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What Is the Most Unhealthy Food to Avoid?

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Summary: What is unhealthy food? We explore why “unhealthy” food is bad for us alongside the top 5 foods you should eliminate from your diet.

Most of us have a general idea of what makes food healthy. If it’s a balanced meal consisting of fruits, vegetables, dairy, protein, and fiber, you’re probably eating healthy foods.

This is where genius food marketers take advantage of.  

They have marketed unhealthy food as “healthy” by hiding certain dangerous ingredients in foods we deem as healthy.

In most cases, these smart marketers will label foods with “3x more fiber” or “No added sugar” to make us think it’s healthier.

This is a real example. 

We know fruits are good for us, so 100% of fruit juice should be good. 

The reality is, the amount of sugar in fruit juice is just as much as soda.

These deceptive marketing techniques are executed so subtly that most of us don’t even know what we’re eating is actually unhealthy food.

From this moment onwards, everything is going to change.

By the time you finish reading this article, you’ll uncover the lies told by the food industry and know the top 5 hidden unhealthy foods you must avoid.

What Is the Unhealthiest Food?

We may agree that fried foods, fast foods, and sugary foods are unhealthy but did you know the world’s unhealthiest food can also be granola bars, dried fruits, diet drinks, bread, fruit juice, or protein powders?

The list is endless and it’s getting more and more difficult for us to decide whether the foods on our plates are healthy or not.

Woman grocery shopping for boxed water

Generally speaking, foods that are heavily processed and loaded with chemicals have no place in the human diet

The more closely a species adhere to their natural evolved diet, the healthier that species will be.

— Eric Edmeades, author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Quest

Your instincts already know unhealthy foods are bad for you, but do you know why are they bad and how they can be harmful to you?

Why is unhealthy food bad for you?

Have you ever thought of why unhealthy food is usually known as “junk food”? 

Junk tends to refer to a useless object. Simply put, unhealthy food is bad because our bodies don’t need them at all and they cause record-high epidemics affecting 

1. Unhealthy food causes obesity

With an abundance of foods within a click away, it’s not surprising to see that we’re choosing savory, sweet comfort foods over bland, somewhat bitter healthy vegetables. 

The convenient lifestyle came at a cost: people eat too much and move too little. 

Foods that are empty in nutrients, high in trans fat, and laden with refined sugar stimulate overeating, which is the main contributor to obesity.

Obesity is just the beginning. It triggers the risk factors of many other diseases like insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, hypertension, stroke, heart attack, heart failure, cancer, gout, and many more. 

2. Unhealthy food causes depression

It is now confirmed that a fast food-rich diet is directly linked to depression, according to a study. 

The researchers studied almost 9,000 participants that have never been diagnosed with depression for over a 6-month period. 

Some of the results may be shocking to you.

The results revealed that people who eat fast food regularly are 51% more likely to develop depression compared to those who eat little or none.

On the flip side of the coin, to relieve symptoms of depression, it is important to tap into diets that work for you that are high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, seeds, lean meat, and seafood.

3. Unhealthy food causes emotional eating

Do you find yourself reaching out to that cookie jar whenever you feel a little bit sad? 

A large amount of decisions around food is really a desire to change the way you feel, not a desire to eat the food.

— Eric Edmeades, author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Quest

The reason you want to eat cookies when you feel moody is that you think the cookies can make you feel better.

No, it doesn’t!

Emotional eating, one of the food hungers, entraps you into an endless cycle between emotional void and overeating. 

This happens when you find yourself eating to feel better, and hours later, you’re drowned with regret and guilt. Then, you crave more sweet or salty comfort foods to feel better.

What Are the 5 Most Unhealthy Foods to Avoid?

If we’ve had space and time, we could talk about a long list of unhealthy foods that have no place in our diet. 

We did, however, find 5 major unhealthy culprits destroying our health that the vast majority of us are eating.

You’re about to learn how to identify them, why they are unhealthy, and what healthier alternatives you can use.

1.  Refined sugar

This sneaky substance is notorious for showing up in foods and drinks we never would have thought twice about.

Powdered sugar being put on a dessert

Here’s where checking the label is important.

If sugar is listed in the top 3-5 ingredients, it’s best to stay clear of that food altogether. 

Why is refined sugar unhealthy?

A little bit of added sugar is okay but too much sugar can increase the risk factors of obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases. The problem is that some form of refined sugar is hiding in 74% of packaged foods!

How to identify refined sugar?

One quick tip is to look for words like “syrup”, “cane”, “juice”, and “-ose” (the postfix for simple sugars, like sucrose).

In the American diet, the top sources are sodas, flavored yogurts, cereals, fruit juices, cookies, cakes, candies, and many others. 

Also, do look out for some unhealthy foods like certain smoothie drinks, energy bars, dried fruits, and sweet tea are disguised as “healthy”. 

The key here is to always check the ingredient list.

Not all smoothies or energy bars are necessarily bad for us.  but by taking a minute to read the label and see what we’re actually putting into our bodies.

By becoming more mindful consumers, we can make conscious decisions on what we’re choosing to fuel our bodies with.

What are the healthier alternatives?

Instead of refined sugar, opt for naturally occurring sugar from whole foods. 

One of the best sources of natural sugar is fruit.

Instead of a store-bought smoothie, you can make your own by throwing a bunch of fresh (or frozen) fruits into a blender, and voila, you’ve got yourself a homemade healthy breakfast smoothie in no time.

Quick tip: A ripe banana is a perfect way to sweeten up your smoothie while providing a smooth, creamy consistency.

2.  Processed foods

By definition, processed food is food that has undergone a series of mechanical or chemical processes to change or preserve it. 

Processed foods are nothing new — humans have been processing and preserving foods for centuries. 

Hot dogs and soda cans as part of the processed food industry

So, where did it go wrong?

It started when the food industry wanted to make more money by influencing us to buy more than we need. 

They add additives to enhance the taste, flavorings to change the flavor, preservatives to extend shelf life, sugar and salt to stimulate appetite, and other processes to make the food look appetizing. 

With all these processes done on a food item, it’s not even considered food anymore.

Why are processed food unhealthy?

Evidence shows that people who eat more than 4 servings of ultra-processed foods a day lead to 62% higher risk of premature death. They are also more likely to develop a range of health problems — heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, cancer, and depression.

How to identify unhealthy processed foods?

Below we’ll tell you how you can identify a specific unhealthy food that is processed.

5 quick hacks to help you sift through all the packaged foods.

Does the food contains,

  1. Ingredients you would not cook at home?
  2. Artificial additives, dyes, sweeteners, or preservatives?
  3. Any form of refined sugar?
  4. Refined grains (“wheat” without the word “whole”)?
  5. More than 5 ingredients and most of the ingredients you have no clue of?

If you answered “yes” to most of the questions, chances are, the food is highly processed. 

What are the healthier alternatives?

Whole foods or packaged foods that do not contain preservatives, additives, and artificial sweeteners. 

You don’t have control over the food industry, but you have control over what food you buy. 

What we can do is vote with your money. When you stop buying the garbage, [the food industry] stop making them.

— Eric Edmeades, author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Quest

3.  Hydrogenated oils

Are fried foods one of your favorite foods?

If so, you’re about to learn what you’ve been really eating and make positive changes to your diet

Why are hydrogenated oils unhealthy?

Hydrogenated oils undergo a process called “hydrogenation”. This process solidifies a liquid saturated fat by adding hydrogens. During hydrogenation, one of the most unhealthy foods is made, trans fat

According to a nutrition expert, trans fats not only raise bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol but also increase your risk of heart attack or stroke

Fries, onion rings, and chicken fried in hydrogenated oils

How to identify food made with hydrogenated oils?

Foods that are made with partially hydrogenated oils and high in trans fats:

  • Margarine
  • Vegetable shortening
  • Packaged snacks
  • Backed foods (including premade versions)
  • Ready-to-use dough
  • Fried foods
  • Coffee creamers (dairy and non-dairy)

What are the healthier alternatives?

Make sure your diet contains healthy fats, including polyunsaturated, monounsaturated, and some saturated fats.

Foods that are high in healthy fats are avocados, nuts (almonds, walnuts, macadamia), whole eggs, fatty fish (salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, herring), chia seeds, and extra virgin olive oil.

4.  Refined grains

Grains are the most important staple food in almost every culture on Earth. 

Grains like corn, wheat, and rice are processed to make numerous food products — like pastries, doughnuts, bread, and pasta made of white flour, snacks, and crackers.

Why are refined grains unhealthy?

Refined grains are bad because they are much lower in fiber and micronutrients. The only thing left is digested starch with small amounts of protein. They can also stimulate overeating and increase the risk of obesity. 

How to identify foods made of refined grains?

Check the ingredient list. Look for the word “whole”, “rolled”, “stone-ground”, “sprouted”, and “cracked”. For example, whole grain flour, rolled oats, stone-ground whole wheat flour, and cracked wheat berries are all made from whole grains.

The vast majority of people are malnourished. They eat too much of the wrong stuff, and not enough of the good stuff.

Then we put them on a ‘calorie restriction diet’, and they end up eating even fewer nutrients, and become even more malnourished.

— Eric Edmeades, author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Quest

What are the healthier alternatives?

Choose whole grains and carbs from whole foods. Whole grains like brown rice, oats, sprouted Ezekiel bread, amaranth grains, quinoa, spelt, teff, and wild rice are great choices of healthy plant-based protein and carbs.

Add more carbohydrate-rich, whole foods to your diet as well — for instance, peas, squash, sweet potatoes, beetroots, oranges, blueberries, and bananas.

5.  Fake food

The food industry spent $50 billion annually to substitute foods with non-foods or label them incorrectly at restaurants, grocery stores, and retail shops. 

Donuts that are considered unhealthy foods

What’s their purpose? 

They want to cut down the cost and earn the highest profit margin possible.

Why are fake foods unhealthy?

Fake foods are heavily processed foods that are made to resemble the original food. In order to do that, manufacturers resort to chemicals, dyes, and non-foods that have no place in our diet. Eating too many fake foods can lead to cancer, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, and more. 

How to identify fake foods?

Examples of fake foods to avoid:

  • Cheese products (pre-grated cheese, and cheese slices). If the product says “processed cheese”, “prepared cheese” or “cheese food”, it’s not 100% made of cheese.
  • On-the-shelf frostings. Besides making the cupcake look extra appetizing, frostings further stimulate your cravings because it’s loaded with refined sugar and dyes. 
  • Maple syrup. Some brands of syrup have nothing to do with maple at all. They are actually corn syrup dyed to resemble maple syrup and added with preservatives and additives.

What are the healthier alternatives?

Frostings that are made with natural ingredients and whole foods.

Home-made frostings can be healthier by using whole foods as ingredients, such as chocolate avocado frosting.

Buy healthy cheeses that are unprocessed like swiss cheese, goat cheese, or mozzarella. Steer clear of packaged, pre-grated cheese because typically, they contain preservatives to extend their shelf life.

Check the ingredient list and food labels to ensure you are eating what you’re supposed to eat.

The Bottom Line of Unhealthy Food

There is no single unhealthy food that makes you unhealthy.

Eating “unhealthy food” now and again isn’t going to set you back or make you an unhealthy person.

Person holding a burger

The key lies in the daily habits and choices we make day by day, meal by meal.

It’s about making sure we choose to get all the nutrients we need first before putting in all the junk.

It’s about choosing healthier habits over bad eating habits so that you can focus longer, have better moods, get into better shape, and ultimately, improve your quality of life.

What we put into our bodies literally becomes us.

When you really enjoy your life, you send this message to your genes: ‘I’m useful,’ ‘I’m vulnerable,’ ‘I should be here.’ So, when you enjoy your life more, you do a huge amount to your own longevity.

— Eric Edmeades, author of Mindvalley’s WildFit Quest

So, what is your choice today? Healthy food or unhealthy food?

The choice is yours.

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Written by

Tifa Ong

Tifa is a former contributing content writer for Mindvalley Journal. She specializes in writing about nutrition and parenting.
Picture of Tifa Ong

Tifa Ong

Tifa is a former contributing content writer for Mindvalley Journal. She specializes in writing about nutrition and parenting.

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