The war between nutrition camps has hit another level. In an effort to help work some things out to best promote the health of every man, woman, and child, I present to you the Top 5 Bottom 5 foods for your health that I think we can all get behind.
These are the five worst items that I believe are making us fat, sluggish, and prone to disease.
It’s not the things that are bad-bad, like deep-fried cheesecake, because anyone with a slight inclination to watch what they eat will avoid that stuff on most occasions.
I wanted to hone in on what’s bringing us down the most. If these five things vanished, the health of our world would flourish greatly.
5. Breakfast Pastries
Some say breakfast is the most important meal, others say it’s best to skip it altogether, but we can all agree that dessert for breakfast is a bad way to start the day.
The problem is that we often find ourselves on the run in the morning. Left to rely on the display case at the coffee shop, or the office break room, or a quick run through the hotel breakfast.
A four-hundred calorie muffin, donut, or bagel is not ridiculous in the calorie sense. Although for the health of your body, it leaves you feeling crummy, crashing shortly after, and little substance to carry to you on to the next meal.
4. The Snack Dish
The “Snack Dish” is the term I decided on for the bowl of salty or sugary stuff found lying around.
In my family, it’s classically a combination of salt, peanuts, Chex cereal, and it seems like a sprinkle of cocaine, that comes out at holiday events. We call it “party trash,” but you may identify it as something like chocolate, nuts, or candy.
The Snack Dish isn’t food for nourishment, but rather a quick hit of something delicious. Usually addictive to the point that you keep grabbing a “tiny” handful…until it’s all gone.
Thus, be careful of food consumption to tickle the brain, rather than provide nourishment.
3. Restaurant Salads
I’m referring to the high-calorie faux salad used to get dressing into our mouths. Eating out the other night, I found the calorie content on the salads rivaled the cheeseburger (by the way, I’m a huge fan of the legislation requiring cals on menus.)
The high cal salad is also a proxy for all things that masquerade as health foods, so throw things like smoothies, energy bars, and granola into number three as well.
It’s important to understand that regardless of its affiliation to vegetable, natural, organic, vegan, keto, or whatever else, it can still contribute to poor health if consumed in excess.
Chef and author, Samin Nosrat, identified salt, fat, acid, and heat as four elemental ingredients to great food. The french fry (dipped in ketchup) wraps them all into one highly addictive item.
Damage control on a “junk food” excursion, like burgers or chicken wings, could easily be navigated by subtracting the additional meal worth of calories served on the plate as fries. Like other foods on this list, they’re calorie dense, provide little nutritional value, and are easily consumed until the box is empty.
They seem to live on every list of side items, seducing you away from choices that could provide nutritional value with less calories.
1. Sugar-Filled Drinks
I didn’t want to do this. We all know soda is bad, and we’ve caught onto the 900-calorie coffee drinks too. I wanted something more thought-provoking and creative.
But in the week while I was laboring over this list, I caught a podcast with Dr. Peter Attia and host Tim Ferriss which I highly recommend if you’ve got a few hours.
Dr. Attia referenced a study that high fructose corn syrup accelerated colon tumor growth in mice genetically prone to them (2:09:00 in the podcast; and the study for your ref). There are a lot of things to unpack from the study, and colon cancer is just one of many health issues to be concerned about, but his example highlights how bad drinks are different than bad food.
Consuming a bunch of sugar isn’t great altogether, but when taken in as food, at least, there is the digestion of other things in the food to slow down its processing. Sugary beverages, though, have a speedy transit time directly into the body.
Since I can’t get clever on this one, I’ll quote Dr. Attia, “The single worst thing you can do is drink your sugar.”
As a side note, I wrestled with adding booze into this category.
While you’re still drinking calories, there is a rate limiter to alcohol consumption. Most only drink at certain times of the day, and too much starts making you feel bad.
Thus, since you can quickly consume sugary drinks without inhibition, they are a standalone home-run, on the top five list of bad things for your health.
The Top 5 (Best) Foods for Health
Now, let’s take a look at the other end of the spectrum. The following are this reporter’s thoughts on the best foods for our health. I respect that you might not agree with me on all of them, but I think as a whole, eating more of these would improve our health a ton, and is backed by sound evidence.
The tune on the health benefits of whole grains has lessened over the last few years. A lot of that is because the “Heart Healthy Whole Grain” mark is mainly a means to market things primarily made of sugar as healthy.
Although, despite its label as a processed food (since you can’t go to an oat field and go to town, but you must break it down and cook it first), the research on oats, rolled or steel-cut, point to it being a great food option as long as you avoid the sugar-loaded options.
It’s got fiber and phytochemicals, which are both tied to fighting off disease. It’s also easy and convenient as a morning food item so that you can dodge a crappy breakfast. Additionally, it’s an excellent medium to get other good stuff into your diet. Currently, I throw raspberries, walnuts, cinnamon, and chia seeds into my mix.
I love my coffee and hang onto every piece of evidence that says it’s good for me. Although, I’m well aware that I, and many other health-conscious people, tend to take in too much. Going overboard on caffeine leads to sleep issues, feelings of anxiety, and an overall crummy feeling.
My answer to this problem, which will probably help my other caffeine-addicted amigos, is to swap out the coffee for a cup of tea. It has much less caffeine than coffee, but still enough to get you going, along with other healthy things like catechins, polyphenols, and flavonoids.
Here is a recent article that will let you dive deeper into the health research on tea.
3. Roasted Veggies
I named fries to the list of worst foods for health. Of course, fries aren’t a good option, they’re full of calories and not all that filling. Although my biggest beef is they’re the default side in place of healthier options.
Imagine your favorite “unhealthy” food entre— like chicken wings, cheeseburgers, or pizza— cut the serving size down and throw a big bowl of roasted broccoli along the side instead, and it’s suddenly not too bad. Veggies by themselves should make the health food list, but we’re looking for real solutions to eating better.
We could all choke down the raw broccoli, but it’s much easier when it’s appetizing. Perfectly roasted broccoli and brussel sprouts make the rounds in my house. Toss them with a splash of olive oil and kosher salt, and then into the oven at 425 for about 15 minutes.
Low cal, filling, and delicious—If you want fries, you can roast sweet potato too, it is just a bit more tedious and takes longer to cook.
We were prepping for an interview with Ben Bergeron, coach and trainer of the fittest men and women in the world, and a specimen of fitness himself. In soundcheck, the engineer asked him what he had for breakfast, and he said salmon and sweet potato. Still getting things adjusted, he was then asked what he had for breakfast yesterday, again salmon and sweet potato. I made a note.
Now, just because one guy does it, doesn’t mean we all should, but I do think we should get more lean proteins from fish, and salmon is probably the best option that will work for most.
There are significant issues related to its sourcing though. Generally, salmon raised on farms are known to havehigher levels of contaminants and fats believed to be harmful to health. Farms have improved as of late, but if you’ve got the option, it’s probably still best to buy wild-caught.
Even better, though, is buying fish lower on the food chain, like sardines, shellfish, anchovies, and herring, but I understand that not everyone wants a can of sardines for lunch.
I happen to make this honey garlic salmon recipe about once a week. It tastes great, quick, and only takes one pan. Some may take issue with the honey or soy, but I cut the sauce down by more than half and still have plenty.
Notice the paradox. Salad made the worst foods too. Like all foods on this list, depending on how it’s prepared, it can quickly go best to worst. But if done right, the salad is about as good as it gets.
Author Ramit Sethi writes in his personal finance book, I Will Teach You to Be Rich, about finding your rich life. He encourages overspending in areas that bring you the most happiness and cutting mercilessly in areas that don’t.
My rich life would be overspending on lunch every day at a lavish salad bar. A smorgasbord loaded with a variety of greens, veggies, fats, and proteins, all in a single meal that leaves you satisfied and feeling great.
Unfortunately, I don’t have this available yet, but I’ve found the next best bet is the Salad Adventure article by Mark Sisson of Mark’s Daily Apple. Bon Appétit!
Thanks for reading and I hope you agree with me that these are the Top 5 and Bottom 5 foods for health. If you disagree, sign onto social media, I would love to get into a big fight about it. But not really…