KITK’s How To Dissect A Food Label & Top Ingredients To Run Away From In Processed & Packaged Foods a.k.a. Get That Stuff Back On The Shelf, Baby!!
Okay, so this one has been a long time coming, but it’s finally here!
I’m so excited to share this post with you guys because I feel like it’s super educational & a great way for you to get an overview as to what you should look out for the next time you are grocery shopping. I also feel like, to a certain extent, most of us know that packaged & processed foods contain bad ingredients or ingredients that may be detrimental to our health in some way, but because we don’t know much more about them, we kind of decide to turn our heads, be blind about it & simply consume them because it’s easier & faster.
WELL GUESS WHAT? I’m here to give you all the nitty-gritty deets (obvs, as always!) as to why easier & faster SHOULD NOT be the motivating factors for you when purchasing processed or packaged foods. I’m here to give you all the dirty on some of the main ingredients that these foods (Can we even call them food? I’d say chemicals, yes, chemicals) are often packed with & the effects that they may have on your body & your overall health & well-being.
In the first part of the post, I’ll give you some of my tips & tricks that I learned over the course of the past few years (& especially this year) regarding dissecting a food & ingredients label. Then, we’ll get into the top ingredients you should RUN AWAY & HIDE FROM FOREVER. Without further ado, let’s get right to it!
Guys, would you believe me if I told you that a lot of the ingredients commonly contained in processed foods can be considered toxic? By toxic, I mean that they contain chemicals, additives, preservatives or highly processed & refined ingredients that our bodies were not made to consume, are unhealthy (to say the least) & that can be detrimental to our health for an array of different reasons.
I’m talking about refined grains, sugars, trans fats, hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, MSG & all the other fake stuff you have trouble pronouncing on the ingredients lists (We’ll get to those & while I can definitely spell them, I sure AF cannot pronounce ‘em). These are all ingredients & foods that were never actually ALIVE. They are manmade in factories, in massive quantities, using machines & they come to life (but not actually) through processes where chemicals are combined & refined TO CREATE NOTHING FROM SOMETHING (I know, the expression usually goes the opposite way, but what I’m trying to say is that all the ingredients I will speak about in this post are USELESS, CONTAIN NO NUTRITIONAL VALUE, WILL DO YOU MORE HARM THAN GOOD & ARE EMPTY CALORIES).
It’s funny because in today’s day & age, the food industry has taught us to look out for calories, fat, carbs & protein. But what the industry has conveniently forgot to teach us is to keep an even bigger eye out for the flavour-enhancing, lab-generated chemicals, preservatives & additives that manufacturers pack into food to save money & keep you coming back for more!
It’s not because an additive or preservative is not causing weight gain that it’s not causing your body & your organs harm. Weight gain is not & should not be the sole & primary concern when it comes to the way you choose to nourish & fuel your body. YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT. Eat for fuel, for benefits but most importantly, TO FEEL GOOD. Eat whole, hearty, nutrient-rich foods that are minimally or not processed & that will provide your body with the energy, fats, protein, carbs, fibre, vitamins & minerals it needs to sustain you throughout the day, without being laden with processed cr*p! (Excuse my French!).
I’m sure you know that processed foods are not ideal for your health. A processed food is any food that has been canned, dehydrated or had chemicals, artificial ingredients or preservatives added to it. Unfortunately, studies have shown that these foods make up 60% of the average American diet. What’s even more unfortunate is that these food additives are not easy to identify. They are concealed under a variety of names & codes, in very small font, or their names are simply too hard & long to pronounce that people just avoid considering or examining them entirely. This means they’re throwing them in their grocery carts as opposed to putting them back on the shelf.
Before you read this post & before we get into the top ingredients that I believe we should all make a conscious effort to stay away from when buying packaged foods, as a general rule of thumb: If you’re in a supermarket or fishing through your pantry & you flip the package over to read the ingredients list & there are ingredients you can’t pronounce, get that package back on the shelf OR donate it to charity. YOU DON’T NEED THAT NEGATIVITY IN YOUR LIFE, literally.
Also, before we get into this post, I just want to give you guys a few tips when it comes to reading your labels & packages!
Lastly, before we dive into this post, I just want to put it out there that I am not here to encourage you to starve, deprive yourself, restrict or to tell you not to eat certain foods. I am here to give you MY INSIGHT & to share with you the knowledge that I’ve gained over the course of the past year throughout MY JOURNEY towards anorexia recovery, as well as towards adopting a healthier lifestyle overall & a greater understanding of the foods, nutrients, vitamins & minerals I decide to put into my body.
You have to make these choices for yourself, as well & IMO, you should always strive to understand why you are eating or refraining from eating certain foods. These decisions should always be based on thorough research, the way you feel when you eat or don’t eat certain foods & based on a goal to FEEL GOOD, be healthy, strong, well, happy & satisfied & NOT based on weight loss, changing your appearance, starvation or deprivation. You are what you eat, BUT YOU MUST EAT TO SUSTAIN YOURSELF & TO LIVE YOUR VERY BEST LIFE.
Okay, rant over.
KITK’S TIPS FOR DISSECTING LABELS & PACKAGES
CHECK THE SERVING SIZE
Look at the serving size indicated on the nutrition label & then ask yourself how many servings you are actually eating. Many product labels are for very unrealistically small sizes so this is something you should be mindful about!
If you eat two servings, remember that you’re consuming double the recommended daily value of the nutrients listed on the label. If you’re eating whole, clean, nutrient-dense foods, you really don’t have much to worry about. But, this is definitely something to keep an eye out for either way, especially if the packaged foods you are going for are less healthy than what you would normally make at home.
Also, keep in mind that it’s not because the food you are eating is healthy & contains no added sugars (but does contain natural ones, for example) that you can just overdose on it. You need to find a healthy balance & learn to eat in moderation, EVEN WHEN IT’S HEALTHY. Yes, natural sugar is A HECK OF A LOT BETTER FOR YOU than artificial sweeteners or refined white sugar, but overdosing on food that is high in natural sugars is still not the most sound decision either!
CHECK THE AMOUNT OF SERVINGS PER PACKAGE
In the same vein, check the amount of servings per package. This will help you put things into perspective. Today, many products are super-sized (especially if you are buying them at Costco or other bulk stores) & contain multiple servings, for example: a bottle of kombucha generally contains 2 servings. But in reality, you are most probably going to drink the entire bottle in one sitting, right? You’re not going to sit there & measure half the bottle to make sure you’re respecting the serving size, are you? Didn’t think so. And I don’t blame you. That’s why it’s important to always check how many servings of food/beverage are actually contained in the entire package/bottle as it will allow you to really know & understand how much of the nutrients contained in it you are actually consuming.
I once saw a package of four artisanal cookies at the health food store, but it listed 8 servings per package. If you turned the packaged around, looked at the label & paid attention to just the sugar content & assumed that 1 serving was a whole cookie (because usually, it is, right?), you’d be getting double what you bargained for.
KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR ADDED SUGARS & ARTIFICIAL SWEETENERS
Foods with added sugars provide few essential nutrients & those with artificial sweeteners are a scam. Yes, they contain less calories & “no sugar”, but wait until I tell you about all the horrible things they will do to your body. You’ll see just how not worth it they are.
The ingredients lists for packaged foods will always list the contents in descending order a.k.a. the first ingredient is always the most concentrated one & it goes down from there. I’m not telling you to cut ALL sugar entirely, because I know how difficult that is, but as a general rule of thumb to start out, try to avoid foods with added & refined sweeteners listed in the first 3-5 ingredients. The lower on the list you find the added sugars, the better.
Names for added sugars include sucrose, glucose, honey (not the raw organic unpasteurized kind, but the completely processed & refined one that basically contains no more nutrients), malted barley, rice syrup, molasses, dextrose, high fructose corn syrup (which we will discuss shortly), corn syrup & fructose.
Artificial sweeteners include erythritol, xylitol, sorbitol, maltitol (basically anything ending in “tol”), aspartame & others, which we will discuss in more detail below.
KNOW THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN GOOD & BAD FATS
Look for foods that are low in saturated & free of trans fats, as well as low in cholesterol. Trans fats are the worst & research has shown that they are severely linked to heart disease & a host of other health problems. RUN FROM THEM.
Aim for foods rich in polyunsaturated & monounsaturated fats (a.k.a. essential fatty acids), such as those found in fish, nuts & healthy oils. These are the ones that will provide you with all the anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, disease-fighting gut & skin healing properties.
ALSO, keep an eye out for partially hydrogenated fats, including lard, palm oils, shortening, margarine or any other oil or fat labelled as partially hydrogenated (such as: canola). We’ll talk more about these shortly!
REDUCE SODIUM CONSUMPTION WHENEVER POSSIBLE & LOOK TO BOOST YOUR POTASSIUM. Eating too much sodium (a.k.a. salt) may increase the risk of high blood pressure & make you feel puffy & bloated. Potassium, on the other hand, is a vital nutrient that most people do not get enough of & that may help counteract the effects of sodium on blood pressure. In order to try to meet the daily potassium requirement, consume fruits & veggies, sweet potatoes, greens, white potatoes, white beans, plain yogurt, prunes & bananas.
LOOK OUT FOR WHAT TYPE OF SALT IS CONTAINED IN THE FOOD
Odds are, if the label reads “salt”, you’re getting table salt, which is 100% refined & heated at such high temperatures that it’s essentially void of any nutrients it may have contained in the first place. Aim for foods that contain sea salt, Himalayan pink salt, Celtic sea salt or any other type of good quality sea salt. At least you know the salt has retained most, if not all, of its nutrients, has been minimally or not processed at all & won’t do any harm to your body, but will rather provide your body with all the trace minerals & electrolytes it needs to function optimally.
PAY ATTENTION TO THE % RDV COLUMN
A food that provides you with 5% or less of the daily value is considered more or less low, while one that will provide you with 15-20% or more is high. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat a food that is providing you with only 5% of the RDV of zinc or magnesium, but be mindful & simply keep this in mind. Instead of filling up on tons of different foods that may or may not help you meet the DV requirement, aim for nutrient-dense, high quality foods that’ll get you on target!
When it comes to the RDV column, it’s important to make sure that you’re getting enough fiber, protein, vitamins A, C & D, calcium, iron & magnesium. All of these vitamins & minerals are vital to your optimal health & to the functioning of your main bodily functions & processes.
DON’T FALL FOR CLAIMS ON THE FRONT OF THE BOX/LABEL/PACKAGE/BAG
Most of the time, they are just marketing pitches & advertisements. Claims such as: gluten-free, low-fat, light, sugar-free, low-calorie, fat-free, non-GMO, vegan, natural, organic etc. do not tell the whole story. These foods might actually be higher in salt, sugar & bad fats than you may think.
Trying to cash in on the latest diet or nutrition craze, companies often promote & market their products based on a single claim or item, despite other unhealthy aspects of it, for example, foods labelled as fat-free might actually contain tons of artificial sweeteners that will wreak so much havoc on your insides that you’re better off eating the full-fat REAL FOOD version. Products labelled gluten-free & vegan, or organic & natural may be just that, but it doesn’t mean that they are not filled with refined sugar or white flours & that they are not totally processed.
All this to say, instead of trusting the front of the box, TURN THE BOX AROUND & look out for the fibre, protein, sodium, sugar, healthy fat & vitamin & mineral content & WREATHE INGREDIENTS LIST! Those numbers are ACTUALLY reflective of the true nutritiousness of the food (or lack thereof).
Also: don’t be fooled by the terms “reduced & low” they don’t mean the same thing. A food that says “reduced” means it contains at least 25% LESS OF SOMETHING. For example, a reduced sodium soy sauce may contain 25% less sodium than the original but its not necessarily low in sodium. PLUS, reduced is not always a good thing – reduced fat nut butter, for example, contains about the same number of calories per serving & often more sugar. Plus, the fat in nut butter is the good hart healthy kind that keeps you full & delays stomach emptying, while upping the absorption of antioxidants.
Labelling also allows foods with less than 0.5g of trans fat to be labelled trans-fat free or zero fat, but if a food contains 0.4 g trans fat & if you eat 10 servings of it in a week, you actually consumed 4g of trans fat, not zero. The only foolproof way to know if a food contains trans fat, is to read the list. If you see the words “partially hydrogenated”, odds are, it’s in there. The same is true for labels that say: sugar-free. Sugar-free candy, cookies & ice cream are not carb-free or calorie free & often contain tons of fat & carbs (the bad kind) so even without the sugar, there are still no beneficial nutrients. Put it this way, if your body cannot burn or use the calories for energy, they will be stored as fat.
ALL THIS TO SAY: No matter what the front of the label says, check the actual numbers, ingredients & serving size & you be the judge.
MAKE SURE THAT ANY GRAIN IS WHOLE-GRAIN & EVEN BETTER, SPROUTED
Many bread & pasta products claim to be whole-wheat, but the first ingredient on the list is WHEAT FLOUR. Sounds healthy, but that’s really code for refined flour. If you read further down the list, usually you will find the words: “whole-wheat flour” or “bran”.
Don’t be fooled. Refined grains are excessively starchy & high in gluten. They are practically devoid of natural fiber & there can be up to 25 different chemicals added to them (such as bleaching chemicals, artificial colourings & flavourings). Basically, they are nutritionally imbalanced.
We’ll talk more about refined grains in the rest of this post, but PRO TIP: Look for at least 3g of fibre per serving, which often mean the product is whole grain.
And if & whenever possible, get sprouted grains! Sprouted grains are easier to digest than their refined counterparts, especially for those who suffer from grain-protein sensitivities (they are way less allergenic). Sprouting also increases many of the grains’ key nturients, including B vitamins, vitamin C, folate, fiber & essential amino acids often lacking in refined ones, such as lysine. A sprouted grain happens when a grain kernel (the seed of a plant or other grain) is exposed to just the right temperature and moisture conditions for it to begin to sprout. It has begun to grow into a new plant, but just barely & the sprout is shorter than the length of the original grain. Basically, unlike any other grain, the sprouted grain has been allowed to sprout (or germinate) before being milled into flour.
TO CONCLUDE (Just the first part, babes!)
If the product seems too good to be true, it may actually be.
Most products are inaccurately labeled & contain more sugar, sodium & unhealthy fats than labels state. All this to say, READ YOUR INGREDIENTS. The only way to truly judge the quality of a food is to FIND OUT WHAT IT’S MADE UP OF. If the ingredient list reads like a recipe & the package only contains wholesome ingredients you could use to make the product in your own kitch, you’re off to a good start. But if you don’t recognize, cannot pronounce the ingredients or see some of the red flags that I mentioned above & that I’ll go more into detail about below, think twice before putting it in ur shopping cart or adding it to your mixing bowl.
Okay, now that we’ve got those tips down-packed, let’s get down to the cr*p you should watch out for the next time you’re walking through the grocery aisles!
RUN & HIDE FROM THESE INGREDIENTS NOW!!!!
PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS
When a regular fat like corn, canola, vegetable, soybean or palm oil is blasted with hydrogen (by a process called hydrogenation) & turned into a solid, it becomes what is known as a trans fat. Basically, hydrogenation is a chemical (yes, a chemical) process by which a liquid fat is turned into a solid fat.
Trans fats are anti-nutrients that help packaged foods stay fresh, a.k.a the reason why most packaged foods can sit on a supermarket shelf for years without ever rotting or getting stale.
Trans fats do a number of horrible things to the human body, such as: raise the “bad” LDL cholesterol & triglycerides & lower the good HDL cholesterol, which in turn increases the risk of blood clots, diabetes, heart attack, heart disease & clogged arteries. They also create inflammation, unhealthy gut & are one of the leading causes of obesity & metabolic syndrome. They are 2x as difficult for the body to dissolve as saturated fats & may also create nutritional deficiencies & cellular deterioration.
Why do companies use them if they’re so bad for you? They reduce costs, increase shelf life & stabilize flavour.
Foods that contain trans fats will always have partially hydrogenated oil or hydrogenated oil listed in the ingreidents. BTW: Before trans fats were required to be listed on food labels, the only way to know that a product contained trans fat was to check if partially hydrogenated oils or hydrogenated oils were listed in the ingredients list. BUT, a number of products state 0g of trans fat or declare themselves as trans-fat free but still have these oils listed. How so?
- First, items that list partially hydrogenated oils in ingredients but contain less than 0.5 g trans fats per serving are considered by the government to be trans-fat free, for example: commercial peanut butter contains a small amount of partially hydrogenated oil to keep it together & prevent separation. BUT, the problem is that if you eat more than the stated serving size, the fractions of a gram add up & you are then consuming trans fat.
- Second, products that contain fully hydrogenated oils are trans-fat free. When a liquid vegetable oil is fully hydrogenated, almost no trans fat remains. The resulting fat is even more solid, taking on a waxy hard consistency, even at room temperature. Full hydrogenation increases the amount of saturated fat, although most of it is in the form of stearic acid, which is converted by the body to oleic cid, a monounsaturated fat, which does not raise bad cholesterol levels. This makes fully hydrogenated fats less harmful than partially hydrogenated ones. BUT BEWARE: Sometimes, products will simply list “hydrogenated oils” in the ingredients list, without really divulging whether these hydrogenated oils have been fully or partially hydrogenated. They use these terms interchangeably. If the package lists “hydrogenated oil”, you’re eating it at your own risk because it may or may not be trans fat free. THIS IS WHY IT’S BEST TO STAY AWAY FROM THEM ENTIRELY.
LOOK OUT FOR IT IN: Margarine, vegetable shortening, frozen & fresh pizza dough to stop it from sticking together & to enhance the texture, instant noodles to pre-cook the noodles so that all you have to do is add hot water (Easy BUT UNHEALTHY!), ice cream to make it smooth & creamy, deep-fried foods (especially in restaurants – the cheaper, the better), chocolate, to create a smooth & shiny appearance & keep it from melting, cookies, to give baked goods a creamy taste & texture & packaged breads, to make bread easy to bake with & cheap.
Instead of these oils, choose healthier monounsaturated & polyunsaturated fats such as: olive oil, avocado & coconut oil, grapeseed oil, grass-fed butter, ghee & foods that contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids.
To read more about cooking oils, click here: GROCERY TIP: The Nitty-Gritty on Chemically-Extracted, Expeller & Cold-Pressed Oils & What Oils I Use (& Don’t Use) In My KITCH!
WHITE PROCESSED & REFINED FOODS/FLOURS/GRAINS
When a whole grain is refined, most of its nutrients are sucked out, once again, in an effort to extend shelf life. A whole grain contains both a bran & germ. When they’re removed, all the fiber, vitamins & minerals are removed with them. Since these grains are devoid of any fiber & nutrients, they are basically empty calories. Yes, they are easy to digest. BUT GUESS WHAT, there’s such a thing as a food being TOO EASY to digest. When a food is too easy to digest, it passes through your digestive system instantly. It sends your blood sugar & insulin skyrocketing.
Just to give you a bit more background: Wheat is the key ingredient in the American diet, right? But once it’s milled, it’s very rarely used in its whole form with its components intact – it’s usually treated, heated, fractioned & fragmented until it is next to impossible to recognize it for what it was in its original state. A refined grain or its product is made by processing a natural, whole grain so that some or most of the nutrients are LOST. They may actually contribute to several degenerative diseases, for example: calcium leaching from the bones & teeth occurs due to the altered phosphorous-calcium balance in these products, sugar & refined grain products are responsible for tooth decay & brittle bones.
Refined grains also contain many additives & preservatives. Basically, years ago, millers discovered they could make flour very white by bleaching it. Other chemical oxidizers are added to bleach & “mature” the flour, such as nitrogen dioxide & azocarbonamide . These are chemicals that have been banned in Germany ALMOST 40 YEARS AGO!!!! The next step is to add chemical dough conditioners to the dough to enable the resulting bread to stay fresh & soft for a longer period, without getting stale while standing on grocery shelves. To give this softness and white-bread texture, mono- and diglycerides are added to the bread dough at the rate of about 1/4 pound per year per person consumption. This makes the bread more squeezable and fluffy. Nobody knows the effects on those that eat such additives.
Some of the chemicals used as dough conditioners are similar to the anti-freeze mix used for cars. One them is polyexy ethelyne monosterate. Workers in factories where this chemical is made have actually developed skin rashes from the fumes. And guess what? Polyexy ethelyne monosterate is also used in making peanut butter, ice cream, candy, and salad dressings. Foods that we consume REGULARLY!!
Statistics show that the average person eats about 100lbs. or so of commercial bread each year. Besides eating the refined flour, the average person also eats these toxic items in the grain products: 2lbs. of salt, 3lbs. of sugar, 2lbs. of skim milk powder, 2lbs. of yeast, 1lb. of enzyme-activator, 0.5lb. of sulfate, chloride, and bromate chemicals, and 0.25lb. of other food additives. When all of these chemicals & FAKE FOODS are eaten together, a multi-toxic effect occurs.
CLEARLY THIS ALL BOILS DOWN TO ONE THING: Shelf-life of products are far more important in our economy than the health and well-being of the people.
FUN FACT: In the States, white flour which goes through the refinement process is considered 72% extraction, which means it actually loses 28% of the bulk of the wheat, AND WITH THAT, THE CRUCIAL NUTRIENTS, during that process.
Some healthy gluten-free whole-grain alternatives are amaranth, buckewheat, millet, oats, rice, wild rice, quinoa. As I mentioned earlier, the best thing to do is replace these refined grains with sprouted grains, such as: brown or wild rice, whole-wheat or sprouted breads, pastas, barley & oats, sprouted nuts, seeds, lentils, legumes, beans, etc.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Guys, I’m sure you’ve all heard of this one. Research has shown that Americans consume more calories from HFCS than any other source. Unfortunately, this ingredient is in practically EVERYTHING.
What on earth is it? A highly-refined artificial sweetener found in almost all processed foods. It is chemically similar to table sugar (sucrose), but it’s a cheaper alternative that is a highly processed form of glucose converted into fructose (the type of sugar you would usually find in fruit).
HFCS inhibits leptin (the hormone responsible for telling your brain you are full). It may also increase risk for diabetes, obesity & other metabolic disorders, as well as contribute to the development of tissue damage. It also increases triglycerides, boosts fat-storing hormones & may actually drive people to overeat & gain weight.
Contrary to many claims, HFCS is an industrial food (a.k.a. it’s man/machine-made) & is in no way natural or a naturally occurring substance. It’s extracted from corn stalks through a chemical enzymatic process resulted in a chemical compound. Since there is no chemical bond between the fructose & glucose contained in HFCS, NO DIGESTION is required so they are more rapidly absorbed into the blood. Fructose goes to the liver & triggers the production of fats like triglycerides & cholesterol, which is why it’s the major case of liver damage & the rapidly absorbed glucose triggers spikes in insulin (the body’s major fat storage hormone). Both these features lead to incearesd metabolic disturbances that drive increases in appetite, weight gain, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, dementia & more.
The fructose in HFCS also requires more energy to be absorbed by the gut & soaks up 2 molecules from ATP (our body’s energy source), which depletes the energy fuel source in our gut required to t maintain the integrity of our intestinal lining. High doses of fructose punch holes in the intestinal lining allowing nasty byproduct of toxic gut bacteria & partially digested food proteins to enter the blood stream & trigger inflammation, a.k.a. LEAKY GUT SYNDROME, the root cause of obesity diabetes cancer, heart disease, dementia & accelerated aging. So while your gut is supposed to function in such a way that tight little junctions bind each intestinal cell together & prevent food & bacteria from leaking across the intestinal member & triggering an immune reaction & inflammation, THAT WON’T HAPPEN WHEN YOU CONSUME HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP. In fact, quite the opposite will.
Naturally occurring fructose, on the other hand, like that found in fruit, is part of a complex of nutrients and fiber that DOES NOT EXHIBIT THE SAME BIOLOGICAL EFFECTS AS THE HIGH FRUCTOSE DOSES FOUND IN “CORN SUGAR’.
HFCS also contains contaminants, including mercury, that are not regulated or measured by the FDA.
Last but not least, high fructose corn syrup is often found in foods that are of poorer quality, nutrient-poor & disease-creating industrial food products or food-like substances. They are a marker. if you find HFCS in a product label, you can be sure that product was made in high quantities, cheaply & that it was not made with whole real fresh food full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients & antioxidants. USE IT AS A SIGN, GUYS!
LOOK FOR IT IN: EVERYTHING, literally. But especially: processed foods, bread, candy, flavoured yogurts, salad dressings, canned vegetables & soups, cereals, etc.
To read more about leaky gut syndrome & gut health, click here: Everything You Need To Know To Heal Your Gut a.k.a. GO WITH YOUR GUT, ALWAYS.
Ever heard of Equal? Sweet N’ Low? SugarTwin? SPLENDA? Same, same. But more importantly, did you ever hear about just how horrible they are for you? Probably not because they are marketed as a calorie-free sugar alternative & they’re targeted at consumers in such a way that makes them believe that they provide a quick, easy & cheap solution to low-sugar & low-carb diets without causing any harm. They are often found in foods labelled “diet”, “fat free” or “sugar free” & seem to be the answer to effective weight loss providing the taste of sweetness without any calories. BUT YOU HAVE NO IDEA HOW WRONG THAT IS. These supposedly diet-friendly sweeteners actually do more harm than good & believe it or not, they actually make you MORE LIKELY to become addicted to & keep eating sweets. All this to say, their side effects far outweigh the potential benefits of a low-calorie sweetener.
They cause all types of symptoms, from headaches & migraines to weight gain, increasing BMI, metabolic syndrome & even heart disease. They may lead to development of glucose intolerance & other metabolic conditions that result in higher than normal blood glucose levels. They also contribute to a host of gastrointestinal issues, ranging from bloating, puffiness, to constipation, to diarrhea, to feeling overall sluggish, etc.
They may also cause a dangerous addiction to overly sweet foods as they retrain your tastebuds to need more & more, sweeter & sweeter foods, which in turn leads to incidences of obesity, type 2 diabetes, and kidney disease. The reason this happens is because individuals find other foods to fill the calorie gap or replace the “lost” calories though other sources in order to feel full (Think of the person who orders Diet Coke with the most calorie-dense & nutrient-devoid meal on the menu). This is because non-nutritive sweeteners actually provide no sense of satisfaction & it may also hinder weight loss.
Some of you will tell me that FDA studies have ruled out artificial sweeteners as a potential risk for the development of cancer. That means they can’t be so bad, right? WRONG. It’s necessary to put things into perspective: the studies conducted were based on smaller doses than the 24oz. a day average of diet soda. As portion sizes continue to grow out of control with 30-50 oz. fountain sodas, it’s vital to recognize that these portions have not been evaluated for their safety & therefore, it’s wrong to rule out cancer risk entirely.
Another effect of artificial sweeteners that we might not often think about is that they may change the way we taste food. These empty calorie sweeteners are a lot more potent than regular table sugar. A small amount produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, without comparable calories. BUT, overstimulation of sugar receptors from frequent consumption of these hyper-intense sweeteners might limit tolerance for more complex tastes. If you use artificial sweeteners daily, you may start to find less intensely sweet foods, such as fruit, less appealing & unsweet foods, such as veggies, downright gross. In other words, using these sweeteners daily may actually make you hate healthy, filling and more nutrient-dense foods while consuming more artificially flavoured ones with less nutrition! NUTS, RIGHT?
Studies have also shown that they are ADDICTIVE and that they may prevent us from associating sweetness with caloric intake. As such, we may crave more sweets, choose sweet food over nutritious food & gain weight.
I could go on & on about how bad every artificial sweetener is but I don’t want to bore you guys. In a nutshell, contrary to their marketing tactics, they WILL NOT SOLVE ALL YOUR PROBLEMS & they DO NOT help combat obesity, metabolic syndrome or diabetes.
ALL THIS TO SAY: Opt for sugar-containing foods in their natural form, such as: whole fruit & healthy sugar alternatives. They tend to be highly nutritious, nutrient-dense, high in fiber & low in glycemic load. Refined, concentrated sugar consumed in large amounts spikes blood glucose & insulin levels almost instantly, causes inflammation & oxygen radicals & with them, increases the risk for disease. DO YOU REALLY WANT THAT? I DIDN’T THINK SO!!!!
LOOK FOR THEM IN: EVERYTHING, but specifically: chewable vitamins, cough syrups, chewing gum, no calorie waters & drinks, alcoholic beverages, salad dressings, frozen yogurt & other frozen desserts, candies, baked goods, flavoured yogurts, breakfast cereals, processed snack foods, light or diet fruit juices & beverages, prepared or cured meats, nicotine gum, toothpaste, etc.
In case you’re wondering JUST HOW BAD they are for you, I just want to talk about a few of them in more detail (Sorry, I know, I do not shut up!).
- Aspartame: Equal, Nutrasweet
It is a neurotoxin & carcinogen. It has been shown to erode intelligence & affect short-term memory, increase oxidative stress in the brain & may even lead to brain tumours &/or diseases, such as: lymphoma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue, emotional disorders (depression, anxiety attacks, dizziness, headaches, nausea, mental confusion, mania, migraines & seizures). It may also predispose babies to metabolic syndrome disorders & obesity later in line.
- Sucralose: Splenda
Derived from sugar, but is actually a chlorinated sucrose (YES, CHLORINE a.k.a. it it contains one of the most toxic chemicals on earth). It’s 600x sweeter than sugar & can lead to severe addiction. It ws originally found through the development of an insecticide compound & was not intended to be consumed by humans. Cooking with it at high temperatures can actually make it even more toxic. Human & rodent studies have shown that it may alter glucose & insulin levels & contribute to the development of certain illnesses, such as diabetes or heart disease.
- Acesulfame K: ACE K, Sunette, Equal Spoonful, Sweet One, Sweet N’ Safe
This one is often found in gum, alcohol, candy & sweetened yogurt & often used in conjunction with aspartame as a flavour-enhancer. Because it’s heat-stable, it’s often found in highly processed foods & baked goods. It’s composed of a potassium salt that contains methylene chloride (which is a chemical component shown to cause nausea, mood problems, some types of cancer, impaired liver & kidney function, problems with eyesight & perhaps even autism). The human body does not have the ability to break it down & it negatively affects metabolism.
- Saccharine: Sweet N Low, Sweet Twin
This is the primary sweetener in children’s medication, including chewable vitamins, cough syrup. Research has shown that it contributes to photosensitivity, nausea, digestive upset, & some types of disease & cancer.
- Xylitol & Sorbitol (& any other sugar alcohol ending in “tol”, such as: erythritol, maltitol, mannitol)
These are often marketed as healthy & are actually sold on the shelves not only of regular grocery stores but of health food stores, as well. They are usually placed close to the ACTUAL healthier sugar alternatives such as coconut or date sugar. However, THEY ARE NOT HEALTHY. They are CHEMICALS, & are not absorbed well by the body (because they were never meant to be!) & can cause an allergic reaction for those who are sensitive to them. They also have tons of gastrointestinal side effects, ranging from bloating, gas, cramping & diarrhea.
Read my full post on healthy sugar alternatives here: The Nitty-Gritty on Healthy Sugar Alternatives & Substitutes a.k.a. Nobody-Said-You-Couldn’t-Curb-Them-Sugar-Cravings-Just-Curb-‘Em-Wisely!
SODIUM BENZOATE, BENZOIC ACID & POTASSIUM BENZOATE
Sodium benzoate is a synthetic chemical (OBVIOUSLY) produced when benzoic acid, which is found naturally in some fruit & spices, is combined with sodium hydroxide (This sodium salt is present at extremely low levels in apples, berries, plums, cinnamon & other natural foods – there’s nothing scary about it in these items. But, when it’s made in a lab & then added to foods & to the interior of mental cans that contain beverages or liquid foods, that’s when we enter DANGER ZONE). It’s usually added to foods/products to prevent mould or microorganisms from growing in acidic environments.
It can lead to: asthma attacks, hives or other allergic reactions, may trigger or enhance hyperactivity in children & may also increase damage to DNA (triggering cell mutation & cancers) or cause thyroid damage. But it gets worse: when sodium benzoate is combined with citric acid or ascorbic acid (a.k.a. vitamin C) or when plastic bottles of soda or beverages containing it are exposed to heat, they form benzene, a cancer-causing chemical associated with leukaemia & other blood cancers.
LOOK OUT FOR IT IN: Sodas (such as: Dr. Pepper, Sunkist Orange, Mountain Dew), fruit juices or other carbonated drinks, salad dressings, certain vinegars & wines, pickles, mouthwash & cough syrups.
LOOK OUT FOR THESE WORDS: Benzoic acid, benzene, E211, sodium benzoate or potassium benzoate, benzoate & be even more wary if you also see citric acid, ascorbic acid or vitamin C on the label.
This is another artificial food additive & is a whitish crystalline powder that contains antioxidant properties (BUT NOT IN A GOOD WAY), which means it helps stop oxygen molecules from mixing with oil in food, causing food to spoil or go rancid. It’s often used in conjunction with two other preservatives, BHA & BHT, in order to improve its efficacy (BTW, those two are also suspect as carcinogenic & we’ll talk about them next).
Some research has indicated that propyl gallate may cause cancer. Other side effects include: stomach & skin irritability, allergic reactions that may have an effect on breathing & kidney/liver problems.
LOOK FOR IT IN: Meat products, microwaveable popcorn, soup mixes, chewing gum, mayo & other frozen meals, as well as potato sticks & even some cosmetics.
BHA & BHT
BHA & BHT are widely used by the food industry as preservatives, to prevent oils in foods from oxidizing & becoming rancid, to prevent food from changing colour, flavour & to prevent overall food spoilage & food poisoning. Oxidation affects everything from flavour to colour to odour of foods & reduces some nutrient content.
The FDA categorizes these preservatives as “GRAS” (generally recognized as safe), which means they are widely considered safe for their intended use in specific amounts, but don’t actually have to undergo pre-market review. BUT, other health organizations have raised tons of concerns about these preservatives based on animal studies. BHA is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen, while BHT has been linked to an increased risk of cancer in animals.
Other studies have found that BHA is actually a major endocrine disruptor & can seriously mess with hormones. It may also impact sleep, appetite & has been associated with liver & kidney damage, hair loss, behavioural problems, neurological issues & altering behaviour.
LOOK FOR IT IN: Enriched rice, lard, shortening, jello, chips, gum, cereal, frozen sausage.
SODIUM NITRATES / NITRITES
These are used as colorants, which preserve the shelf life of meats by turning them bright red & making old dead meats appear free & vibrant. They have been linked to colon cancer & metabolic syndrome, which can lead to diabetes. This ingredient is super harmful & becomes carcinogenic when it enters the human digestive system. They mix with stomach acids to form nitrosamines, that enter the blood stream & are potent cancer causing cells associated with oral, stomach, brain esophageal and bladder cancers, as well as liver & pancreas disease.
LOOK FOR THEM IN: Cold cuts, hot dogs, bacon, smoked fish, cured or processed meats.
Do you like Chinese food? Probably. I mean, who doesn’t. If you do, that means you’ve probably heard of MSG. Basically, it is made up of water, sodium & glutamate. Glutamate is an amino acid used to make protein in for & in our body. It does not have a specific flavour of its own but is rather used as an ingredient to enhance the natural flavours of foods. It’s known as an excitotoxin, a substance which overexcites cells to the point of damage or death.
While glutamates are present in some natural foods, such as meat & cheese, the ones exploited by the processed-foods industry are separated from their host proteins through hydrolysis. High levels of free glutamates screw with brain chemistry (by affecting neurological pathways to the brain), may lead to type II diabetes, metabolic syndrome, obesity, depression, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, increased heart beat, nausea, vomiting, pain in the face, back, neck or chest or a feeling of pressure on the face, chills, shakes, blurred vision, tingling or burning sensations, headaches & disengages the “I’m full” function, which leads to weight gain.
LOOK FOR IT IN: Meat, poultry, soups, stews, casseroles, gravies, seafood, cookies, chips, other packaged snacks, lunch meats, frozen entrees, salad dressings & other condiments, bottled & canned sauces, canned meats, prepared foods, soup mixes/bouillon & packaged vegetable dishes.
LOOK OUT FOR WORDS: Monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, autolzyed yeast, autolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract & citric acid.
Potassium bromate is used to increase volume, strengthen dough, allow higher rising in white flour, breads & rolls & produce a crumbly structure. As you guys know, gluten is the wheat protein & glue that binds bread dough to itself (GF bread will rely on other thickening agents, such as xanthin gum).
In order for two gluten molecules to bind to each other, molecular bridges must form between them. They don’t just form spontaneously or happen magically, but are rather a product of oxidation. Back in the day, bakers would rely on oxygen in the air to form molecular bridges in dough by “aging” the flour after milling by exposing it to open air for weeks, and then slowly mixed the flour in dough, allowing the ambient oxygen to do the hard work of bridge building.
But nowadays, that takes too much time for huge companies driven by one thing & one thing only: MONEY MAKING. All hail potassium bromate: a powerful oxidizing agent that chemically ages flour much faster than open air would. It bleaches dough, enhances its elasticity by strengthening its network of molecular bridges, which allows tiny bubbles to form as the bread rises. The end result: Fluffy, unnaturally white & soft bread.
In an ideal world, the end result is also devoid of potassium bromate, because during baking, it supposedly changes to potassium bromide, a harmless byproduct (which is the justification for which it has not yet been banned in the USA). It has actually been banned in most industrialized countries, including the EU, Canada & Brazil, but hasn’t yet been banned in Japan or the USA).
The danger arises when bromate flour is not baked for long enough or at a high enough temperature or if too much of it is added in the first place. It is then found in the final product in greater quantities. Your best bet is to avoid it entirely because there is no way for you to know how much of it was used, how long it was baked for or at what temperature it was baked.
It has been linked to causing cancer in the thyroid, kidney & other body parts of rats & mice.
LOOK OUT FOR IT IN: Flour, breads, rolls & other baked treats.
LOOK OUT FOR WORDS: Bromate flour or potassium bromate.
COMMON FOOD DYES/COLOURINGS
Studies have shown that on a yearly basis, food manufacturers pour 15 million pounds of artificial food dyes into foods. In the EU, most foods that contain artificial food dyes come with warning labels & the British government has also asked that food manufacturers remove most artificial colours from foods. However, in the US & Canada, similar measures have NOT been taken.
Think about it for a second: Food colourings are added to processed foods in the first place to make a food that would otherwise be an off-colour HOT MESS look appealing. When foods are processed, not only are valuable nutrients lost & fibres removed, but the texture, natural variation & flavours are lost also. After processing, what’s left behind is HARDLY EVEN FOOD. It’s CRAP: a bland uninteresting pseudo-food that that most people would find looks unappetizing. This is why food manufacturers, driven by profit, add back nutrients, flavour, colour & texture to make these foods desirable. All hail additives.
Additives are used for many reasons:
- Slowing spoilage, prevent food from going bad & increasing shelf life
- Saving money
- Producing more with less quality
- Preventing fats & oils from developing an off flavour
- Preventing cut fruit from turning brown
- Fortifying or enriching food with synthetic vitamins & minerals, lost during processing
- Improving teaste, texture and appearance
- Attracting kids to foods to make them appear fun, a.k.a. if the food comes in an outrageous color that isn’t found in nature, don’t eat it (I AM THINKING OF SUPER-KID ICE CREAM).
Some of the most commonly used food dyes may be linked to numerous forms of cancer, along with hyperactivity & other behavioural problems in children, as well as a significant reduction in IQ.
BTW: Some foods are coloured with natural substances (beta-carotene, annatto & carmine), but it’s rare. On the contrary, almost 18 million pounds of food dyes (many of which are petroluem-derived) are consumed in America. IF ONLY IT WERE THE OTHER EAWY AROUND, RIGHT?!
Some of the most common food dyes include:
- Blue #1 & #2: Causes kidney tumours & other tumours in mice & rats.
- Found in: Baked goods, coloured, beverages, dessert powders, candies & cereal
- Green #3: Causes bladder & teste tumours in male rats.
- Found in: Personal care pdocuts, cosmetic products, candies, beverages, ice cream, sorbet, lipsticks.
- Red #3: Thyroid carcinogen in animals, banned in cosmetics & externally applied drugs by the FDA in 1990. May also cause chromosomal damage & interfere with brain-nerve transmission.
- Found in: Sausage casings, maraschino cherries, baked goods & candies, cherry pie, bakery products, fruit cocktails. May also cause chromosomal damage & interfere with brain-nerve transmission
- Red #40: Most widely used & consumed. Accelerates the appearance of immune system tumours in mice, causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in consumers & triggers hyperactivity in kids.
- Found in: Beverages, bakery goods, resets powders, candies, cereal, foods, cosmetics
- Yellow #5: Causes sometimes severe hypersensitivity reactions and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioural effects in children.
- Found in: Pet food, bakery goods, beverages, dessert powders, candies, cereal, gelatin desserts, pharmaceuticals & some cosmetics.
- Yellow #6: Increases kidney & adrenal gland tumours in lab animals & has been linked to chromosomal damage, as well as hypersensitivity reactions.
- Found in: American cheese, macaroni & cheese, carbonated beverages, cereal, sausage, desserts.
Yes, your diet should include a range of coloured foods & you should always have a rainbow on your plate, BUT THIS SHOULD BE A NATURAL RAINBOW a.k.a. the foods should be naturally rich in colour.
Examples: Red bell peppers, purple eggplant, spinach, blueberries, tomatoes, etc. The bright colours of these healthy foods are signed of the important nutrients they contain, such as: beta-carotene, carotenoids, antioxidants, chlorophyll, phytonutrients, etc. These are the colours you need in your life, NOT THE MAN-MADE CHEMICAL ONES found in processed foods.
Sulfur additives are often used in food & drinks for their properties as a preservatives & antioxidants. They help maintain the colourful appearance of fruit & prevent rotting. However, the FDA has thankfully prohibited their use (in the USA, anyway) on raw fruit & veggies.
Some side effects include bronchial problems (especially if you are prone to or have asthma), hypotension (low blood pressure), tingling sensations or anaphylactic shock, destroying vitamins B1 & E. It’s even more dangerous for those suffering from conjunctivitis, bronchitis, bronchial asthma or heart disease.
LOOK FOR IT IN: Beer, soft drinks, dried fruit, juices, wine, vinegars & potato products.
LOOK OUT FOR WORDS: Sulfur dioxide or E220.
Okay lovies, THAT’S IT! (I think it was long enough, no?).
I honestly did not even realize how long I ranted away for, but this post is the result of a heck of a lot of hours of research, trial & error & hours spent in grocery store aisles reading labels & googling words I could not pronounce, let alone spell!
I really hope that this post helps you guys in some ways, opens your eyes, makes you be more mindful about your overall health, body & well-being & most importantly, makes you think twice next time you’re about the purchase a food that will do you more harm than good!
ALWAYS REMEMBER: YOU ARE WHAT YOU EAT.