I spent much of this year working with dietitians and nutritionists to rank every possible food and beverage that came to mind — from pizza toppings to energy drinks — by how healthy or lamentably unhealthy they are.
And now, because I’ve officially lost my goddamn mind with the ranking fever, I’m going to attempt to rank every ranking that I ranked this year with the help of none other than Dana Hunnes, senior dietitian at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center and my go-to source for the vast majority of these rankings.
I should add that Hunnes was hesitant at first, and rightfully so, since many of the foods we previously ranked contain both healthy and unhealthy variations within their own individual ranking. For example, the sandwiches that we ranked ranged from healthy egg salad sandwiches to unhealthy Philly cheesesteaks, meaning Hunnes found it virtually impossible to say that ALL sandwiches are any healthier or unhealthier than the other foods and beverages on this list.
But Hunnes was, as ever, a good sport, and I think we came up with a somewhat reasonable (okay, it’s basically nonsensical, but shut up) ranking, considering the extreme unreasonableness of the task at hand.
Let’s do this.
1. Fruit (Including Apples): Fruit is the obvious first choice for this list. “Most of the time, they’re essentially pre-packaged bundles of vitamins, minerals, potassium, antioxidants (in the form of natural color) and healthy, natural sugars,” Hunnes says. She does, however, mention that dark-colored fruits are generally healthier than light-colored fruits, since they contain more heart-healthy phytonutrients.
3. Lettuce: Hunnes admits that lettuce is mostly water — which, if we’re being honest, is still healthier than almost everything else on this list — and adds that some varieties (especially darker colored ones) are healthier than others. Nonetheless, lettuce earns its third place.
4. Coffee: “Coffee has phytonutrients and antioxidants and may help decrease your risk for certain cancers, especially liver cancer, and diabetes,” Hunnes says — all of which goes out the window when your preferred coffee drink is a mocha-explosion-cino. Black coffee, though, is actually pretty healthy.
5. Chocolate: I was a little shocked when Hunnes told me that chocolate lands this high on our list. But when you remove the sugar and milk that most drugstore chocolates contain, you end up with bold and bitter chocolate that contains high amounts of cacao — the bean-like seed used to make chocolate — which happens to boast tons of phytonutrients and antioxidants.
6. Cooking Oil: Hunnes says that many cooking oils — including canola oil, peanut oil and olive oil — are packed with anti-inflammatories and antioxidants. But beware of palm oil: It’s bad for the environment and high in (artery clogging) saturated fat.
7. Cereal: “Some brands are obviously much healthier than others,” Hunnes says. Cereal can be a healthy morning meal, though: Hunnes recommends avoiding brands that are high in sugar, instead choosing those that are high in fiber and contain whole grains.
8. Sandwiches: “This is another dubious catch-all,” Hunnes says, since, as mentioned earlier, some sandwiches are much healthier than others. She recommends using whole-grain bread to make sandwiches that are loaded with vegetables, and avoiding “white bread beef-and-cheese nonsense.”
9. Pizza Toppings: Hunnes reiterates that vegetable toppings are healthy, but meat and cheese toppings are not. Booo.
10. Thanksgiving Side Dishes: “It depends on the side,” Hunnes says. “Vegetables and fruits are healthy, but fatty-creamy-sugary items aren’t so healthy.” I still love you, mac and cheese.
11. Meat (Including Fish): Hunnes says meat can be pretty healthy in small doses of one or two ounces at a time, and that fish in particular contains tons of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids — just be sure to choose fish that have been sustainably caught and remember that, as a general rule, smaller fish tend to contain fewer contaminants.
12. Beer: Obvious bummer alert: The more alcoholic the beer, the worse it is for you. But beers that go easy on the alcohol — especially non-alcoholic beers — actually contain a solid assortment of vitamins due to the presence of hops and barley.
13. Pies: Hunnes says that pies are mostly made of sugar and fat; however, the addition of certain healthy fruits (shoutout to pumpkin pie) and vegetables save them from being any lower on this list.
14. Salt: Salt is actually healthy if you consume approximately one teaspoon per day, but that’s where most of us go wrong. “We should be eating less of it,” Hunnes emphasizes.
15. Soda: Soda is basically sugar water with some artificial coloring. It is bad for you.
16. Diet Soda: Surprisingly, Hunnes places diet soda after regular soda, which is sure as hell to be controversial. However, unlike regular soda, diet soda contains artificial sweeteners that screw with our hormones in a way that might even cause us to gain more weight than regular soda. In fact, a 2008 study found that drinking artificially sweetened beverages was associated with an almost doubled risk of being overweight or obese.
18. Dairy Products (Including Milk, Cheese and Ice Cream): Dairy products is another umbrella terms that has some healthier variations, like yogurt. But Hunnes says that all dairy products are high in fat and contain casein (animal protein), which is potentially carcinogenic. Ice cream is obviously the least healthy, since it contains tons and tons of sugar.
“I’m not even sure where to begin, since this pizza is easily one of the most unhealthy products I’ve come across during my time writing this column. The dough is made with enriched wheat flour, which is highly caloric and capable of destroying your pancreas. The meat toppings are made up of jumbled animal parts, then injected with dangerous preservatives and flavor enhancers. On top of all that, the entire pizza is riddled with vegetable oils, which will quickly fuck you up.”
Meanwhile, Hunnes simply says that she has nothing good to say about frozen pizza whatsoever.
20. Energy Drinks: Hunnes points out that energy drinks are incredibly unhealthy mixtures of caffeine, sugar (or artificial sweeteners) and artificial colors. Put simply, they might make your heart explode.
21. Fast-Food Burgers: “Red meat, in general, isn’t a particularly healthy food,” Hunnes says. “Processed meats are considered to be a class I carcinogen by the World Health Organization, and red meat is likely a tumor promoter that may increase the risk of several cancers, including colon cancer and colorectal cancer. It may also increase your risk of heart disease.” Did we mention that the Big Mac also contains more than 60 different ingredients?
22. Boxed Mac and Cheese: I’m sad to say that the cheese powder in boxed mac and cheese is loaded with chemicals that will make your balls stop working and interfere with your development, both of which are further exacerbated in children. Worse yet, boxed mac and cheese has virtually nothing nutritionally beneficial about it — it’s just noodles and chemical powder.
23. Halloween Candy: Surprise! Artificially colored sugar balls earn last place.