21 Foods To Avoid: Protect Your Health Before It’s Too Late

Last Updated on March 17th, 2018

Overworked cliché it may be but the words ‘you are what you eat’ are perhaps some of the truest ever spoken. Many of us aim to follow a healthy diet but it can sometimes be hard – if not actually impossible – to keep track of what is and isn’t good for us to eat and drink. Particularly because the advice given by scientific research and nutritional professionals seems to change so rapidly and at times even reverses its thinking completely.

Added to that is the whole issue of labeling which is not just intentionally misleading but actually wildly incorrect at times. Fat-free, healthy, sugar-free and natural are all terms which might lead us to think we have made a better choice but things are not always what they seem to be and unfortunately the law often allows it to stay that way.
On top of all that are all kinds of manufacturing practices which the public never get to hear about and because they are so terrible the producers and business owners often try and keep it that way.

However, it is said that knowledge is power so here you will find a list of 21 foods and drinks which are to be avoided – many of them are likely to come as a shock to you. Be warned – after reading our list and discovering the damage they are doing to your body. You may never want to go anywhere near certain foods ever again.

21 Foods To Avoid: Protect Your Health Before It’s Too Late

1. SOY

Poison or precious food source? There are few foods more controversial than soy. Research tells us some fairly horrifying things about the refined soy protein products which make up the majority of what you will find on supermarket shelves in Western countries.

A dash of weed-killer with your soy is standard with round 90% of the US’s soybean crops genetically modified and intentionally developed to withstand spraying by herbicides (1)
Consuming a dose of Roundup in your soy can inhibit an enzyme in the body which is responsible for detoxifying harmful substances and could lead to an alarming list of conditions such as

  • gastrointestinal disorders
  • obesity
  • diabetes
  • heart disease
  • depression
  • autism
  • infertility
  • cancer

Studies also tell us that the presence of isoflavones in soy can play havoc with female sexual development and reproduction systems as well as reducing sperm count in men. (2)

The verdict

The bottom line is not all soy is created equal. Choose your soy products wisely – the fermented soy products such as tofu, tempeh, miso and natto are good bets. If something says it contains soy protein – very common in things such as soy burgers and even baby formula – it means the soy has been processed using chemical extractions and carries with it all of the risks discussed above.

2 a study from an infertility clinic published by the Oxford University Press in 2008

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If you’re a fan of king mackerel, swordfish, shark or tuna you might want to think again before tucking into your next fish steak. Many fish and shellfish contain traces of toxic mercury but it is these 4 which pose the biggest threats and can cause harm to the brain, heart and lungs. (1)
Occasional consumers probably don’t need to worry but you probably didn’t know that anyone enjoying regular fish feasts could be left with high levels of mercury in the body. A particular consumer beware notice is issued by the FDA and US Environmental Protection Agency to pregnant women, nursing mothers and children under 6. These groups are at greater risk as high mercury levels in certain fish could affect the brain and nervous system of a developing fetus or infant.

The verdict

Fish is generally a nutritionally healthy option and an important source of protein in our diet. Just steer clear of the most mercury polluted fish and opt instead for fish which appear on the FDA’s safe list. (2)

1 US National Library of Medicine – Fish and seafood as a source of human exposure to methylmercury – Mania M1, Wojciechowska-Mazurek M, Starska K, Rebeniak M, Postupolski J.

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Most of us are probably big fans of the super-convenient ketchup tubes, bottles and packets which don’t have to be refrigerated and seem to last forever. But have you ever stopped to think why we can do away with the chilling? Or why they never turn bad? Unfortunately there is a price to be paid for this level of convenience. Commercial ketchups are packed to the brim with an alarming list of preservatives, additives and flavor enhancing chemicals including MSG. You can add saturated fats and salt to that list of food villains too.
Although that familiar red ketchup color might make you think tomatoes what you are effectively consuming is a bottle of high fructose corn syrup. This chemically produced substance makes a beeline for your liver and can lead to fatty liver and from there to diabetes to say nothing of its contribution to obesity, heart attacks, strokes, cancer and dementia. (1)

The verdict

Make your own ketchup so you have complete control over what you are feeding your body or opt for a healthy salsa.

1 The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition – Endocrine and metabolic effects of consuming beverages sweetened with fructose, glucose, sucrose, or high-fructose corn syrup – Kimber L Stanhope, Peter J Havel – The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Volume 88, Issue 6, 1 December 2008

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For a quick road to an early grave eat processed meat. If, however, you want to considerably lower your risk of heart disease steer clear of bacon, ham, hot dogs, sausages, beef jerky and any other meat product which has been modified.

There is a mountain of scientific evidence which clearly indicates processed meats should be instantly scrapped from your food table. One Harvard study found that a person who has a regular diet of just 50 grams of processed meat (that is just one hot dog or a slice or two of ham) has a 42% greater risk of heart disease. The risk of developing type 2 diabetes also goes up by 20%. (1)
Processed meats also contain about 4 times as much sodium as unprocessed meats – a fact which may make your blood boil to read but will certainly raise your blood pressure in reality.

The verdict

If you want to keep meat in your diet opt for skinless chicken or lean steak cuts as your healthiest options.

1 US National Library of Medicine – Unprocessed Red and Processed Meats and Risk of Coronary Artery Disease and Type 2 Diabetes – An Updated Review of the Evidence Renata Micha, Georgios Michas, and Dariush Mozaffarian 2013

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Settling down for a home movie night with a bowl of microwave popcorn as a treat might seem like a safe and cozy night in. However, there are hidden dangers and snacking on such a product is actually exposing your lungs to the risk of damage. According to the Environmental Protection Agency those wonderful popcorny aromas you’re inhaling are actually poisonous fumes packed with dozens of chemicals and none of them are likely to do your body any good.

Unbelievably that butter flavor and smell is actually a hazardous toxin known as diacetyl. Some popcorn makers ditched the diacetyl back in 2007 after some bad press but simply replaced it with other butter substitutes no less toxic.

Aside from the actual popcorn itself, the bags are another health hazard. A cocktail of chemicals coat these microwave bags to make them fireproof and prevent oils seeping out. One of the most worrying of these is perfluorooctinoic acid (PFOA) which The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified as possibly carcinogenic with links to testicular and kidney cancer.
Suddenly that delicious popcorn aroma doesn’t seem quite so appealing does it?

The verdict

Leave the microwave popcorn on the supermarket shelf and make your own popcorn with corn kernels.
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You have to reserve some grudging praise for the manufacturer who decided to market candy in disguise as an energy snack, which is what a vast majority of energy and nutrition bars are.
As a result Americans spent $1.2 billion on these products in one year making someone very rich. The best you can hope for is a ‘dead food’ with no nutritional value. At worst you are digesting a bunch of processed chemicals (1) along with huge calorie and sugar overloads which present heart disease risks. Just one small bar can have around 260 calories (which makes it unhealthier than a Snickers bar) or 15 grams of sugar – more than half the total daily amount recommended for women and just under half for men. (2)

The verdict

Remember just because ‘healthy’ is written on the packaging doesn’t make it true. If the ingredients list of a health or energy bar has anything besides nuts, dried fruit, grains and seeds give it a miss.

1 Garth Davis, MD – bariatric surgeon at The Davis Clinic in Houston, Texas and author of The Expert’s Guide to Weight Loss Surgery 2 American Heart Association (AHA)

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Most of us have been told ever since we were small that eating fruit is good for you. Unfortunately in these days of mass production and pesticides that all depends on the fruit and how it is grown. Naturally grown strawberries are packed with antioxidants which have a vast array of health benefits but non-organically grown crops can be packed with rather more sinister things.
Every year the Environmental Working Group compiles a list of ‘The Dirty Dozen’ to point the finger at America’s most pesticide-contaminated grown produce. This year’s ugly winners are strawberries and they have featured in the list somewhere for many years. Even official US reports show as many as 20 different pesticide residues found lurking in strawberries. (1)
And just in case you are thinking what’s wrong with that such pesticides have been linked with cancers, nerve damage, birth defects and hormone irregularities. In short, a non-organic strawberry is a little bomb of disaster to your body.

The verdict

If you can’t stay away from the strawberries eat only those grown without the use of pesticides such as organic produce or those picked from your own back yard.

1 Pesticide Data Program – Collected from statistics of the Agricultural Marketing Service division of the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

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To many people artificial sweeteners on their own or in drinks and foods present an ideal way to cut out sugar and aim for a healthier lifestyle. They have also been endorsed by doctors for use by diabetic patients. The true facts however suggest that while you are trying to address the heart health risks associated with obesity you are actually exposing your body to other equally harmful problems.

According to one Harvard Health professional considering artificial sweeteners as a safe alternative really depends how you define safe. (1) The studies in the past which ruled out cancer risks were based on subjects consuming significantly smaller quantities of diet soda than the average person consumes – 24 ounces a day. The bottom line is the long term affects of consuming larger amounts of the chemicals in artificial sweeteners is unknown to the scientific world and they admit it. Ironically, one diabetic organization study found that drinking diet soda drinks on a daily basis demonstrated a 36% greater risk for metabolic syndrome and a 67% increased risk for type 2 diabetes. (2) In other words the very diseases which artificial sweeteners are supposed to be helping avoid.

The verdict

Unless you want to run the risk of serious health problems diet soda is off the menu.

1 Harvard Health Publishing – Harvard Health blog – Artificial sweeteners: sugar-free, but at what cost? JULY 16, 2012, UPDATED JANUARY 08, 2020, 12:00 PM, Holly Strawbridge, Former Editor, Harvard Health 2 American Diabetes Association – Diet Soda Intake and Risk of Incident Metabolic Syndrome and Type 2 Diabetes in the Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA)

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Surely something with vegetable in the title will be good for you right? Wrong! While there are definitely some beneficial oils and those which could be considered superior to others, there are certainly others which you should avoid like the plague.

Canola oil for example is a prime culprit especially as it is often promoted as a healthy oil low in saturated fat and high in unsaturated fats, including omega-3 fatty acids. However, that is only painting half of the picture and the other half is not so pretty.

There is no such plant as a ‘canola’. This oil is made from hybrid rapeseed – usually genetically modified – and undergoes an alarming set of highly unnatural and high heat processes before it arrives in your kitchen. Petroleum solvents are used to extract the oils, a range of chemicals are added to improve the color and deodorizing finishes it all off to mask the chemical smell. The whole process leads to significant amounts of trans fats being formed and these are associated with a list of health issues, most notably heart disease.

The verdict

We know for certain that some oils are extremely good for us such as olive oil and cold-pressed coconut oil – so stick with those.
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Shrimp can be an excellent source of nutrition when sourced from the wild however farmed shrimp are something else entirely. Most people who eat shrimp probably assume it comes from the ocean but the truth is very different and once you know the facts it may put you off eating shrimp ever again.

Shrimp farming is done in enormous tanks or vast systems of man-made ponds. Keeping these environments free of algae, mollusks and disease is done by way of pesticides and de-contaminants while the fish themselves are fed with food which contains antibiotics and other drugs.

Findings from many independent tests such as those conducted by the US safe food watchdog known as ‘Food and Water Watch’ have uncovered concerning contamination by various banned chemicals, pesticides and antibiotics as well as bacteria with severe food-poisoning potential in shrimp for sale in supermarkets. (1)
Although many of the chemical contaminants found in shrimp should set off serious alarm bells one of the most worrying is 4-hexylresorcinol – a preservative used to prevent shrimp discoloration. Consuming shrimp contaminated with this highly toxic chemical can increase the risk of breast cancer and reduce sperm count in men. (2)
The list of potential health risks associated with eating farmed shrimp seems to go on and on but includes neurological damage, cancer (3, 7), Parkinson’s disease (4), aplastic anemia (5), leukemia.(5), decreased fertility (6) and food poisoning.

The verdict

If you know for sure that the shrimp you are eating is wild and sourced from clean, cold waters you will be eating something good for you. Otherwise it is best avoided.
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What on earth is fruit juice doing on a list of foods to avoid? Understandably the majority of people believe it is healthy. However, fruit juice is full of sugar and calories – as much as and sometimes even more than soda.(1) and is totally bereft of the valuable fiber found in whole fruit. True, fruit juice does provide vitamins and antioxidants but the risks of fructose sugar overload far outweigh any benefits.

The body benefits from whole fruit. It takes a while to chomp your way through an apple or orange. Additionally, the sugar is bound within fiber which breaks down at a controlled rate and allows our liver to process it safely. Fruit juice on the other hand bombards the liver with the equivalent of several portions of fruit at once. Struggling to handle such quantities the poor overworked liver turns some of the fructose sugar into fat which is bad news. Many studies have found this can cause insulin resistance, elevate cholesterol and lead to accumulated belly fat.(2, 3)
Additionally, the juice in the supermarket shelf packets has seen a lot of action since the fruit was harvested. Processing tends to impact flavor so this is typically added back through ‘flavor packs’. What you end up drinking is in reality quite a long way removed from being a natural or pure product.

The verdict

Stick to whole fruit which has all the benefit of vitamins, antioxidants and fiber and allows the liver to handle the fructose without causing damage to the body.
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Like strawberries and fruit juice which have already featured on this list, green beans are yet another of those foods which are all the more dangerous because most people will consider them to be not just safe but healthy.

Organically grown green beans are a nutritious food source but their US non-organically grown counterparts are one of the most pesticide contaminated vegetables around. So much so that Consumer Reports places them in their ‘high risk’ food group. (1)
Although many of the pesticide residues found in green beans raise health concerns the most alarming is acephate. Designed to play havoc with a crop pest’s nervous system, studies suggest this chemical can do the same to humans and cause brain damage. (1)
And green beans have a long history of being one of the dirtiest vegetables for US consumers having featured as a high risk vegetable on the Consumer Reports list almost every year since testing began back in the 1990s.
The Environmental Working Group is in total agreement. Green Beans feature 21st on their ‘Dirty Dozen’ report. (2)

The verdict

Replace your green beans with one of the less chemically contaminated vegetables such as sweet corn, cabbage or asparagus or switch to organic.
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Too much sugar in the diet can have a disastrous effect on your body and when talking sugar sources soda and other fructose corn syrup-loaded drinks are the biggest baddies.
Way back in the 60s it was suspected that excess sugar and heart disease went hand in hand-in-hand but a mountain of studies since have proved it to be certain beyond doubt. One study conducted over 20 years found that there was a 20% higher risk of heart attack from drinking just one sugary drink per day. (1)
And it isn’t just your heart under attack. The liver isn’t designed to cope with processing constant high levels of fructose and this can eventually lead to non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. (2)
Last up of the most serious health concerns is soda’s links with diabetes. Excess sugar can lead to insulin resistance (3) and then on to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes which according to many studies takes just one can of soda a day. (4)
Of course all that sugar is going to have plenty of impact on your weight too but most people don’t know just how much. One study found that children who drank just one daily serving of sugar-sweetened drinks were 60% more likely to become obese. (5)

The verdict

Ditch the soda – it is bad for your heart, your liver, your metabolic system, your weight and your teeth.
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Margarine was originally invented as a cheap alternative to butter and was for a long time promoted as a healthier alternative. But professional thinking changes sometimes after further studies and recent research has called into question the whole argument about whether or not butter is the villain health professionals have told us it is for years. Margarine however can’t avoid its bad rap.

Highly processed from vegetable oil, margarine contains emulsifiers, colorants and artificial ingredients. Worst of all, in order to turn it from a runny oil into a solid suitable for spreading it undergoes a process known as hydrogenation where some of the vegetable oil is converted into trans fats. In short – extremely bad news for your body because this increases the risk of heart disease. (1) Some manufacturers produce trans fat-free margarines which are better but this isn’t the only health risk of margarine. There are several published studies which connect the vegetable oils such as soybean and safflower from which margarine is made with cancer, extreme mood irregularities and heart disease. (2, 3, 4)

The verdict

If your margarine ingredients label includes the word ‘hydrogenated’ avoid it or better still switch to butter sourced from grass-fed cows.
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While the best granolas packed with grains, seeds and nuts can be a true health buddy you are going to have to choose wisely if this product is a breakfast favorite for you. Often hiding behind all those highly beneficial ingredients can be a ton of sugar and fats – especially in granola varieties that add such things as sugar-coated fruit and chocolate chips.
One of the most common myths surrounding granola is that it isn’t too calorie loaded which couldn’t be further from the truth. Some varieties of granola contain so much sugar just one cupful has 600 calories which equates to almost a third of the recommended 2000 calories daily allowance for women.
The sugar content is disguised on the ingredients label under such names as evaporated cane juice, molasses, brown rice syrup or oat syrup solids. Don’t be fooled – these are all still sugar sources and excess sugar in the diet poses a long list of health risks with heart disease way out in front.
Granola can also pose another risk to heart health with its inclusion of oils. Hydrogenated oils are the worst and there are a heap of studies which link them with a far higher risk of heart disease. (1)

The verdict

There ARE some great healthy granola varieties out there. Check your labels and avoid anything which lists hydrogenated oil, artificial flavors or high-fructose corn syrup.
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The presence of fat-free peanut butter on the shelves of supermarkets is a classic example of manufacturers jumping on the healthy eating band wagon. Savvy marketers know that most people equate ‘fat-free’ with good. However, not all fats are created equal and some are not just highly beneficial but essential to good health. The fats in peanuts (a combination of polyunsaturated fat and monounsaturated fats) are some of the good fats so removing them is not just pointless but extracting goodness from the product.
Even more unbelievably these fats are often replaced with sugars. This not only makes the fat-free peanut butter versions as high in calories as their full fat counterparts but also means loading your diet with even more sugar. Too much sugar in the diet leads to all kinds of health risks most notably that of a heightened risk of heart disease.

The verdict

Both fat-free and non fat-free peanut butter are fairly high in calories but the non-fat free version is typically more nutritious especially if you ensure hydrogenated fats are not listed on the ingredients information label.
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One super popular trend among the current get-healthy set is green smoothies. If it was only vegetables being thrown into the blender we might have been able to leave smoothies off this foods to avoid list. However, pulped vegetable, with a few exceptions, typically taste awful so fruits are typically added in to improve the flavor.
Doing this presents us with exactly the same problems as discussed under the fruit juice entry. Namely, the body just isn’t designed to cope with huge doses of fructose (the sugar in fruit) in this way. The liver takes a real bashing and, as many studies have shown, the consequent health risks include insulin resistance, elevated cholesterol and accumulated belly fat.(1, 2)
The body loves fruit when it is eaten whole. Not only does it then get its fiber fix but the fructose is processed by the body at a controlled rate, keeping the liver happy and functioning as it should.
Many people attempting to keep control of their weight use smoothies as a healthy food replacement which could prove to be a less than wise decision. Besides the high calorie count from too much fruit sugar, research has also shown liquefied consumption doesn’t satisfy the appetite as well as that of solids so you are more likely to crave more food later. (3)

The verdict

Use your teeth to eat whole fruit as nature intended, reduce the fruit content of your smoothies or save them as a treat.
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Most people know cake isn’t one of the healthiest treats but people often assume carrot cake is better because it has carrots in. Carrots are indeed one its many ingredients but so too are many other things which sound like a route straight to heart attack and ill health. Commercially produced carrot cake is a parcel of several fats and various sugars as well as additives and preservatives while home-made versions are often little better.
A typical ingredient list of a store-bought carrot cake once the carrot, nuts, spices and other non-harmful ingredients have been taken out can read something like this –

  • dark brown sugar
  • rapeseed oil
  • sugar
  • medium fat soft cheese
  • humectant vegetable glycerol – also known as glycerin, an additive produced from plant oils
  • unsalted butter
  • partially inverted refiners syrup – containing fructose
  • diphosphates – an additive used as a bulking agent, thickener and emulsifier
  • potassium hydrogen carbonate – a compound used in baking
  • sodium carbonate – a food additive used as a raising agent
  • potassium sorbate – a preservative

Besides the more obvious heart, liver and other health risks presented by so much fat and sugar there are a couple of extra concerns. Potassium sorbate is a very common chemical found in baked goods, canned vegetables and cheese and until very recently was thought to be relatively harmless. However, some of the more current studies have suggested that it is more toxic than originally thought and researchers are now starting to link it with several long term health issues. (1)
Diphosphates have been known for a while to present serious health risks to kidney patients but scientists are now realizing it can also cause problems even for those with healthy kidneys. (2)
All of these other not-so-great aspects aside, carrot cake is going to do little for those watching their weight. One portion of carrot cake can have anything from 300 to 800 calories. That is almost half of a woman’s intake for one day in just one slice!

The verdict

Trying to fit cake of any kind into a healthy diet is tricky but if you can’t resist bake your own to keep the harmful elements to a minimum.
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Fish, at its best, is an incredible food source packed with all kinds of things which are good for us. However, as we have already seen with shrimp, farmed fish and wild fish cannot be heaped into the same healthy category and farmed salmon is a definite food to avoid.

For starters farmed fish just doesn’t contain the same nutrients as wild fish. For example, the omega-3 content of farmed salmon is significantly less due to their diet. (1)
However, there are several issues connected with farmed salmon far more worrying than reduced nutritional value. In order to keep salmon healthy in the farmed environment, there is a wide spread use of several pesticides, many of them deemed sufficiently toxic to be banned. Unfortunately this doesn’t prevent some setups continuing to use them illegally.
Researchers in Albany have found farmed salmon samples to contain scarily high levels of the environmental pollutant known as dioxins; eleven times more in fact than is found in wild salmon. (2) There have been innumerable studies done on the subject of dioxins and the health risks they present to humans and they don’t make for happy reading. Dioxins are linked to cancer, organ damage and dysfunctions of the immune system. (3)

The verdict

Farmed fish is almost always bad news and not just because of the health risks it involves but also for the negative impact it has on the environment. Source your salmon from ethical wild-caught sources.
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It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out that if a farm animal is pumped full of hormones and drugs and fed with foods riddled with pesticides and toxic chemicals it isn’t going to make for very healthy eating meat. However, much of the meat on our supermarket shelves is exactly that – in short, their bad diet is your bad diet.
Nature intended that many of the animals we use to provide us with meat eat pasture grasses and plants full of fiber. Factory farmed animals are denied such a diet and instead are fed with the cheapest sub-standard grains or even waste product food stuffs to keep costs down. The result is an animal that wouldn’t survive without constant doses of antibiotics or other medications.
One study conducted in 2012 identified a range of highly concerning drug traces in factory farmed chickens including antibiotics, allergy medications, painkillers and Prozac – a drug used to treat depression in humans. Several of these drugs are considered to be so harmful to humans they are actually illegal to use in farming practices. (1)
And your reasons for avoiding factory farmed meats don’t end there. If you are intent on a healthy nutrient-rich diet you are unlikely to find it here. Compared to their grass-fed cousins, the meat of factory farmed animals has a far lower vitamin content and very little of the healthy fats known as omega-3 fatty acids.

The verdict

Support your local farmers and buy meat from trusted sources only. It will cost more but it is worth it.
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Full-fat milk is another of those consumer choices specifically avoided by many of the health-conscious population. However, nutrition professionals are now telling us it is a far better choice than its reduced-fat counterparts, especially for those trying to control their weight. One 2016 study strongly suggests that full-fat milk drinkers were less likely to be obese than those that drank low-fat dairy. (1) Although no-one it seems is yet quite sure why that should be one theory is connected to how full-fat milk satisfies the appetite more and so leads to less eating overall.
Another health concern regarding reduced-fat milk varieties is their typical amount of added sugar content. Sugar is a prime food villain for highly elevated risks of both heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Leading the pack for best milk choices is organic milk which studies show us has a far healthier fatty acids ratio. This is thought to be linked to the practice of natural pasture feeding of dairy cattle on organic farms. (2)

The verdict

Lose your prejudice against full-fat dairy products and for the best milk choice of all opt for organic varieties.
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