As consumers we want to believe that food manufacturers have our best interest in mind, but it’s time to wake up and smell the artificial ingredients! The majority of companies are more concerned with their products’ taste, appearance and shelf life (as well as their bottom dollar) than they are concerned with our health. Our health is certainly not their priority, which is exactly why we need to make it ours.
There is a laundry list of chemicals, preservatives, and artificial additives lurking in our food supply today and I would have to write a novel to even put a dent in it. BUT if you can just dedicate yourself to avoiding the following 5 ingredients, you will be drastically decreasing your risk of developing a myriad of diseases and health problems. Also, chances are if you avoid these 5 ingredients you’ll be avoiding most of the other harmful additives too, because they tend to travel in groups.
1. Hidden Sugar
Earning it’s spot as number one on my list of ingredients to avoid, added sugar is the single worst ingredient in the modern diet. Sugar is unnecessarily ADDED to 80% of our food supply and contributes to almost every single disease known to man kind. Quite frankly, it’s killing us and it shows up in foods where you’d least expect to see it. Unfortunately avoiding added sugar isn’t as simple as locating the word “sugar” on an ingredient list. There are well over 50 words disguising sugar on food labels so I’ve dedicated an entire post, Identifying Hidden Sugar, to teaching you exactly how to avoid it.
2. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
High Fructose Corn Syrup is possibly the most dangerous form of added sugar in our food supply. It’s an inexpensive alternative to sugar and is therefore used to sweeten the majority of processed foods on the market today. HFCS is a highly processed form of sugar made from corn (which is usually genetically modified) and health risks include insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome, obesity and type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
3. Hydrogenated OR Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Hydrogenated or Partially hydrogenated Oils (of any kind) are the primary source of trans fats in our diet. Trans fats do not exist naturally- they are industrially made and are incredibly difficult for our bodies to digest. The consumption of trans fats contributes to a whole slew of health problems including high cholesterol, diabetes, heart disease, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease and several cancers. Regardless of whether or not the nutrition panel says “0 grams Trans Fat,” if you see any of the following terms on your ingredient list, the food product contains trans fats:
Partially Hydrogenated Oils
Hydrogenated Oils (Fully-hydrogenated oils are trans-fat free)
Mono- and Di- glycerides
Check out my post Get the Facts on Trans Fats to learn more.
4. Artificial Flavors
When you see “artificial flavors” or “_____ flavor” on a food label, it can indicate a single unnatural additive or a blend of hundreds of chemicals. For example, the average “butter flavor” is made of 100 different man-made chemicals! The FDA does not require companies to disclose the ingredients that go into their “artificial flavor” so we really don’t know what chemicals each “flavor” comprises of, let alone all of the health risks they have. There is very little documented research published on the effects of artificial flavors, but the bottom line is they are not natural, they are man-made chemicals that our bodies are in no way designed to digest. Artificial flavors are known to cause allergic reactions, headaches, fatigue, DNA damage and brain damage, but I have a feeling the list of risks is much longer- there is just too little research to confirm it.
5. Artificial Dyes and Colors
Most artificial dyes are made from coal tar and petroleum extracts- does that sound like something you want to eat? They show up in all kinds of surprising places and are listed as Red #3 and #40, Yellow #5 and #6, Blue #1 and #2, and Green #3, etc on your food’s ingredient labels. Potential health risks include hyperactivity, attention deficit disorder (ADD), attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), other behavior problems, chromosomal damage, tumor growth and cancer.
TAKE AWAY MESSAGE: Most of the “food” we eat today hardly resembles food at all. Become an avid label reader. Read every label on every single product and know what you are putting into your body. Look for foods with short, simple ingredient lists. If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. And as always, the best way to avoid unwanted additives is to focus on eating whole, natural, minimally processed foods- and cook your own food from scratch as much as possible.