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You are what you eat: Foods to avoid for optimal health

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In the third of a series of exclusive blogs for getback, Nutritionist Bonnie Chivers provides a comprehensive guide to the food products that can negatively affect our health.

Last time we spoke about the power of foods in fighting chronic inflammation. However, the reality is that tempting, less healthy options creep onto our plate and into our body pretty regularly. Unfortunately, these foods and ingredients negate the impact of consuming healthy, anti-inflammatory foods. 

It can be confronting to read about the scary outcomes that can result from eating and drinking things that we enjoy. But I’m a strong believer that knowledge is power, and knowing how things can impact your health means you can make an informed decision about what to put in your body.

So, if you’re still reading, here’s five things to avoid:  


It’s more and more common for sugar to be added to foods and beverages, often hidden in unexpected items. Numerous studies have identified the inflammatory response and harmful effects of high sugar intake. These include significant impacts on the development of breast cancer and lung metastases; increased levels of uric acid, which drives inflammation and insulin resistance, thereby increasing the risk of diabetes; and detrimental effects on metabolism which increase the risk of overweight and obesity. 

It’s important not to confuse refined sugar with sugar in fruits and vegetables. Fruits and vegetables contain a range of naturally occurring sugars that make them taste sweet and delicious. Eaten as a whole food with dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients, the body metabolises fruit and vegetable sugars differently to added, refined sugars. 

Fruit and vegetables form an essential part of a healthy, balanced diet and research shows diets high in fruit and vegetables can protect against weight gain, obesity, heart disease, stroke and some cancers. 

Photo credit Will Thomas –

Refined carbohydrates 

Repeat after me: not all carbs are bad! 

What is bad, are refined carbohydrates. They can encourage the growth of inflammatory gut bacteria and increase your risk of obesity and inflammatory bowel disease, a group of increasingly common disorders affecting the gastrointestinal tract, characterised by acute and chronic inflammation.

Refined carbohydrates have most of the fibre removed, a component that promotes fullness, improves blood sugar control, and feeds the beneficial bacteria in your gut. When carbohydrates are refined they have a higher glycemic index, which means they raise blood sugar more rapidly and will make you feel hungry sooner. Instead you should opt for unprocessed carbohydrates like fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes. 

Refined carbohydrates are found in white bread, pasta, pizza dough, pastries, some cereals, cookies, cakes, sugary soft drinks, lollies and all processed foods that contain added sugar or flour. 

Trans fats

Trans fats are man-made and they are added to foods to increase their shelf life and to alter their texture and taste. They are created by bubbling hydrogen gas through oil to turn liquid oils into solid fat. 

Unfortunately, some of your favourite foods probably contain trans fats which significantly increase the risk of heart disease. It’s recommended that you limit your trans fat intake to less than 1 per cent of your daily calories (so less than 2g for most). Your body does not need trans fats so you should eat as little as possible. 

Here’s the bad news: trans fats are found in anything fried or battered, and in shortening, which is used to make pastry light and fluffy. This means you’ll find it in cakes, cake mixes, pies, pie crust, doughnuts, chips and fast foods. Animal foods, such as red meats and dairy, have small amounts of trans fats, but most come from processed foods.

Processed meat

Processed meats include sausages, bacon, ham, smoked meat, salami and jerky. Consumption of these meats is associated with an increased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and stomach and colon (bowel) cancer. Of all the diseases linked to the consumption of processed meat, its association with colon cancer is the strongest. 

The reason processed meats are harmful to your health is because they contain high amounts of advanced glycation end products (AGEs). AGEs are formed by cooking meats and some other foods at high temperatures and they are known to cause inflammation

Excessive alcohol 

While moderate alcohol consumption has been shown to have beneficial effects on health, consuming more than one-to-two drinks per day can lead to problems. 

C-reactive protein (CRP) is an inflammatory marker. It has been shown that the more alcohol consumed, the higher CRP increases.

High alcohol consumption can also lead to problems with bacterial toxins moving out of the colon and into the body, which is known as ‘leaky gut’. This condition can drive widespread inflammation that leads to organ damage.

Bonnie Chivers

Instagram: the_well_being

BAppSc, MHumNutr, PhD Candidate 

Monash Centre for Health Research and Implementation – MCHRI
School of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, Monash University

No content on this blog should be used as a substitute for direct medical advice from your doctor or other qualified clinician. Please note the date of this blog post, as evidence pertaining to these findings may change overtime.