Foods You Should Keep at a Minimum in a Healthy Diet


The basics for a healthy diet are simple. Everyone needs a blend of fats, carbohydrates, and protein.  Plus, we all need enough minerals and vitamins for optimal health.

However, it’s best to eat some food choices only rarely.

A Healthy Diet

Harvard University nutrition scientists compiled a list of foods you should keep to a minimum. Research suggests that eating the following foods regularly increase the risk of life-threatening illnesses — like diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even some cancers — especially if you omit healthier food choices.

Here’s a list of foods to keep at a minimum in a healthy diet.

  • Dairy fat — Cheese, whole milk, and ice cream are full of saturated fat and some naturally occurring trans fat. Dairy fat can increase the risk of the health problems — particularly heart disease. The healthiest milk and milk products are low-fat versions, such as skim milk, milk with 1% fat and reduced-fat cheeses.
  • Salt — Current dietary guidelines and the American Heart Association recommend reducing sodium to 1,500 mg per day and not exceeding 2,300 mg per day. But most of us get 1½ teaspoons (or 8,500 mg) of salt daily. That’s about 3,400 mg of daily sodium. Our bodies need a certain amount of sodium. But too much salt can increase blood pressure and the risk of stroke and heart disease.
  • Baked sweets — Pastries, doughnuts, snack cakes, cookies, and a variety of other treats are hard to stay away from for many people. But these commercially prepared baked sweets are packed with added sugar, processed carbohydrates, unhealthy fats, and often salt.
  • High-fat and processed meats — Stay away from cold cuts and “pigs in a blanket.” Despite some conflicting reports, the balance of the evidence confirms that processed meats like hot dogs, ham, bacon, pepperoni, and many lunch meats are less healthy than protein from whole grains, beans, nuts, soy, fish, and skinless chicken.  If you include fresh red meat in your healthy diet, eat it sparingly.  And select the leanest cuts of meat.
  • White carbohydrates — Choose whole-grain versions of bread, potatoes, rice, pancakes, cookies, pasta, or cake for your healthy diet. Whole-wheat breads and pastas are easy to find. And you can find or make your own whole-grain pancake mix. You can also make your own homemade cookies or bars using grains, like oatmeal — and less sugar and unhealthy fats.
  • Added sugar — White granulated sugar, brown sugar; corn sugar, high-fructose corn syrup, and honey contain almost no nutrients and are pure carbohydrates. When you eat a lot of sugar, you’re filling up on empty calories. And you’re causing your blood sugar to rise and fall.  Adding sugar in your healthy diet can also keep you from eating foods with fiber and important nutrients.

Real Food Equals Nutrition

Healthy eating does not mean you should eliminate certain foods altogether.  If you find yourself craving an ice cream sundae occasionally, it’s perfectly alright to have a small one. But it’s important to avoid making it a daily habit.

Eating real food is the best path to a healthy diet. Today’s knowledge of nutrition is as simple as getting back to eating food that is as close as possible to the way nature made it.

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George Zapo, CPH
George Zapo, CPH is certified in Public Health Promotion & Education. George focuses on writing informative articles promoting healthy behavior and lifestyles. Read more of George's articles at his website: