19 Common Foods Linked to Chronic Diseases

Food is essential for survival and provides our bodies with the nutrients they need, but not all grocery items and meal choices are created equal when it comes to health. Certain dietary choices can increase the risk of developing chronic diseases, particularly when consumed in excess. Here are 19 common foods scientists say cause long-term medical problems.

Sugar-Sweetened Beverages (SSBs)

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Sodas, sports drinks, and fruit juices with added sugar are loaded with empty calories and glucose. Excessive sugar consumption has been linked to an increased risk of obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD). Keep them as one-off treats and opt for water, unsweetened tea or coffee, or naturally flavored sparkling water.

Red Meat

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According to Harvard Health, “An accumulated body of evidence shows a clear link between a high intake of red and processed meats and a higher risk for heart disease, cancer, diabetes, and premature death.” Eat meats like beef, pork, venison, and lamb no more than a few times a month, and always choose high-quality, lean cuts served with plenty of vegetables.

Processed White Bread

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White bread and other refined grain products are stripped of their bran and germ, severely reducing their fiber content. They’re also often ‘bleached’ to artificially age the grains, making them finer and whiter. These processes increase the risk of constipation, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. Choose whole-wheat bread instead or foods like brown rice, quinoa, and oats.

Fried Foods

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Fried products like fries, doughnuts, and southern-style chicken are cooked in oils that are high in trans fats—artificial fats created by adding hydrogen to liquid vegetable oils. Consumption of trans fats raises LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and lowers HDL (“good”) cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart disease and stroke. Look for labels that state “0g trans fat” and avoid partially hydrogenated oils.

Fatty Meat

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Fatty meat and other high-fat animal products (like butter and cream) are high in saturated fat. While they shouldn’t be entirely excluded, excessive consumption can raise LDL cholesterol and cause blockages in the heart. WebMD states that in a diet of 2,000 calories, no more than 120 of these should come from fats that are solid at room temperature—approximately 20–30g per day.

Luncheon Meat

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Cold cuts like processed ham and baloney are often made from poor-quality, high-fat meats that have been ground down and bulked up with salt and water. This is also true of hot dogs, cheap bacon, and canned meats like SPAM. A number of studies link these foods to various cancers, diabetes, and heart disease. Opt for whole, cured meats or plant-based alternatives.

Store-bought Pizza

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Frozen pizza is one of the saltiest American grocery items, and the processed dough also contains excessive amounts of trans fat. Too much sodium causes high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease. Learn to make your own dough at home and add naturally low-salt toppings, like fresh vegetables and mozzarella cheese. 

Peeled White Potatoes 

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White potatoes themselves are not inherently unhealthy, but consuming them without their skin makes them a starchy option devoid of the fiber and nutrients residing under the skin. This can lead to blood sugar spikes, especially when eaten alone. Enjoy white potatoes in moderation, avoid frying or adding dairy, and always wash them so you can consume them unpeeled.

Packaged Snacks

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Potato chips, cookies, crackers, and other commercially packaged snacks may be convenient and tasty, but they’re typically packed full of empty calories, unhealthy fats, sugars, and extra sodium. These contribute to weight gain, heart disease, and type 2 diabetes. Choose fresh, homemade snacks instead, like nuts, fruits with nut butter, or veggie sticks with hummus.

Processed Meats with Nitrates

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Sodium nitrite is a common preservative added to processed meats to prevent spoilage and enhance color. Although research is conflicting, Medical News Today claims some studies found a link between nitrites and an increased risk of bladder, breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer. Limit the amount of processed meat in your diet, and always choose nitrate-free options.

Sugary Cereals

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Many commercially available breakfast cereals, particularly those aimed at children, are packed with added sugar and refined grains. They offer little nutritional value and can cause blood sugar spikes, obesity, and type 2 diabetes. Choose oatmeal or whole-grain cereals with minimal added sugar, or swap your breakfast grains for fruit, yogurt, or poached eggs.

Diet Soda

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If you thought you could safely swap sugary sodas for diet options, think again! The long-term effects of artificial sweeteners are still being researched, but excessive consumption has been linked to high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and unhealthy cholesterol levels. Swap diet foods containing aspartame and other sweeteners for naturally sweet foods like dried fruit. 

Charred Barbecue Meats 

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Grilling and barbecuing can be delicious ways to prepare meats, but cooking at high temperatures can lead to the formation of harmful compounds called heterocyclic amines (HCAs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These compounds increase your risk of certain cancers. Always marinate BBQ meat before grilling, and avoid blackening it.

Commercially Produced Pastries

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These tempting treats are often loaded with sugar, saturated fats, and refined carbohydrates, all offering maximum calories with zero nutritional value and a range of health issues. To avoid weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease, consume grocery-store croissants, pies, and Danish pastries in moderation and bake your own versions whenever possible.

Flavored Microwave Popcorn 

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Popcorn itself is a healthy, low-calorie snack, but beware of commercially produced options with artificial flavorings (like butter or cheese) and unhealthy levels of fat and sodium. These negate any health benefits from the corn itself and can cause heart disease and weight gain. Choose air-popped popcorn instead and season it yourself with nut or olive oil and herbs.

Canned Soups

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Canned soups may be a convenient meal option, but they are high in sodium and additives. HealthWins warns that excess salt, in particular, can lead to bloating, heart disease, hypertension, and endocrine problems. Artificial additives, depending on their type, are also linked to various health risks. Make your own soup instead—it’s quick, cheap, nutritious, and oh-so-easy!

Flavored Yogurts

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While plain or natural yogurt can be a gut-healthy source of protein and calcium, artificially flavored varieties are often loaded with added sugar and artificial flavorings, causing weight gain, blood sugar spikes, and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. Choose plain yogurt instead, and sweeten it yourself with fresh or dried fruit or a drizzle of honey.

Chicken Nuggets

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Despite being marketed at children (the members of society who most require adequate nutrition for healthy growth), chicken nuggets are far from nutritious. They’re made from heavily processed, poor-quality chicken that’s often been bulked up with preservatives, water, and excess sodium. Choose whole chicken breast instead, and make your own goujons at home.

Agave Nectar

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This sugar alternative is marketed as a healthy, natural sweetener, but it’s just concentrated fructose! Excessive fructose consumption can lead to similar health concerns as regular sugar, including fatty liver disease, weight gain, and diabetes. Limit added sugars of all types and opt for naturally sweet fruits or honey, which at least have some nutritional value.

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