Eating healthy has become one of the most confusing and frustrating tasks of 21st century life.
Many products are no longer made of actual whole food ingredients. Instead they include chemicals, additives and preservatives, or they’re simply “food-like” products. In some cases whole foods have been processed into added ingredients.
How can we ever know what is best to buy at the store?
To get you started, here is a list of ingredients to avoid:
1. Sodium nitrates/nitrites
Sodium nitrates and nitrites are found in processed meats as a preservative. Processed meats include deli meats, sausages, bacon, hotdogs and the like. This preservative has been strongly linked to cancer. Look for “nitrate or preservative-free” meats, or better yet, fresh meats.
2. Hydrogenated oils, aka trans fat
Hydrogenated oils are vegetable oils that have been processed in such a way that the foods they’re in—and the oils themselves—are more shelf-stable. It’s good for food companies but not for your body. Trans fat increases cholesterol and your risk for heart disease and diabetes. It is found mostly in fried foods and bakery products.
Keep trans fat as low as possible and beware—labels can say “0 grams trans fat per serving” and still have up to half a gram of trans fat in the product. Look at the ingredients to be sure!
3. Sugar in all its forms
Sugar comes in many forms—high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, agave nectar, honey, maple syrup, dextrose sucrose, rice syrup, cane juice crystals, maltodextrin, fruit juice concentrate and so on.
In doubt? Leave it out
There is such an overabundance of food additives and preservatives on the market, it’s virtually impossible to review every one of them in short order.
When in doubt, the best approach is to look at the ingredients list, not just the nutrition facts. Choose products whose ingredients are from whole foods, not items that sound like they should be in your chemistry class.
Small, occasional amounts of these foods aren’t likely to cause problems, of course, but remember that moderation is key. When in doubt, leave it out!
And I think we are all aware of the dangers of too much sugar—diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol and the like. But it can get tricky with all the various names. Sugar is used as a preservative and, of course, a flavor enhancer. It can even trick your mind into wanting to eat more. It comes in many forms on ingredient labels and it’s almost impossible to eliminate.
Women should keep their intake of added sugar below 24 grams and men should keep it below 36 grams.
4. Artificial flavors and colors
These include any flavorings that say “artificial” or that list colors such as blue, lake, red, yellow 1, 2, 3 and caramel color. The research findings on artificial flavors and colors are mixed, but many people find they are sensitive to these ingredients with various side effects.
The fact is, they are artificial. This means they’re not made from food products that are meant to go in the body. They are also a good sign that the food product is highly processed and does not contain other healthy ingredients.
5. Artificial sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners—sucralose, aspartame, saccharin, etc.—are many times sweeter than sugar, without the sugar. Research on artificial sweeteners has also been in high debate, with most unsafe effects coming from very high doses.
However, there is no way to draw a line on a safe amount and, again, they are artificial and not a natural food. This only raises questions about how the body can handle it.
Research has looked into links to cancer, migraines, weight gain, craving sweets, increased risk of metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Artificial sweeteners may even alter the good bacteria in your gut. And that’s just to name a few of the possible side effects!
6. Oils: Corn, vegetable, soy bean
These oils contain more of the omega-6 fats than most other oils. While these oils are an essential part of our diet, too much can be problematic. Omega-6 fats lead to inflammation, and inflammation leads to a host of other illnesses, including heart disease.
Most Americans get too much oil, as it is such a common ingredient in packaged foods. These oils can also be damaged (oxidized) if not processed and stored correctly, which leads to more damage inside your body.
7. Enriched wheat
This flour has been processed to remove the bran and endosperm of the wheat grain, leaving you without essential nutrients such as fiber, B vitamins, vitamin E and minerals. Look for whole wheat as the first ingredient in any grain product.
Carrageenan is a food additive extracted from seaweed. It is used to help thicken foods and is commonly found in low-fat dairy products and dairy alternatives to make them feel creamier. Research has linked it to gastrointestinal diseases (Crohn’s disease, abdominal pain, etc.) and inflammation, which then leads to heart disease, cancers and diabetes with constant inflammation.
9. Potassium or sodium benzoate
Potassium and sodium benzoate are preservatives added to soft drinks and juices to inhibit the growth of mold, bacteria and yeast. This chemical is not very harmful in this form, but when paired with vitamin C, as well as light and heat, it can form benzene, a strong carcinogen. Therefore, take caution not to buy drinks with both vitamin C and benzoate. Better safe than sorry!
10. Bisphenol A, aka BPA
BPA is not necessarily a food ingredient, but is found in the epoxy resin lining aluminum cans, the lining of some glass jar lids, cash register receipts and some plastic bottles and containers.
The FDA has banned it in baby bottles and infant formula containers, but it’s still allowed in the others.
There is more and more research linking BPA to many reproductive disorders, such as infertility, cancer and abnormalities in child growth. Look for BPA-free cans and containers and avoid microwaving in plastic.
Great information. Very helpful. Thanks.
Great useful information! Thanks!
Yes, loved this. Please keep it coming. Much appreciated.
Certainly, will do. Thanks for being a Health Beat reader, Julie! 🙂
Very informative. As others have expressed, keep them coming, please.
Will do! Thanks for reading! 🙂
Very helpful information.
Keep sending information
Thank you! We sure will. 🙂
Much better than long advertizements that last a long time just to sell there meds exc. They say they are going to tell you something important but dont.
All your reports are needed! Thanks a zillion for the informative notices!!
Wow, Muriel, thanks for the kind comment! We’re glad to share health news you can use. 🙂
Thanks for the reminder. I do try to avoid those ingredients.
This is very informative, thanks.
Sure thing! Thanks for being a Health Beat reader, Tracy! 🙂
Very informative. Thank you. Keep this good information coming!
thank God I don’t eat any of this anymore!
I am wondering what the credentials of the author are? I feel it would give more weight to the article to know this info. There is a lot of confusing and contradictory information out there, especially about diet!! If I tell my friends, I want to know that I got the info from a reliable source.
Hi Susan! Thanks for being a Health Beat reader and for your astute question. This article was written by Kristi Veltkamp, MS, RD, a registered dietitian nutritionist who works at a health system in western Michigan. Feel free to share this article with your friends, if you wish. Best, Cheryl
Thanks for this information, it’s a great good reminder.
I work at the BSC and would love more nutritional information for foods catered here from Blodgett. We appreciate the service!
Good information with so many more to add. Should send a copy of this story to the “café” at Priority Health as their food is loaded with the stuff above. Sad.
Hi Matt – Feel free to send a copy of Health Beat stories along to anyone you like. Best wishes to you!
I would love to see sources on this from peer reviewed articles. It would definitely increase the value of this content a lot for me.
You are right, there is a lot of opinion void of facts out there. It is hard to summarize mountains of research on some topics into single sources so we learn how to best use the information for educating the pubic. I would be happy to send you additional information on any of the topics if you are interested. Feel free to send me an email.
Wow I didnt even know half of these ingredients were bad 😬 this is very insightful! I do have children I really want to educate them and break the cycle of eating these horrible ingredients . Thank you this really taught me a lot and will teach my children and their children! 💚
Thank you for your kind words, Brittany. We’re glad to offer helpful health news you can use. Cheers to eating healthy!
I’ve been to most sites and isn’t very detailed on other items. I’d love to see more.