When you pick up a nutrition label to read, sometimes it seems like there a million ingredients that are all acronyms or unpronounceable jargon: this is generally once you reach the list of additives.
If youre trying to be health conscious, this can be extremely frustrating, because how can you watch what you put into your body if you have additives that arent real foods in almost every processed food? While sometimes eating foods with these additives may be unavoidable, at least if you are armed with some background on what exactly these additives are, you can look for alternative ingredients.
So, weve put together a list of the top 10 food additives to avoid when youre buying meals.
While this concentrated salt is a form of glutamic acid - a naturally occurring amino acid - the version used in foods to enhance flavor is highly processed and evidence suggests it stimulates appetite, contributing to weight gain. Where will you find it? Potato chips, canned soups, canned meats, pepperoni, and flavored crackers, to name a few.
A non-saccharide - non-carbohydrate sweetener - the issue with aspartame is that it contains methanol. Although it makes up just 10% of aspartames ingredients, its a chemical whose by-products are formic acid - an acid that naturally occurs in the venom of bee and ant stings - and formaldehyde, which is thought to be a carcinogen. Youll see aspartame in a variety of diet products: diet sodas, sugar-free drinks, sugar-free chewing gum, mints, yogurts, gelatins.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This is a refined syrup-sweetener where the corn starch is separated from the corn kernel and then converted to syrup through enzymatic processing. Because it is found in so many foods, its one of the highest sources of calories in the U.S. diet, contributing to weight gain, and potentially diabetes. You may see HFCS in soda, bread, cereal, yogurt, salad dressing, and condiments.
One of few highly saturated vegetable fats, this is used to keep packaged foods fresh. The problem with this ingredient is that its blasted with hydrogen, rather than used in its natural state, becoming a trans fat. Since trans fats can raise LDL - bad - cholesterol and increase risk of heart attacks, theyre best avoided.
Sodium Nitrate And Sodium Nitrite
Both salt-based chemical compounds, sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are used as preservatives and color fixatives in cured meats, poultry, and many deli meats. Its thought that both compounds may increase risk of heart disease.
A fat substitute used primarily in foods that are fried and baked, Olestra is semi-indigestible; it is linked to gastrointestinal disease, diarrhea, gas, cramps, bleeding, incontinence, and preventing the absorption of some vitamins.
This acid is used in sodas to dissolve the carbon dioxide and increase the fizz. In addition to this use, its also used to remove rust. Phosphoric acid in soda has been linked to lowering bone density, as well as stripping tooth enamel.
BHA And BHT
Preservatives found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils, butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) keep foods from changing color, changing flavor, or becoming rancid. However, they can also affect the neurological system of the brain, which controls behavior. They are oxidants, which are linked to cancer-causing compounds in the body. You can find these preservatives in things edible: meat patties, beer, butter, sausage, hot dogs, and non-packaging materials, cosmetics, and animal feed.
Brominated Vegetable Oil
A vegetable oil bonded with the element bromine, this is used to stabilize citrus-flavored sodas.Bromine, though, is a halogen - a group of elements that are all toxic - and displaces iodine, which can depress thyroid function and cause unpleasant side effects.
After decades of debate over the safety of artificial coloring, only seven remain approved by the FDA. Every decade, more issues surface, with their opponents claiming that they are toxic, carcinogens, and contributors to ADHD. More testing continues on the dyes currently deemed safe for consumers, so it may be wise to avoid them until the safe label is 100% sure. Artificial coloring is found in some things youd expect: drinks, candies, baked goods, cereals, energy bars, puddings and jams, frostings, condiments, fast food, ice cream, sherbet and sorbet, and some that are surprising: bread, mac & cheese, deli meat, meat, and fish.
Hope this list helps clear up exactly what these additives are and their possible side effects if youre consuming them in processed food. While it may not be easy, its ideal to aim for unprocessed, whole foods to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet.
Amanda Reck graduated from Johns Hopkins University, summa cum laude, with a B.A. in Writing Seminars and double minor in Russian and History of Art. Her work has been published in Falling Star Magazine, Goblin Fruit, Locust, & Measure Press. Currently living in New York, N.Y., she is working as Associate Editor for BuiltLean, at Tuleste Market, and as a board member of Tails of Hope Foundation.