Five Food Felons to Avoid

Five Food Felons to Avoid

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What’s lurking on supermarket shelves, hiding in refrigerators and, in some cases, disguising itself as good for you? Food demons — as in, the five food felons you should avoid, according to Michael F. Roizen, MD, the chief wellness officer at the Cleveland Clinic and co-author with Mehmet Oz, MD, of the best-selling “YOU!” books. “These five food felons have no redeeming social value, and they cause aging,” says Dr. Roizen.To stay healthy, you need to look for these felons in the ingredients of your favorite foods — and avoid them. “If they show up in the first five ingredients (excluding parentheticals), don’t eat them,” he says. Without these felons in your diet, you can significantly lower your chance of disease and premature aging.

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1. Trans Fat

Trans fat is number one because it’s the worst of the bunch. “Trans fat is poison for your body,” says Dr. Roizen. 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.

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Be careful when looking for trans fat on food labels, since the label may not actually say trans fat. Watch for the words partially hydrogenated vegetable oils. And if you spot a label that says it has zero grams of trans fat, don’t necessarily believe it: In the United States, if a food has less than 0.5 grams of trans fat per serving, the food label can read 0 grams trans fat. While that’s a small amount, if you eat multiple servings, it’s easy to consume too much. If partially hydrogenated vegetable oil or vegetable oil blend is near the top of the ingredient list or is listed before healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, the product most likely contains plenty of the bad stuff.

2. 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 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 the level of bad cholesterol to rise in the bloodstream. Interestingly, “there is actually a safe amount of saturated fat you can consume,” says Dr. Roizen. “The problem is that this safe amount is quite small — four grams in an hour.” So why avoid saturated fat altogether? “Because people don’t do moderation,” explains Dr. Roizen. “That means eating a four-ounce lean pork tenderloin. And that’s it, fatwise, for the meal.”

3. Added Sugar

There are two main types of sugars — sugar that occurs naturally in foods like milk, vegetables and fruits, and refined sugar (aka simple sugar), which is added to foods for sweetness. Added sugar is any sugar that does not naturally occur in the food. 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 (hello, arthritis). “The bad effects last a lot longer than the joy of the food,” says Dr. Roizen. “The joy of the food might last 10 minutes. The protein change lasts months.”

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