Beer cheese, fried cheese curds, cookie salad—these Midwestern favorites may be mouth-watering, but they do come with a downside: They aren’t that healthy. Many of these foods have high amounts of saturated fat, sugar, and calories, making them a poor choice especially if you are trying to be more health-conscious.
However, if you are someone who doesn’t want to give up these tasty treats, make sure they are part of a balanced diet and are not eaten in excess. “Both healthy foods and unhealthy foods can be found in every part of the country,” says Sarah Glasser, RD, CDCES“The advice to eat them in moderation remains the same.”
From fried cheese curds high in saturated fats to sugar-filled Jell-O salads made with marshmallows and whipped cream, here are 7 unhealthiest Midwestern foods you should enjoy only in moderation. Plus, don’t miss 10 Popular “Midwestern” Dishes That Aren’t Actually From the Midwest.
Fried food, including fried cheese curds, is known to have negative effects on health. For instance, studies have found that those who ate fried foods were at a higher risk of stroke and heart attack, and had a higher likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes.
“High calorie and high saturated fat foods, such as fried cheese curds, also have a lot of sodium,” Glasser says. “Being overweight and having a high sodium diet can increase your blood pressure. Overindulging in these foods often can contribute to the problem,” she adds.
To help lessen the negative effects of fried cheese curds, prepare them at home yourself using an air fryer, which is healthier than frying with oil and can have up to 80% fewer calories than traditional frying. Haven’t used an air fryer? Check out: I Tried an Air Fryer for the First Time Ever—Here’s What I Loved.
Although delicious, the cookie salad does not score well in the health department. Made using a variety of heavy ingredients, such as buttermilk, vanilla pudding, whipped cream, and fudge-striped shortbread cookies, this pseudo salad is high in both sugar and calories.
To help make this iconic dessert healthier, make your own cookies and pudding from scratch instead of using store-bought. By doing this, you will be able to better control the amount of sugar in this dessert.
Jell-O fluff, which is a combination of Jell-O, marshmallows, and whipped cream, also has a high amount of sugar in it. Sugar is especially detrimental to health, and has been linked to obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. Even worse? Jell-O is made using adipic acid, which is the same compound used to produce nylon.
If you are craving this sweet treat, it is healthier to whip up a homemade version of Jell-O that doesn’t contain an excessive amount of sugar, and to skip the marshmallows, which often contain excessive corn syrup and cornstarch.
Snickers salad, which is especially popular in the Midwest, is a salad made of, you guessed it, Snickers. This popular candy is made using sugar and corn syrup, so you know this salad is going to be anything but healthy.
If you are looking to serve a Snickers salad during a potluck or get-together, make sure the rest of the meal is full of nutrient-dense ingredients, such as vegetables, proteins, and whole grains. “You are also less likely to overeat on high-calorie foods when you are also eating lots of vegetables,” says Glasser.
Gooey butter cake, a rich dessert made using wheat cake flour, butter, sugar, and eggs, is delicious but can be high in sugar and fat—just one serving can have up to 220 calories and 33 grams of carbs. Be sure to use a healthier, lower-sugar gooey butter cake recipe if you are a fan of it but are looking for a more health-conscious version. Nowadays, there are many recipes out there that swap out wheat cake flour for almond flour and incorporate fresh fruits, such as strawberries and blueberries, into it.
Beer cheese is exactly what it sounds like—a cheese dip made using processed cheese, such as sharp cheddar, mixed with beer and spices. Although tasty, this bottom could have upwards of 90 calories and 4 grams of saturated fat per two-tablespoon serving. Even worse, processed foods, including processed cheese, have been linked to an increased risk of cancer.
If you do decide to eat beer cheese, pair it with something more nutritious, such as chopped vegetables or whole grain breadsticks. “Healthful foods like vegetables and whole grains can actually buffer the negative effects of so-called ‘bad foods’,” explains Glasser. Glasser shares that this is because the fiber found in these healthy foods can bind to saturated fats during digestion, in turn preventing them from being absorbed into the body.
Don’t let the word “salad” in its name fool you—Ambrosia salad has the potential to be very unhealthy. This is because many times the fruits used to make Ambrosia salad are canned in heavy or light syrup, which is full of sugar. To make this dish healthier, opt only for fresh or water-packed canned fruit, and be sure to choose a healthier, low sugar, or plant-based whipped cream, or skip it altogether.