I would love to impart this knowledge to you and have you begin a great journey towards eating healthier; not to mention living with the knowledge that you gave it your best shot to live well, rather than complaining about not having been educated to know any better….We must take responsibility for the health of our own bodies. And believe me when I say that we cannot trust the FDA when it comes to what they are allowing in our food supply.
- A food that advertises itself as “containing whole grains” may have more sugar than grains.
- A food that promises to be “trans fat free” may in fact contain up to 0.5 grams of partially hydrogenated oils, a source of trans fats, in the ingredient list. Consider if you were to eat two servings of such a food for each day of the week, that equates to 7 grams of trans fats, when you were told you were eating NONE.
The first important thing to know is that the ingredients are listed in descending order of predominance. The first two or three ingredients are the ones that matter most. Ingredients at the bottom of the list may appear in only very tiny amounts, but can still add up if you eat a lot of the product.
Secondly, the healthier, less processed items you can eat will have 5 or less ingredients, and all 5 ingredients will be easily recognized.
There are two parts to the Nutrition Information on packaged foods. First is the “Nutrition Label Facts or Panel”, the second is the “Ingredients”.
In this blog, I want to focus on the “Ingredients” because this is critical to improving health and is as easy as just memorizing a list of harmful things to stay away from.
Here is the list of ingredients to avoid:
• Preservatives: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, potassium sorbate, BHA, BHT, TBHQ (you find these things in meats and hot dogs, cereals, chips) Partially Hydrogenated ANYTHING….(often “Partially Hydrogenated” Soybean oil and Corn Oil)
• Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners: fructose, high fructose corn syrup, aspartame (sweet-n-low), sucralose (splenda), acesulfame potassium (acesulfame- K)
• Artificial Flavors: label will not specify what is used, but will just say “artificial flavors”
• Artificial Colors: 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
• Flavor Enhancers: monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract
Top Offenders to Avoid and Associated Health Risks (taken from Mercola.com):
Coloring agents: blue 1, blue 2, yellow 5, and yellow 6. Found in cake, candy, macaroni and cheese, medicines, sport drinks, soda, pet food, and cheese. Most artificial colors are made from coal tar, which is a carcinogen.
Olestra (aka Olean) Found in fat-free potato chips- Depletion of fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids. Side effects include oily anal leakage.
Brominated vegetable oil (aka BVO) Found in sports drinks and citrus-flavored sodas. Competes with iodine for receptor sites in the body, which can lead to hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, and cancer. The main ingredient, bromine, is a poisonous, corrosive chemical, linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss.
Potassium bromate (aka brominated flour): Found in rolls, wraps, flatbread, bread crumbs, and bagel chips See bromine above. Associated with kidney and nervous system disorders, gastrointestinal discomfort.
Azodicarbonamide: Found in breads, frozen dinners, boxed pasta mixes, and packaged baked goods. Linked to asthma.
BHA and BHT: Found in cereal, nut mixes, gum, butter, meat, dehydrated potatoes, and beer. BHA may be a human carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent. BHT can cause organ system toxicity
Synthetic hormones: rBGH and rBST: Found in milk and dairy products Linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Arsenic Found in poultry. EPA classifies inorganic arsenic as a “human carcinogen” yet it is in chicken feed to keep the chickens from contracting diseases.
If you are not completely overwhelmed and are interested in learning more in depth of how to trust what is in your packaged food, continue reading on: (excerpt taken from: WebMD – http://www.webmd.com/food-recipes/features/healthy-ingredients?page=2)
The Word “Whole” as in Whole Grains
Especially for breakfast cereals, crackers, pasta, and breads, the word “whole” should appear as the first or second ingredient, whether whole wheat, oats, rye, or another grain. One way to double-check is to look at the fiber content on the nutrition facts panel. Whole-grain foods should deliver at least 3 grams of fiber per serving and ideally even more, according to University of Pennsylvania family nutrition expert Lisa Hark, PhD, RD.
Hidden Sugars, as in Fructose, Sucrose, Dextrose
More and more packaged foods are sweetened with a baffling array of sugars, which add calories without boosting nutritional value. Ingredients that end in the word “ose” are all forms of sugar, as are honey and corn sweeteners.
A recent study at the University of California, Davis showed that these sweeteners had a similar metabolic effect to other forms of sugar. Still, all sweeteners add calories but few nutrients, and they can contribute to weight problems.
To know exactly how many grams of total sugar a product contains, check out the nutrient facts label. Four to 5 grams of sugar is the equivalent of a level teaspoon.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils: Source of Trans Fats
Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats, which have been shown to be potentially more harmful to arteries than saturated fat.
Foods can call themselves “trans-fat free” even if they contain up to half a gram of trans fats per serving. Look on the ingredients list. If a food contains partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fats.
“If that’s an item you only eat now and then, you don’t need to worry,” says Rosenbloom. “But if it’s something you eat every day, it’s worth looking for a brand that doesn’t have partially hydrogenated oils.” Be sure to look for balance. It doesn’t help your health to choose foods loaded with saturated fat in order to avoid a tiny amount of trans fat. The American Heart Association recommends choosing vegetable oils and margarines with liquid vegetable oil as the first ingredient and no more than 2 grams of saturated fat per tablespoon, such as tub margarines, canola, corn, safflower, soybean, sunflower, and olive oils.
Artificial Sweeteners, as in Sucralose, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame
In moderation, these ingredients can cut down on calories in foods like yogurt and beverages. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest warns that some artificial sweeteners can be dangerous in large quantities. Many nutritionists say it’s best to consume artificial sweeteners in moderation.
“If you drink six cans of sugar-free soda a day, it might be wise to switch to sparkling water flavored with lemon and lime, for example,” says Hark.
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate in Food
Used as a preservative in meats, these chemicals may pose a cancer risk, although the evidence remains controversial. One recent study raised fears that nitrites and nitrates could interact with medications to damage DNA and increase the risk of cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends limiting the amount you consume by choosing nitrite-free products when possible.
Artificial Colorings in Food
These additives don’t add nutrient value, and some research suggests that some colorings may pose health dangers, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest. The risk is admittedly small, however, and the evidence often inconclusive.
Artificial colorings are often found in cereals, candies, sodas, and snack foods, especially those marketed to children. They will be noted on the ingredients list by their color name, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Red 3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and Orange B.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) in Food
Added to foods to enhance flavor, MSG has not been shown to pose a health risk, despite popular concerns about this additive. But some people do experience an unpleasant reaction, known as MSG symptom complex, which includes headache, flushing, sweating, fluttering heartbeat, and shortness of breath.
As always, feel free to comment or contact me if you have further questions or want to talk more in depth about the art of reading labels. Here’s to taking back your health, one step at a time! Happy label reading!