unhealthy food for metabolic health

The Worst Types of Foods For Your Metabolic Health

The Worst Types of Foods For Your Metabolic Health

unhealthy food for metabolic health

The foods you choose to eat influence your current and future metabolic health. Following diets like the Mediterranean Diet, that focus on whole foods as opposed to processed foods, can improve your health drastically. Nutrient-dense foods provide the vitamins and minerals your body needs to reduce risk of disease, repair tissue, fight infection, produce appropriate hormone levels, and encourage muscular and bone growth.  Food dramatically affects all cellular physiologic processes and really is like a medicine. 

The Mediterranean Diet, when utilized as a way of eating and living, as opposed to a restrictive diet, enables you to feel more in control of what you eat, while enjoying time with family and friends.  Because this particular way to eat is so filled with dietary fiber, phytochemicals, vitamins and minerals and other micronutrients naturally, it is difficult not to become more healthy, feel better and have less pain.  In addition, most people that adhere to this type of eating pattern lose weight without thinking about it.  

While the focus of the Mediterranean Diet is not necessarily restricting how much you eat, there are certain types of foods you’ll want to avoid in order to safeguard your metabolic health.  Dr. Warner is not a fan of calorie counting, rather, she is more concerned with the quality of the food that one consumes.  

 

And remember – your long-term health is more about what you eat consistently, not the outlier meals that may not align with your typical eating habits. 

So, will the occasional burger hurt you? Probably not. But we certainly don’t recommend that!  If you must eat a burger, try to make sure it was made from grass-finished beef and is not filled with pink slime and/or added nitrates, sodium or food coloring.  

Will the occasional vegetable make you healthy? Definitely not.  But one vegetable is better than no vegetables.  

We’ve put together a list of types of foods that are harmful to your metabolic health. As you read through this list, make a note of any of these foods you eat on a regular basis. 

#1: Sweet Tooth

Let’s get this one out of the way. Sugar, in all forms, is unhealthy. Your body breaks sugar down in the same way, regardless of how it presents. Whether your sweetener is an added sugar, lactose in milk, honey, fruit, or anything in between, it still turns into glucose, galactose, or fructose once digested and broken down into smaller sugar molecules. 

 

High levels of sugar definitely leads to chronic inflammation, which can lead to various chronic diseases like arthritis, diabetes and more. Eating too much sugar can also lessen the body’s ability to break down sugar, damaging specific organs like your liver.  The liver will become overwhelmed with too much sugar and then begin to deposit fat into itself when it can’t process it into glucose.  

As we mentioned, eating too much sugar can lead to chronic diseases that impact your overall health and quality of life. Some of these diseases include:

Female Hands Hurting

Arthritis

Arthritis can be a painful, degenerative disease that is linked to higher levels of chronic inflammation. If you consume too much sugar on a regular basis, you’ll likely increase your inflammatory markers, making you more susceptible to the various forms of arthritis.

Checking Blood Sugar With Diabetes

Type-2 diabetes

Type-2 diabetes is the result of an increased insulin resistance, due to high blood sugar levels over time. It’s estimated that more than one in three adult Americans have prediabetes - and 80 percent aren’t even aware they have it.

Man Grabbing Chest in Pain

Heart Disease

Even if you’re not overweight, you’re still susceptible to an increased risk for heart disease when consuming consistent amounts of added sugars. When your blood glucose levels are too high, it can lead to increased liver fat, which can in turn, lead to higher levels of triglycerides and cholesterol and then, increased blood pressure.

If you’re not sure how much sugar you’re consuming, we’d recommend checking food labels and looking up how much natural sugars can be found in the whole foods you’re consuming – like fruit.   But, eating fructose in the form of a whole fruit also comes with a significant amount of fiber.  This slows the absorption of glucose and also allows some of the fructose to move deeper in the gut and feed your biome.  It is always better to eat the fruit and skip the juice.  

 

While it’s ideal to cut out added sugars, and keep natural added-sugars to a minimum, we understand this can be difficult. So, if you know this is an issue you’ll face, we’d suggest starting with attainable goals, like cutting out soda. Then, as time goes on, remove more and more of the sweets that can tempt you. Another way to start is to avoid sugars at night for a start.  

bag of wheat flour

#2: Wheat Flours

If you’re a bread lover, we completely understand, but wheat flours can be harmful for your overall metabolic health. What exactly is wheat flour, you ask? Well, we are specifically speaking of manufactured, processed, and refined flours. If you are making your own flour at home with the entire wheat kernel, this part is not relevant to you.

Not to be confused with whole grains, processed wheat flours lack the nutrients associated with the whole grain. When they’re milled and processed for things like store-bought bread or cookies, the germ and bran are removed, leaving you with a flour that lacks fiber, fat and other natural nutrients. Furthermore, the remnants are bleached and processed under high heat. This is not generally considered ‘natural’. This is a simplification of the complex processing of wheat into what we know as ‘enriched, bleached, white flour’.

This means that those flours labeled, bread flour, pastry flour, all-purpose flour, cake flour and yes – even whole wheat flour, are not conducive to a healthy diet.  These completely lack dietary fiber in any meaningful amount.  This means they have turned from whole grains into refined carbs.

When making whole wheat flour, some of the fiber is added back after milling, to help slow digestion – but it still digests quickly, leading to a spike in blood sugar levels.  There is not nearly as much fiber in most whole wheat flour products as there would be if you milled the entire wheat kernel yourself.

Foods that are high in blood sugar levels, or have a high glycemic index (GI) are linked to an increased risk of Type-2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

You may not even be aware of how much refined flour you’re consuming, especially if you’re eating mostly packaged or premade foods.

We recommend checking labels to get to the root of what you’re eating. Alternatives to refined wheat flour, like almond, hazelnut, or coconut flour can have a smaller effect on your blood sugar levels (due to higher levels of fiber). However, it’s important to track your blood sugar levels and monitor your own body’s response to these alternatives, because they can still lead to spikes in some people.

#3: Highly Processed Foods, aka Cheetos

You’ve likely heard the term “processed food”, but it may still feel like an idea, as opposed to something you can describe or point to in a grocery store.
When we talk about processed foods, we’re talking about the majority of food in grocery stores today. We’re looking at the freezer aisle, cereal aisle, snack and junk food aisle and the frozen section. These areas, all of the store just about contain highly or ultra processed foods that include sweet drinks, or anything that contains very little or no whole food ingredients.

These foods have been processed to the point where they lack nutrients, and contain high levels of sugar, fat, salt and other additives or preservatives. Ultra-processed foods also typically contain refined flour and added sugar. In fact, many have hidden sugars to induce cravings of the food; this is true even for salty foods. Ultra-processed foods are deconstructed and engineered actual food into what appears to be food but is not. Saying ultra processed items are food is like saying a stick-built house is really a tree. Sure some components of a tree might be in the structure of that house, but the house is definitely not a tree and will never be able to become a tree again. Sort of sad really.

If the additives and preservatives common to such food products, like refined flours, can improve their shelf life, or make yogurt key-lime green, then imagine how they affect your body. Anything that can last for years on a shelf is likely not completely natural.

The majority of these foods are found in the middle aisles of almost every grocery store. So, let’s take a second, close your eyes, and imagine walking inside your favorite grocery store.

You want to stick to your healthy and carefully curated list of vegetables, whole grains (not refined products), fish, chicken, beans, and whatever else you have planned. But, when you pass through those automatic double doors, air conditioning hits your face, you grip your grocery list tight, and try to fight back temptation. You’re accosted by the smell of fresh bread (we already talked about what flour actually is), bakery sales, and a stack of soda packs.

It can be difficult to resist these sales tactics, but if you stick to the outer edge of the grocery store (treading carefully past the bakery), then you’re already doing better than most.

A word of caution – when you approach the deli, we encourage you to avoid deli meats, hot dogs, bacon and other processed red meats. Whether processed or unprocessed, red meat has a high association with Type-2 diabetes in many studies. That said, the processed red meats are much worse than unprocessed and grass-finished red meats. Also, the studies that we mention did not take into account the way the beef was produced.

different cooking oils lined up

#4: Let’s Talk About Oil (Add fatty acid table)

Picking out the best oil for your recipes and health, can be a little overwhelming. One thing to keep in mind on your search is to avoid most refined and seed oils. These oils contain high levels of omega-6, which is associated with poor metabolic health. Likewise, the processing of many seed oils renders them less than healthy and ultra processed.

Omega-6 is commonly found in linoleic acid, which you may have heard was essential for health, but the medical community is beginning to question this concept, because it can lead to insulin resistance, increased levels of inflammation, and increased appetite when consumed consistently. Omega-6 fatty acids also contribute to the stiffness of tissues.

Oils that contain higher levels of linoleic acid include, but aren’t limited to:

  • Canola oil
  • Corn oil
  • Peanut oil
  • Grapeseed oil
  • Walnut oil
  • Sesame oil
  • Safflower oil
  • Sunflower oil

We recommend avoiding these oils as much as possible. They can be found in processed or fast foods, or listed in certain recipes. However, these oils can be replaced by healthier oils like olive oil, avocado oil, or coconut oil in most recipes. Dr. Warner is a big proponent of extra virgin olive oil in your cooking, for many reasons including its antioxidant benefits.

woman eating fast food burger

#5: What Goes Into Fast Food?

Since you’re taking the time to evaluate what goes into your food at home – it’s time to point to our final food type that contributes to poor metabolic health: fast food.

Fast food is ultra-processed, meaning it contains nearly every (if not all) features listed above.

They contain refined wheat flours, unhealthy fats, high levels of sodium, and added sugars. These foods have the high potential to be addicting, sending you back for more over time. Worse, the cooking oils are not the highest of quality and are used over and over and over again.

 

The combination of these factors leads to poor metabolic health, and can result in the diseases we went over in the beginning: arthritis, diabetes and heart disease.

If you can avoid these main food types, you’ll be doing your long-term metabolic health a favor. You can also encourage your overall health and longevity by exploring Well Theory’s Longevity Series.

This series features Berberine – a natural supplement that is as effective, if not better than prescription drug Metformin in increasing insulin sensitivity and potentially improving all five markers of metabolic health. Supplementing Berberine, alongside a healthy diet and exercise can help you function better, longer.

Dr. Meredith Warner Baton Rouge Orthopedic Surgeon
ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. Meredith Warner is the creator of Well Theory and The Healing Sole. She is a board-certified Orthopedic Surgeon and Air Force Veteran.

She is on a mission to disrupt traditional medicine practices and promote betterment physically, spiritually and mentally to many more people. She advocates for wellness and functional health over big pharma so more people can age vibrantly with more function and less pain.

At Well Theory, Our surgeon-designed products are FDA Registered and formulated to help people:

  • Manage the symptoms of musculoskeletal pain
  • Recover vibrantly from orthopedic related surgeries
  • Fill the gaps in our daily diets
  • Manage pain associated with inflammation