As health and fitness fanatics, we’re all for munching on pre-prepped fish, veggies and rice in reusable containers for most of the week. But let’s be real here: Eating clean 24/7 isn’t just unattainable—it’s unhealthy. Cheat days or meals, where you allow yourself to momentarily indulge in the foods you enjoy the most, are critical for staying sane while on a healthy eating regimen.
But while it’s tempting on those days to grab every plastic-wrapped, carb-loaded treat in sight, according to these nutritionists, there are certain foods so unhealthy, so repulsive, or just so unworthwhile (nutrient- and satisfaction-wise), that they should be avoided pretty much at all costs, even when cheating.
Here, nutritionists reveal seven of their biggest food foes that they would never (pretty much ever) eat.
Diet TV Dinners
When Edwina Clark, MS, RD, and head of nutrition at Yummly, strolls down the frozen aisle, words like “lean” or “smart” on labels is a surefire sign that she should steer clear of buying them.
“Low-calorie TV dinners may be light on energy, but many are packed with trans fat, salt and myriad artificial ingredients,” Clark explains. “Trans fat like partially hydrogenated vegetable oil are banned in many countries because they increase bad cholesterol and inflammation and reduce good cholesterol, among other things!”
Instant noodles or soup
Ramen and chowder lovers, get your tissues ready. Tehzeeb Lalani, a Mumbai, India-based nutritionist, won’t touch any kind of instant noodles or soup and explains why you shouldn’t either: “Instant noodles and soup have an excess of salt, MSG, added coloring and flavoring agents,” she explains. “In addition, it’s very addictive on the palate and has a very poor nutrient profile. Excess salt leads to bloating and water retention, while MSG has been linked to headaches, dizziness and fatigue short-term.”
She recalls a popular brand of instant noodles in India that was recalled in several parts of the country due to high levels of toxins. Still need your noodle fix? Try any one of these homemade ramen recipes.
One seemingly “healthy” food that Keri Glassman, MS, RD, CDN, and founder of NutritiousLife.com, wouldn’t touch in the snack section? Mini pretzels.
“Pretzels still have the healthy fat-free halo, but they’re are all refined carbs!” she explains. “In other words, they are no different than eating a bowl of jelly beans. They have no fiber, no protein, and no healthy fats to keep you satisfied or add health benefits to the calories you’re consuming.”
We’ll take the bag of jelly beans, too.
Aside from the butter-slathered version you get in a movie theater, those convenient 100-calorie popcorn bags are optimal for healthy snacking, right? Not even close, according to Rebecca Lewis, the in-house RD at HelloFresh.
“While popcorn is considered a whole grain, I never eat the microwave kind. It’s a processed food that is loaded with fat and sodium and, even worse, the bag lining has diacetyl in it,” Lewis warns. “This chemical gives popcorn its buttery flavor. However, it is also toxic when heated.”
The good news, according to Lewis? Homemade versions that are equally (if not more) delicious cut down substantially on the fat and sodium levels, and are pretty easy to make. She offers one of her favorite methods for cooking popcorn on the stove: “I opt to make popcorn on the stove top and use peanut oil for the best results, or even better using an air-popper,” she says. “Then to decrease the amount of salt, I get creative with my toppings. My favorite? Nutritional yeast flakes—it tastes like cheese without all the fat!”
For Hanna Gregor, founder and leading certified nutritionist of OH! Juice, non-organic meats are a definite no-no for both health (and personal) reasons.
“I would have to say that I confidently would never eat any conventionally raised animal products ever again,” she says. “Non-organic and non-pasture raised meat and dairy is a very ‘dirty’ industry, filled with antibiotics and hormones. In addition, I believe that the industry is not in it for the health of the consumer, but rather for the profits. It’s something I don’t want my dollar supporting or my health being compromised by.”
Anything with artificial sugar
If it’s your sweet tooth that’s aching come cheat day, better to go for one big sugar-laden sundae than 10 sugar-free cookies, according to Jaime Schehr, ND, RD, CDN.
“There are many foods I would rarely ever but the one I would never eat is fake sugar,” she says. “These sugar substitutes, often found in diet foods, low-sugar foods and surprisingly in many healthy shakes and supplements, are bad for you for may reasons. They cause IBS and stomach problems, and can cause cause disruption to the good bacterial balance in your gut, which leads to IBS, intestinal bacterial overgrowth, constipation and skin problems.”
Cheese-flavored baked chips
We will be the first to admit that cheese is the glue that holds our life together. But while there is nothing better than diving face-first into giant pizza pie, according to Gregor, if that cheese isn’t actually cheese (i.e. disguised in the form of Cheetos or cheese-flavored chips), you’ll be ingesting a slew of toxic, unnatural ingredients, in addition to unnecessary calories and carbs.
“Cheese-flavored snacks are something that I try to stay away from,” she says. “Although they’re lower in fat, these luminous orange snacks are basically devoid of nutrients and packed with artificial colors, flavors and highly refined carbohydrates.”