Health Check: five foods to always avoid at the supermarket

Ideally lollies, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato crisps and processed meats will never appear in your shopping trolley. Matt/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Want to stack the nutrition odds in your favour? The key is good food so here are five things to never let into your shopping trolley: lollies, biscuits, sugar-sweetened drinks, potato crisps and processed meats.

Known as discretionary foods, all five are high in either added sugars, saturated fat or salt. Discretionary foods provide kilojoules but not many nutrients.

Consuming a lot of discretionary foods and drinks increases your risks of weight gain, obesity, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and certain cancers. Unless you’re extremely active, it is unlikely that you can eat a lot of these foods and also be a healthy weight.

Lollies

Dental caries or cavities (holes in your teeth) are the most common and expensive preventable diet-related problem. It’s bad enough that one in five adults rate their oral health as fair or poor, the prevalence of dental caries in children is also increasing. If you or your kids are lolly addicts, the best way to avoid dental disease is to give up grazing on confectionery.

Dump the lolly bag and swap to sugar-free chewing gum to save the kilojoules and your teeth. Susan/Flickr, CC BY

Sugar and other fermentable carbohydrates from highly processed foods are major risk factors for both the start and progress of dental disease. The more lollies you eat, and the more often you eat them, the bigger the risk.

What’s more, they’ll make you fat. Just 100 grams of jelly babies has over 1,400 kilojoules and over 50 grams of sugar, which is about ten teaspoons. Dump the lolly bag and swap to sugar-free chewing gum to save the kilojoules and your teeth.

Sugar-sweetened drinks

Sugar-sweetened beverages include sweetened soft drinks, sports drinks, energy drinks, fruit juice drinks and cordial.

Drink soda water if you want the fizz of soft drinks without the kilojoules. arbyreed/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND

In a trial of over 15,000 adults who were followed up for 15 years, researchers found drinking one or more cups of soft drink a day increased the risk of developing type 2 diabetes by 29%, compared to drinking less than one glass a month. And a US study estimated drinking one can of soft drink a day could contribute to over six kilograms of weight gain in just a year, if the kilojoules were not offset by increasing physical activity or by cutting back on food intake.

Since we know these extra kilojoules are usually not offset, you can see why drinking sweet drinks regularly increases the risk of weight gain.

Swap to diet drinks, or soda water if you want the fizz without the kilojoules. Better still, drink water. Unless you’re an elite athlete, plain water is all you need during sport.

Crisps of all kinds

Crisps, including potato chips, Burger Rings, Twisties and corn chips, are some of the most popular snack foods in the developed world. And the bigger the bag, the more we eat.

Crisps are one of the most popular snack foods in the developed world. Alan/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

A healthy low-kilojoule alternative is air-popped popcorn. So put the multi-bag of crisps back on the shelf, grab a bag of popcorn kernels, and pop them yourself at home.

Popcorn is wholegrain, more satisfying and cheap. One cup of air-popped popcorn has 150 kilojoules, compared to 550 kilojoules in a 25-gram individual packet of potato crisps. This approximately 400-kilojoule saving is the equivalent of the energy burned up in about a 25-minute walk.

Biscuits

Most biscuits are consumed with a cup of tea or coffee. But the problem is that biscuits provide more than crunchiness. They contain large amounts of kilojoules, unhealthy fats and highly processed carbohydrates. What’s more, they’re mostly low in fibre and whole grains.

Biscuits are mostly low in fibre and whole grains. Rob Faulkner/Flickr, CC BY

Look at it this way: two cream-filled biscuits contain around 860 kilojoules. You’d need to push your shopping trolley for about an hour to burn that up.

Instead load up on fruit and save on kilojoules. One cup of strawberries has 150 kilojoules, a small bunch grapes 350 kilojoules and a medium banana 365 kilojoules.

Processed meat

Processed meat includes meat products preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of preservatives including nitrite, nitrates, phosphate, glutamate or ascorbic acid. They include bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, corned beef, chorizo, devon, fritz, luncheon meats, some sausages, hot dogs, cabanossi and kabana.

There’s no completely safe level of intake for these foods. The more processed meats you eat, the greater your risk of developing bowel cancer over a lifetime.

Processed meat are preserved by smoking, curing, salting or the addition of preservatives. Alpha/Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Keep processed meat for when there are no other choices available. Whenever possible, load up with tomatoes and mushrooms, and swap the breakfast bacon for an egg with baked beans and a mixed vegetable grill.

Grab a pack of fresh chicken breast and cook it for use on sandwiches, or buy reduced-fat cheese, canned tuna and salmon, or small cans of four-bean mix.

If you have a recipe that calls for chopped bacon, replace it with diced browned onion and garlic, mixed with a couple of tablespoons of sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds or pine nuts.

Avoiding the five foods discussed here and replacing them with the suggestions I have outlined will put you on track to a long, healthy life. Ideally these foods will never appear in your shopping trolley, unlike the five foods that should be there every time you’re filling up the shopping trolley.