A Guide to Bad Foods

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What You Need to Know

  1. A bad diet can lead to a ream of health problems later in life, including obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
  2. While no foods are genuinely “bad”, what counts is how often you eat foods that are high in sugar, fat and salt – everything is okay in moderation.
  3. Remember balance is the key to a good diet, so try to stick to only small amounts of foods and drinks containing fat, sugar and salt.
  4. The NHS recommends that adults should eat no more than six grams of salt per day.
  5. As well as the foods you eat, you should also watch what you drink. Fruit juice is high in sugar and can cause tooth decay, while too much alcohol can lead to even more serious problems.
  6. A good, well-balanced diet is particularly important for children. Watch out for additives in foods and be strict when it comes to sugary and fatty treats.

‘Empty Calories’

Nutrition experts warn against eating foods which are little more than ‘empty calories’. That is, products that, though they may be filling, have little or no nutritional value. Also known as ‘junk food’, these products may be contain unhealthily high levels of saturated fats, salts and sugar while containing little or no real fruit or vegetable matter or dietary fibre.


Many types of foods, including fruit and even milk contain sugars, but it’s not these types of foods that we need to cut down on.

We all need to try to reduce our intake of foods that have had sugar added to them, such as fizzy drinks and juice drinks, sweets and biscuits, jam, cakes, pastries, puddings and ice cream. These kinds of foods are often high in calories, but offer few other nutrients, so you should eat them only occasionally.

Health problems associated with eating too much added sugar include obesity and tooth decay – especially if you snack on sugary foods between meals – with even too much fruit juice and honey likely to lead to the latter.

Whole fruit on the other hand, is far less likely to damage your teeth as the sugars are contained in the structure of the fruit – and only released when it’s blended to make juice. If you are going to have fruit juice – after all, it can count towards your ‘five a day’ – then try to have it with a meal.


Too much salt over time can cause health problems, including high blood pressure and heart disease. But many of our favourite foods are packed with salt. Crisps, digestive biscuits, tomato ketchup, cornflakes, and even bread, all contain large amounts of hidden sodium.

Quick, easy changes to your diet can have an instant effect. Stop adding salt at the table and halve the amount you use in cooking. Try to replace salt in your diet with natural flavours: chilli, ginger, garlic, cumin, and herbs such as basil, mint and coriander are great substitutes. Foods with plenty of natural flavour are onions, tomatoes and beef and need no salt.

Most people don’t realise that they are eating high levels of salt in everyday foods such as bread, breakfast cereals and pastry products, and up to 70 per cent of their salt intake comes from processed food.

The sodium contained in salt helps regulate the body's fluid balance and is also necessary for nerve and muscle activity – so it’s important not to cut it out of your diet completely. NHS Choices recommends that an adult should consume no more than six grams of salt a day, equivalent to one full teaspoon. Children, especially babies and young infants, should eat significantly less.


There are two types of fat in foods; saturated and unsaturated. Unsaturated fats actually help your body to reduce cholesterol and provide our bodies with the essential fatty acids we need. Omega 3 fatty acids – a type of unsaturated fat that’s found in oily fish – also helps to fight heart disease, so it’s a good idea to make sure that you eat some foods rich in unsaturated fats.

Foods rich in unsaturated fats include oily fish, avocado, nuts and seeds, sunflower, rapeseed, olive and vegetable oils, and their spreads.

However, it’s still a good idea to cut down on bad saturated fats, which can raise your blood’s cholesterol levels, increasing your risk of heart disease later in life. Foods that include saturated fat, and that you should cut down on, include fatty cuts of meat like sausages and pies, butter, ghee and lard, cream, cheese, pastries, cakes and biscuits and some savoury snacks.


A glass of wine a day is said to protect against heart disease, strokes and possibly some forms of gallstones, but excessive drinking and binge drinking can damage your body. Alcohol depresses the nervous system, and too much closes off the part of the brain that controls judgement, while long-term alcohol abuse can lead to depression, anxiety and lethargy.

The official Government guidelines for safe drinking are 14 units a week for women and 21 for men. A unit is equivalent to one small glass of wine, half a pint of regular-strength beer, or a single pub measure of spirits.

There are various illnesses caused by excess alcohol intake. Although red wine can protect the heart, too much is thought to cause heart disease and high blood pressure, which can lead to strokes.

Alcohol is also very fattening. A single glass of white wine contains 85 calories and sweet wine 120. If you stick to recommended drinking levels, you can consume an extra 6,500 calories per month.

And alcohol affects the liver, with prolonged heavy drinking upsetting the delicate balance of enzymes in the liver, causing fatty globules to develop that can swell this vital organ.


A nut allergy is a reaction to the proteins in nuts, with symptoms that can be fairly mild – nausea and itchy eyes – or more severe, including swollen throat and mouth, a drop in blood pressure and breathing difficulties.

A sudden, severe reaction is known as anaphylaxis and can be fatal. The British Nutrition Foundation estimates that up to one per cent of the population may be allergic to nuts.

Nuts, particularly peanuts, are used in a surprisingly large number of products, including breads, desserts, yoghurts, chocolate and vegetarian products. If a production line is used for a food that contains nuts, there's a chance that non-nut foods will also be contaminated.

There's no specific British law on nut labelling, but there is a voluntary code of conduct outlined by the Institute of Grocery Distributors that says a manufacturer should try to ensure its products don't carry traces of nuts.

Dieters also need to beware: just 100g of peanuts contains more than one quarter of the calories needed daily by a woman to remain fit and healthy.

Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners exist in all sorts of foods from yoghurt to toothpaste. The soft drinks industry is the biggest user, and they are present in many foods and drinks, in addition to the tablets to sweeten tea and coffee.

They contain virtually no calories – compared with 16 calories per teaspoon of sugar – and are widely used in diet foods and supplements, though recent research has suggested that they may not help users to lose weight.

The use of artificial sweeteners in food is regulated in the UK and there are controls on how much can be included in a product. There is an “acceptable daily intake”, and food labels must now state “with sweeteners”.

Children’s diets

Children need a healthy, varied diet, but research shows that most kids are eating a dangerously unbalanced diet, high in saturated fats, sugar and salt, and low in fruit and vegetables.

The number of overweight and obese children in the UK has been growing steadily over the past 20 years, with around 27 per cent of kids overweight in 2009, with poor diets and reduced exercise being blamed.

Additives are also a problem. According to Government research, food colourings used in many popular children's foods can cause temper tantrums and disruptive behaviour in up to a quarter of toddlers.

Research scientists at the UK’s Asthma & Allergy Research Centre concluded that “significant changes in children’s hyperactive behaviour could be produced by the removal of colourings and additives from their diet”.

Following the study, the Food Commission found more than 100 children’s foods and drinks containing one or more of the additives called into question by the research.

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