you must eat meat, skip the salami, bologna, pastrami, roast beef and hot dogs and instead choose lean ham and lean pork (tenderloin), which will have less salt and less saturated fat. But avoiding the carnitine in all red meats, all together, will make inflammation less common in your body, skin and intestines.