Many of you know I'm a food label nazi. Naturally a skeptic and curious soul, it's been an obsession of mine for many years, I admit. It stemmed from my years of training in college, and my strength coach who gave me just enough info to be dangerous. 2 years ago when my dad had his first stroke, my path became evident…never before had my quest for knowledge been so apparent. I spent hours at home and at the grocery store, coaching my parents on eating healthy, mainly to help my dad avoid another stroke.
Within 3 months of that trip, my folks lost 50 pounds collectively.
My hope is that it doesn't take a stroke for you to change how you eat. There's a LOT of deception in food labeling and packaging, over 80% of the supermarket to be specific. My mission in this blog is to make you more aware and conscious of the decisions you make many times daily, and how they impact every second of your day. It's sad that we know more about how to fuel our cars than ourselves.
This is certainly not a complete list of all the unhealthful ingredients in commercial foods today, but these are the ones to avoid like the plague. If you have other nominees, please add them here in the comments below.
If we consumers refuse to purchase products containing these ingredients, the food industry will quit making them. It’s really that simple. (You’d be surprised at how closely food companies monitor their sales!)
“Voting” with your dollars is a powerful and immediate way to influence the quality of food in the supermarket. The more you vote, the faster things will change! Scroll to the bottom to see a list provided by the FDA of food ingredients, by category you will find in processed foods.
The BEST way to avoid chemical and contaminates in our foods is simple…EAT FRESH ORGANIC PRODUCE, but in this day and age, the challenge is more so an element of time and money. Realize this is a matter of choice as well. I have witnessed many transform their lives by shifting their priorities, rearranging their budget and more effectively managing their time to life a life minimally exposed to chemicals and have much clearer heads and open hearts because of it! Remember one thing:
It is ALWAYS our choice!
Food companies use lots of unhealthful and dodgy ingredients to extend shelf life, add gaudy colors, and make us crave their products.
You can (and should!) steer clear of these toxic, tacky ingredients to protect your family’s health. When enough of us say “no way,” these food companies will get the message and clean up their act.
Here are the top 10 “worst of the worst” in our opinion (not necessarily ranked in order of the harm they do)…
1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
What it is: MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor-enhancer in processed foods (one of the most common food additives).
Why It’s Bad: It’s an known excitotoxin, which is a neurotoxic chemical additive shown to harm nerve cells— overexciting them, sometimes to the point of cell death. Regularly consuming excitotoxins like MSG destroys significant numbers of brain cells and can lead to serious health problems, including neurological disorders. (The two other common excitotoxins used in food are aspartic acid (found in aspartame) and l-cysteine, which is used as a dough conditioner.) In addition, regular consumption of MSG has been shown to stimulate the appetite and contribute to weight gain and obesity.
AKA: MSG goes by several aliases, such as Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Vegetable Protein Extract, Yeast Extract, Glutamate, Glutamic Acid, Sodium Caseinate, Textured Protein, Soy Protein Isolates, Barley Malt, Calcium Caseinate and Malt Extract.
It’s Found In: Processed foods like salad dressings, low-fat yogurt, canned meats, frozen entrees, potato chips, canned soups (including Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup), and flavored crackers (like Wheat Thins, Cheez-Its and Triscuits).
What it is: One of the most widely-used artificial sweeteners.
Why It’s Bad: Like MSG, aspartame is an excitotoxin. It also is believed to be carcinogenic, and produces neurotoxic effects such as headaches, dizziness, blurry vision, and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Aspartame contains 10-percent methanol, which is shown to be broken down by the body into the toxic by-products formic acid and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is considered to be a potent nerve toxin and carcinogen, which may explain why aspartame accounts for more reports to the FDA of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.
AKA: NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel, Spoonful, Natrataste, AminoSweet, plus others.
It’s Found In: Over 6,000 products contain it, including diet and sugar-free sodas and drinks, sugar-free chewing gum, yogurt, breath mints, instant breakfasts, frozen desserts, juice beverages, and gelatins.
Avoid Its Pals: Splenda (Sucralose), Sweet ‘n’ Low (saccharine)
3. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
What it is: This is a highly-refined sweetener in which corn starch is separated from the corn kernel. The corn starch is then converted into corn syrup through a process called acid hydrolysis.
Why It’s Bad: Nearly all HFCS is made from genetically-modified corn. It is the number-one source of calories in the US diet, and has been shown to contribute to weight gain and the development of diabetes.
HFCS also is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, insulin resistance, and elevated triglycerides and raised LDL cholesterol. In 2009, theEnvironmental Health Journal reported that a study conducted by theInstitute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found mercury in 9 of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The HFCS came from 3 different manufacturers including popular brands such as Quaker, Hunts, Kraft, Yoplait, Nutri-Grain, and Smuckers. Mercury is a heavy metal and is considered a potent brain toxin. The presence of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common.
AKA: Corn sugar, glucose/fructose (syrup), high-fructose maize syrup inulin, iso-glucose, and fruit fructose.
It’s Found In: Soda, salad dressings, breads, cereals, yogurt, soups, lunch meats, pizza sauce and condiments. On average, Americans consume 12 teaspoons of HFCS per day.
4. Agave Nectar
What it is: This highly-processed sweetener is derived from the agave (cactus) plant. Most agave sold in the US comes from Mexico.
Why It’s Bad: Many consumers believe agave syrup is a healthful sweetener, but it’s anything but. Agave nectar contains the highest amount of fructose (55-97%) among all the commercial sweeteners, including HFCS (which averages 55% fructose).
Fructose has been shown to increase insulin resistance, the precursor to Type 2 diabetes. It is mainly broken down in the liver and then converted to fat. Excessive fructose, when consumed in quantities greater than 25 grams a day, has been shown to elevate uric acid levels, which causes chronic, low level inflammation throughout the body. It is also a main cause of fatty liver disease.
Fructose consumption also leads to weight gain, elevated blood sugar and triglycerides, plus high blood pressure.
AKA: Agave Syrup
It’s Found In: Ice cream, energy bars and cereals, ketchup and other sauces. Agave is also sold as a stand-alone sweetener.
5. Artificial Food Coloring
What it is: If your food isn’t naturally colorful, these additives tint them much like the dyes that color clothing.
Why It’s Bad: Artificial food dyes were originally synthesized from coal tar — and now they are derived from petroleum. They have long been controversial, and are one of the most widely used additives in food products today. Many dyes have been banned because of their adverse effects on laboratory animals. Studies have confirmed that nine dyes currently approved for use in the US raise the following health concerns.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) study on food dyes, “The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet it is still in the food supply.” CPSI further reports that these nine food dyes are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions.
A large-scale British government study (published in 2007in the UK medical journal Lancet) found that a variety of common food dyes, as well as the preservative sodium benzoate, increased hyperactivity and decreased the attention spans of children. These additives were shown to adversely affect children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), along with children having no prior history of behavior problems.
The European Union (EU) has put labeling regulations in place to inform consumers of the health risks, but the US has failed to follow suit.
AKA: Caramel color, FD&C Blue #1, Brilliant Blue FCF, Bright blue, Blue # 2, Ingtotine, Royal Blue, Red Number 3, Erythrosine, FD&C Red No.40, Allura Red AC, Yellow 5 and 6, FD&C Green Number 3, Fast Green, Sea Green, to name a few.
It’s Found In: Beverages, candy, baked goods, cereal, energy bars, puddings, jams, bread, macaroni and cheese, deli meat, frostings, condiments, fast food, ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, plus meat and fish (to make them appear “fresher”).
6. BHA and BHT
What it is: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are preservatives used in many foods to prevent oxidation and extend shelf life.
Why It’s Bad: BHA and BHT are oxidants, which have been shown to form potentially cancer-causing reactive compounds in the body. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, considers BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the State of California has listed it as a known carcinogen.
Where It’s Found: In packaging materials, cereals, sausage, hot dogs, meat patties, chewing gum, potato chips, beer, butter, vegetable oils, cosmetics, and animal feed.
7. Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate
What They Are: These two closely-related chemicals are used to preserve meat.
Why They’re Bad: When added to meat, the nitrates are readily converted to nitrosamines, which are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancers. This chemical reaction occurs most readily at the high temperatures. In a 2007 analysis, The World Cancer Research Fund revealed that eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat every day increases your cancer risk by 20%.
AKA: Soda niter, Chile saltpeter
They’re Found In: Cured meats, bacon, ham, salami, corned beef and hot dogs, pate, pickled pig’s feet, canned meat (Vienna sausages, deviled ham), smoked salmon, dried fish, jerky.
8. Potassium Bromate
What it is: A form of bromide, it is used as an additive to increase the volume in some breads, rolls, and flours.
Why It’s Bad: It has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is banned in the EU, Canada, and several other countries. The FDA, since 1991, has requested that bakers voluntarily stop using it. It is rarely used in California because a cancer warning is required on the label. Bromide is considered to be an endocrine disruptor.
AKA: Bromic acid, potassium salt, bromated flour, “enriched flour.”
It’s Found In: Most commercial baked goods in the US, including Wonder Bread, Sunbeam, Home Pride (but not in Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Entenmann’s, and Orowheat brands). It’s also common in flour, and occurs in some toothpaste and mouthwash brands as an antiseptic.
9. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)
What it is: Produced by Monsanto, rBGH is a genetically-engineered version of the natural growth hormone produced by cows. It is used to boost milk production in dairy cows.
Why It’s Bad: “rBGH milk” contains high levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), excess levels of which have been implicated as major causes of breast, colon and prostate cancers. rBGH milk is not required to be labeled.
Giving cows rBGH has been shown to increase the incidence of mastitis. When a cow has mastitis, pus and blood are secreted into the milk. It also leads to antibiotic resistance, which is tied to the spread of virulent staph infections such as MRSA. Hormones in food have also been linked to the onset of early puberty for girls.
Consumer feedback spurred such megabrands as Dannon and General Mills, and the supermarket chains Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Publix to phase out products with hormones rBST and rBGH.
AKA: Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST).
It’s Found In: All dairy products that aren’t specifically labeled “No rGBH or rBST.”
10. Refined Vegetable Oil
What it is: There are many different kinds of commercially-refined vegetable oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.
Why It’s Bad: Refined cooking oils are made by intensive mechanical and chemical processes that extract the oil from the seeds. The refining process also utilizes chemical solvents and high temperatures. The oils are then typically deodorized and bleached. This process removes the natural vitamins and minerals from the seeds and creates a product that has been shown to become rancid and oxidize easily, causing free radical formation.
These oils are also high in Omega-6 fatty acid, which is inflammatory and neutralizes the benefits of Omega-3s in your diet. The oxidation effect has been shown to contribute to inflammation in the body, DNA damage elevated blood triglycerides, and impaired insulin response. Additionally, many refined vegetable oils are hydrogenated. This process creates trans fatty acids, which are known to contribute to heart disease and some cancers.
It’s Found In: Many, if not most, processed foods such as crackers, granola bars, and baked goods use these vegetable oils. They also are popular as stand-alone products (i.e., cooking oils and margarines).
Types of Food Ingredients
The following summary lists the types of common food ingredients, why they are used,
and some examples of the names that can be found on product labels. Some additives are
used for more than one purpose.
|Types of Ingredients||What They Do||Examplesof Uses||Names Foundon Product Labels|
|Preservatives||Prevent food spoilage from bacteria, molds, fungi, or yeast (antimicrobials); slow or prevent changes in color, flavor, or texture and delay rancidity (antioxidants); maintain freshness||Fruit sauces and jellies, beverages, baked goods, cured meats, oils and margarines, cereals, dressings, snack foods, fruits and vegetables||Ascorbic acid, citric acid, sodium benzoate, calcium propionate, sodium erythorbate, sodium nitrite, calcium sorbate, potassium sorbate, BHA, BHT, EDTA, tocopherols (Vitamin E)|
|Sweeteners||Add sweetness with or without the extra calories||Beverages, baked goods, confections, table-top sugar, substitutes, many processed foods||Sucrose (sugar), glucose, fructose, sorbitol, mannitol, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, saccharin, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K), neotame|
|Color Additives||Offset color loss due to exposure to light, air, temperature extremes, moisture and storage conditions; correct natural variations in color; enhance colors that occur naturally; provide color to colorless and “fun” foods||Many processed foods, (candies, snack foods margarine, cheese, soft drinks, jams/jellies, gelatins, pudding and pie fillings)||FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2, FD&C Green No. 3, FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40, FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6, Orange B, Citrus Red No. 2, annatto extract, beta-carotene, grape skin extract, cochineal extract or carmine, paprika oleoresin, caramel color, fruit and vegetable juices, saffron (Note: Exempt color additives are not required to be declared by name on labels but may be declared simply as colorings or color added)|
|Flavors and Spices||Add specific flavors (natural and synthetic)||Pudding and pie fillings, gelatin dessert mixes, cake mixes, salad dressings, candies, soft drinks, ice cream, BBQ sauce||Natural flavoring, artificial flavor, and spices|
|Flavor Enhancers||Enhance flavors already present in foods (without providing their own separate flavor)||Many processed foods||Monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract, disodium guanylate or inosinate|
|Fat Replacers (and components of formulations used to replace fats)||Provide expected texture and a creamy “mouth-feel” in reduced-fat foods||Baked goods, dressings, frozen desserts, confections, cake and dessert mixes, dairy products||Olestra, cellulose gel, carrageenan, polydextrose, modified food starch, microparticulated egg white protein, guar gum, xanthan gum, whey protein concentrate|
|Nutrients||Replace vitamins and minerals lost in processing (enrichment), add nutrients that may be lacking in the diet (fortification)||Flour, breads, cereals, rice, macaroni, margarine, salt, milk, fruit beverages, energy bars, instant breakfast drinks||Thiamine hydrochloride, riboflavin (Vitamin B2), niacin, niacinamide, folate or folic acid, beta carotene, potassium iodide, iron or ferrous sulfate, alpha tocopherols, ascorbic acid, Vitamin D, amino acids (L-tryptophan, L-lysine, L-leucine, L-methionine)|
Allow smooth mixing of ingredients, prevent separation
Keep emulsified products stable, reduce stickiness, control crystallization, keep ingredients dispersed, and to help products dissolve more easily
|Salad dressings, peanut butter, chocolate, margarine, frozen desserts||Soy lecithin, mono- and diglycerides, egg yolks, polysorbates, sorbitan monostearate|
|Stabilizers and Thickeners, Binders, Texturizers||Produce uniform texture, improve “mouth-feel”||Frozen desserts, dairy products, cakes, pudding and gelatin mixes, dressings, jams and jellies, sauces||Gelatin, pectin, guar gum, carrageenan, xanthan gum, whey|
|pH Control Agents and acidulants||Control acidity and alkalinity, prevent spoilage||Beverages, frozen desserts, chocolate, low acid canned foods, baking powder||Lactic acid, citric acid, ammonium hydroxide, sodium carbonate|
|Leavening Agents||Promote rising of baked goods||Breads and other baked goods||Baking soda, monocalcium phosphate, calcium carbonate|
|Anti-caking agents||Keep powdered foods free-flowing, prevent moisture absorption||Salt, baking powder, confectioner's sugar||Calcium silicate, iron ammonium citrate, silicon dioxide|
|Humectants||Retain moisture||Shredded coconut, marshmallows, soft candies, confections||Glycerin, sorbitol|
|Yeast Nutrients||Promote growth of yeast||Breads and other baked goods||Calcium sulfate, ammonium phosphate|
|Dough Strengtheners and Conditioners||Produce more stable dough||Breads and other baked goods||Ammonium sulfate, azodicarbonamide, L-cysteine|
|Firming Agents||Maintain crispness and firmness||Processed fruits and vegetables||Calcium chloride, calcium lactate|
|Enzyme Preparations||Modify proteins, polysaccharides and fats||Cheese, dairy products, meat||Enzymes, lactase, papain, rennet, chymosin|
|Gases||Serve as propellant, aerate, or create carbonation||Oil cooking spray, whipped cream, carbonated beverages||Carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide|