From ‘coloured’ beverages to coffee creamers, 7 food items nutritionists will avoid at all costs

Potato chips may be the world’s most favourite comfort food, but there is nothing comforting about the effects it can have on one’s body

By Anu Prabhakar

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The expert: Lina Doumani, Clinical Dietitian, Medcare hospital

Published: Mon 25 Dec 2023, 6:52 PM

Last updated: Tue 26 Dec 2023, 9:02 AM

SAYS NO TO: ‘Coloured’ and flavoured soda beverages

“Just take a look at a soda beverage — does it look like food to you?” asks Lina Doumani. “I see no nutritional value in them. Also, sugar-filled soft drinks have been linked to weight gain, fatty liver disease, obesity, Type 2 diabetes and an increased risk of cancer and heart disease.” She also points out that sodas lead to blood sugar spikes as they simply “supply” sugar and “lack any fiber or minerals to reduce its absorption”. “Elevated blood sugar levels have been associated with brain inflammation, which is frequently connected to depression,” she adds.

And no, diet sodas are not any better. Doumani explains that the aspartame in diet sodas prevents the brain from releasing vital neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. “These substances are important for mood and overall health,” she points out. “Because of their high carbonic acid content, sodas lower the pH of saliva below the healthy range that’s required for dental enamel, and thus causes dental cavities.”

Sparkling water, she says, could be used as a healthier alternative. “But make sure that it does not contain sugar or other sweeteners,” she cautions. “Always study the label and choose the ones without added sugars, artificial sweeteners, caffeine or sodium.”

The expert: Sushma Ghag Dietetics (Specialist), Aster Hospital

SAYS NO TO: POTATO CHIPS

Potato chips may be the world’s most favourite comfort food, but there is nothing comforting about the effects it can have on one’s body.

For starters, its high sodium and fat content can lead to weight gain. “Potato chips can also lead to addiction,” says Sushma Ghag. “A collection of studies published in the journal Appetite found that participants were more likely to eat more chips if the bag had the word ‘crunchy’ on it and if they could hear the crunch, as opposed to when they wore headphones and the crunch sound was muffled. When you consider the food to be fresher, you perceive it to be more appealing, which can drive you to consume an entire bag of chips in one sitting. This explains why they’re such a dangerously addictive snack.”

Citing a study by the American Cancer Society, she also points out that potato chips include the component acrylamide, which is formed when high-starch foods are fried, roasted or baked. “And this byproduct compound has been linked to cancer during examinations,” she says.

It could also cause infertility. “The presence of fatty acids and cholesterol may have major consequences for reproductive health. Trans fats, according to Harvard Medical School, may increase the risk of infertility in women,” she says.

The expert: Rawan Nucho, Head Clinical Dietitian, Right Bite

SAYS NO TO: Ready-made salad dressings

Rawan Nucho recalls how while studying in the US, salad dressings were often promoted as a means to encourage greater vegetable and salad consumption. “But they are often underestimated in terms of their potential impact on overall health, containing less-than-ideal components like corn syrups, hydrogenated palm oils, sugars, high fructose corn syrups, monosodium glutamate, unnatural flavours, and preservatives. Scientifically linked to adverse effects on heart health, these ingredients may elevate LDL cholesterol and blood pressure. Furthermore, their impact on blood sugar and insulin levels may contribute to diabetes, while ongoing research also explores their influence on gut health and mental well-being,” she says.

“My steadfast advice: Always read food labels. While a few healthier alternatives may exist, I can attest that nothing surpasses the flavour of a homemade salad dressing. By incorporating ingredients such as extra virgin olive oil, lemon, apple cider or balsamic vinaigrette, herbs and spices, Dijon mustard, garlic, onion, Greek yogurt, and even organic natural honey, you can create a dressing that not only tantalises the taste buds but also promotes overall well-being.”

The expert: Danya Nasser Al Atrash, Clinical Dietitian, Fitness Instructor and Sports Nutritionist, Burjeel Hospital

SAYS NO TO: High FODMAP foods

“As a dedicated dietitian, I meticulously curate my dietary preferences to foster digestive well-being and overall health. A crucial component of my dietary strategy involves avoiding high FODMAP (Fermentable Oligosaccharides, Disaccharides, Monosaccharides and Polyols) foods,” says Danya Nasser Al Atrash. FODMAPs, she adds, are “certain types of carbohydrates that can be poorly absorbed in the small intestine, leading to digestive discomfort in some individuals. So a low FODMAP diet is designed to help manage symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS).” Some examples of FODMAPs, she says, are chickpeas, legumes, garlic, onion, broccoli, cabbage and dairy. “Steering clear of these fermentable compounds has demonstrated efficacy in reducing bloating, gas, abdominal pain and alleviating symptoms associated with IBS.”

Besides this, she also always opts for tomato-based sauces over cream or milk-based alternatives as tomatoes “not only enhance the flavour but also supply essential vitamins, including the potent antioxidant lycopene.”

The expert: Edel Warke, Lead Dietitian, King’s College Hospital

SAYS NO TO: Sugary breakfast cereal

“Some breakfast cereals are over 30 per cent sugar, which can cause dental decay and can contribute to excess calorie intake,” explains Edel Warke. “I also find that having a high-sugar cereal to start my day causes an energy crash after a couple of hours where I feel I need something to boost my energy and keep going with my working day. A high-sugar, low fibre, low protein breakfast can be particularly unhelpful for someone with insulin resistance, diabetes or impaired glycemic (blood sugar) control.”

While reading labels on breakfast cereals, she always checks the ingredients list as they are listed in decreasing order of size — meaning, the first ingredient is used in the highest quantity. “If sugar or similar substances like glucose-fructose syrup, inverted sugar syrup, honey or glucose syrup are listed within the top three, then I know it’s likely to be very high in sugar,” she elaborates.

Instead, she opts for healthier alternatives like porridge or oats which she makes overnight, or chooses a whole grain cereal that’s not loaded with sugar from the supermarket shelf. “When I get time, I love to make my own homemade granola with toasted nuts and seeds,” she adds.

The expert: Begüm Demircan, Clinical Dietitian Manager, GluCare

SAYS NO TO: Coffee creamer

“All of us believe coffee creamers are innocent, right? However, this is not necessarily true,” points out Begüm Demircan.

“Coffee creamers often contain hydrogenated palm kernel oil and glucose syrup, and it is crucial to avoid them due to their adverse effects on metabolism. Hydrogenated palm kernel oil contains trans fats, which increase ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol levels and disrupt insulin metabolism, heightening the risk of diabetes. Glucose syrup, a high glycemic index sweetener, can lead to rapid spikes in blood sugar levels, contributing to insulin resistance over time.”

She also points out that frequent consumption of such coffee creamers may result in chronic inflammation, oxidative stress and increased risk of cardiovascular diseases and metabolic disorders. “The trans fats in hydrogenated palm kernel oil can also contribute to weight gain and have been linked to an increased risk of heart disease,” she adds.

Instead, she suggests choosing natural, milk or plant-based alternatives without hydrogenated oils and excessive sweeteners. “Unsweetened almond or oat milk provides a creamy texture without compromising metabolic health.”

The expert: Tasnim Bassam, Clinical Dietitian, International Modern Hospital

SAYS NO TO: Deep-fried food

Tasnim Bassam explains that deep-fried food is probably worse than even sugar when it comes to heart health, as it’s loaded with trans fats.

“They are no longer classified as safe by the US Food and Drug Administration because, in the long term, these trans fats are very bad for the arteries — they increase the risk for heart attacks, strokes, Type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance, cancer, inflammation, autoimmune diseases, infertility and bone degeneration.”

Even when you heat unsaturated fats like soy oil and corn oil under high temperatures, they become thicker and you get a partially hydrogenated version of the oil which, as Bassam puts it, is “an artificial substance which mainly includes trans fats”.

“So if you see the words ‘partially hydrogenated’ or ‘hydrogenated’ while reading the food label on a box of cookies or crackers, you need to totally avoid it. Every time you increase the trans fats in your diet by two per cent, you increase the risk of getting a heart attack, or potentially dying of a heart attack, by 20-35 per cent.”


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