As a nutrition professional who works with food, there are many unhealthy items that, truth be told, make my skin crawl. (Those bowls made out of bacon?! I’m a bacon fan, but come on!) And I’m not alone. I polled registered dietitians from across the country to see what foods drive them bonkers. Some of answers are to be expected (deep-fried carnival foods were never going to win any nutritional awards from this crowd). But on the other end of the spectrum: Foods everyone seems to think are more virtuous than they really are (sorry, organic snack chips). Here, dietitians reveal all.
Snacks and Drinks
From super-size sodas to colossal candy bars, plenty of grab-n-go foods give dietitians the jitters. And right up there with classic junk faves are the snack foods that pass as a lot healthier than they actually are.
“I’m just amazed at all the new chips on the market: whole-grain, sprouted-grain, sweet potato, all-natural, organic,” says Jill Nussinow, MS, RD. “But let’s face it, they are chips. People can live very well, maybe even better, without them. Chips are a once-in-a-while food.”
Julie Rose Swift, RDN, of Los Angeles, has a problem with a popular spicy cheese-crisp, especially when it comes to school-age children. “Not only are they void of any beneficial nutrients, they are full of artificial food dyes, mainly Red #40.”
Whitney Ahneman, MS, RDN, CLT, owner of Witty Nutrition, has little patience for fruit and vegetable stand-ins: “Commercials that insinuate that drinking a vegetable juice can replace eating real and whole vegetables in your day — those juices aren’t healthy and no amount of food marketing can truly replace eating the recommended servings of real fruits and vegetables, something only 1 percent of Americans do!”
Surprise: Many nutrition experts are bent out of shape about the ever-growing list of unnecessarily fried foods.
Getting the ball rolling, Lisa Krausman, RD, LD, MA, from University of Northern Iowa, shared her discontent with carnival staples like deep-fried Twinkies and Oreo cookies.
Lynn Grieger expressed her angst over a southern-fried classic: “Chicken-fried steak drives me nuts. I can’t figure out why anyone would want to bread and fry a perfectly good steak.”
And Monica Lebre, MS RD LDN proved that not everyone was enamored of the hottest food trend of last year — the Cronut, the now-trademark-named pastry. “At over 500 calories and 35 grams of fat, it’s probably not the best breakfast option.”
Sharon Palmer, RD, author of The Plant-Powered Diet, called out the deep-fried onion now popular at many chain restaurants: “One order contains up to 2,000 calories — and that’s just the appetizer!”
Yes, it’s true: Jumbo portions make dietitians more than a little nervous.
“My food nightmare,” says Victoria Shanta Retelny, RD, LDN, author of The Essential Guide to Healthy Healing Foods, is the meat-fest pizza. The chain offering “has four kinds of meat: pepperoni, ham, Italian sausage and beef, plus extra cheese. My heart hurts just thinking about eating it!”
Another take-out pizza item — but one that’s not pizza — makes Krista Ulatowski, MPH, RD, shake her head: “A national pizza chain that is introducing a pizza-size chocolate-chip cookie for $5 to accompany one’s pizza order,” Ulatowski says. “I cringe when I see ‘sometimes foods,’ such as pizza, being offered as part of a deal with other ‘sometimes foods,’ such as a gigantic cookie. I cringe a second time when that food item is the size of a pizza.”
Lori Zanini calls out another popular chain restaurant offering, and the dish’s name speaks for itself: the Widow Maker Burger, which includes fried onion rings, bacon, cheddar cheese and mayo. “With over 2,900 mg sodium and more than 1,500 calories in one meal, it is a disaster for anyone — dietitian or not,” Zanini says.
Dana Angelo White, MS, RD, ATC, is a registered dietitian, certified athletic trainer and owner of Dana White Nutrition, Inc., which specializes in culinary and sports nutrition. See Dana’s full bio »