Nutritionists reveal the foods they avoid at all costs this holiday season

Sausages, eggnog and candy: for many, the holiday season means indulging in these types of unhealthy indulgences.

But doctors and nutritionists say they avoid consuming processed drinks and foods that contain high levels of added salt and sugar.

NBC News consulted nine health specialists — doctors, dietitians and nutrition professors — about how to eat a healthy diet. Almost everyone agreed that they try to replace foods such as cookies and sausages with vegetables, fruits and whole grains.

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“I try to follow a whole-foods approach,” said Jaimie Davis, a registered dietitian and professor of nutritional sciences at the University of Texas at Austin. “My rule is that if I’m having lunch or dinner, I try not to have everything come out of a package. So that could be chicken breasts with broccoli and rice.”

Here’s how experts determine what to avoid:

🥤🍹Sweet drinks are very caloric

Davis says she avoids soda, energy drinks, coffee and other sugary drinks to reduce her calorie intake and keep her two teenage children healthy.

“We have LaCroix and sparkling waters if we want something special, instead of regular water or milk,” Davis explained. “We also make a lot of fresh waters, like basil-infused waters and strawberries.”

Some alcoholic cocktails are also deceptively sugary and high in calories, he pointed. Instead, Davis recommends mixing club soda with a dash of hard liquor, and garnishing with fruits like raspberries or pomegranate seeds.

Research has long shown the relationship between high sugar consumption, obesity and heart disease. An October study looking at the effects of sugary drink consumption on adults in 185 countries found they were associated with risks of type 2 diabetes, cancer and tooth decay.

“It’s almost better to eat a Snickers bar than to drink a 20-ounce Coke,” he said.

🥓Foods rich in sodium are a treat

Angel Planells, a registered dietitian nutritionist in Seattle, said she avoids “delicious” foods like cold cuts, smoked fish, canned soups and frozen TV dinners.

“I like to talk to my patients and tell them: these things are like whims, if you eat them all the time, they are no longer a whim, but a habit,” he insisted.

According to Planells, these high-sodium foods can cause heart health problems. The American Heart Association suggests that, ideally, people consume less than 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, and the maximum should be 2,300 milligrams. Excess salt is linked to hypertension and obesity, according to a 2021 study.

Specialists usually avoid foods such as sausages in their diets.MEDITERRANEAN / Getty Images

Lauren Au, a professor of nutritional sciences at the University of California, Davis, said she cooks at home and limits restaurant outings to avoid sodium. She also follows a plant-based, Mediterranean-style diet, which restricts red meat and emphasizes vegetables, nuts, whole grains and legumes. Au said her diet includes olive oil, seafood, chicken and tofu.

“I also have small children. When they start to learn about foods, you have to reduce the amount of sodium, because they are developing their taste preferences,” Au explained. “When I cook, I try to limit, if not avoid it altogether, putting in a lot of sodium, and then add it to taste once it’s cooked.”

🌭 The high price of high-fat snacks

Dr. Linda Shiue, an internist and director of culinary and lifestyle medication at Kaiser Permanente, said she avoids snacks like cookies and bagged crackers. She also checks labels for added chemicals like additives or preservatives.

“If you don’t know what it is, you don’t really need it in your body.”said.

Eating large amounts of ultra-processed foods can increase the risk of obesity, heart disease, cancer, diabetes, irritable bowel syndrome, depression and death, according to a study published in 2020. This category includes soft drinks, hot dogscandy, breakfast cereals and ice cream, which can contain high levels of saturated fat.

Research from 2020 showed that eating less saturated fat is linked to a lower risk of heart attacks. Another study published the same year found that diets high in saturated fat are associated with higher rates of death from all causes.

Shiue indicated that it is important to prioritize vegetables because they are a source of fiber – which can improve intestinal health – and antioxidants that help prevent chronic diseases. For us to like vegetables, we must cook and season them, he added. Shiue, a cooking instructor, said she once convinced someone who hated Brussels sprouts to enjoy them by roasting them over high heat in the oven and seasoning them with olive oil, salt and pepper.

“A lot of people who don’t like vegetables are because they grew up with someone who didn’t know how to cook them. So they probably ate those sad, soggy, colorless vegetables, and who wants to eat that?” he said.

🥦 There is no single way to eat healthy

Several of the nutrition experts interviewed emphasized that there is no single, standardized way to eat healthy, and that factors such as socioeconomic status, access to healthy foods at affordable prices, and understanding product labels can get in the way. towards a nutritious diet.

For those who don’t know where to start, Maya Feller, a registered dietitian-nutritionist in New York, suggested visiting a doctor to better understand your health: “What’s your blood sugar level? How’s your blood pressure?” How’s your cholesterol?”

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When you know there are no disorders or allergies, he said, focus on making fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, seeds and legumes “a central part of your eating style.”

However, Laura Bellows, an associate professor of nutritional sciences at Cornell University, said that rather than avoiding certain foods entirely, she takes a moderation approach and follows dietary guidelines set by the Department of Agriculture.

“There are no bad foods, but bad quantities,” he insisted.