You may already be aware of some of the less-than-desirable ingredients that sometimes show up in our foods, like certain preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, and trans fats. Have you started checking out the ingredient labels for these items? If not, be sure to take my “Ingredients to Avoid” list with you when you shop. Below are a few items from that list, along with a few others you may want to stay away from whenever you can. Just remember-we are what we eat!
1. Acrylamides. These are chemical compounds that can damage the nervous system and have shown to be carcinogenic in animal studies. The tricky part is that these chemicals don’t show up on the ingredient list. The Swedish National Food Administration has stated that they can be found in baked and fried starchy foods, like potato chips and cookies. Best bet: keep your intake of these foods to a minimum, and purchase from brands dedicated to using healthy ingredients and cooking processes.
2. Artificially colored foods. I’m talking about things like candy, gelatin, and fruit snacks that are colored with artificial chemicals like blue 1 and 2, red 3 and yellow 6. These have been linked in animal studies to cancer.
3. Aspartame. If you think you’re saving your waist line by drinking diet drinks, beware-many have this artificial sweetener, which has been linked to headaches, dizziness, nausea, depression, fatigue, and sleeping problems. Early science has also raised concern about potential brain problems, like memory loss and seizures, resulting from excess aspartame.
4. Bisphenol-A (BPA). I’ve posted about this one before. Used to make plastics, it can seep into food from both plastic and can containers, and it’s linked with hormone disruption.
5. High fructose corn syrup. The real danger of this ingredient is that it’s in absolutely everything, from cookies and cakes to ketchup, yogurt, and bread. Researchers suggest it could have a lot to do with our nation’s expanding waistlines. In addition, some studies suggest that the body metabolizes it differently than regular sugar, leaving us less satisfied and more likely to eat more. Oh, and did I mention it’s often contaminated with mercury?
6. Partially hydrogenated oils. This is where those dangerous trans fats come from. Oils are modified by chemicals to make them stable at room temperature-and to increase shelf-life-which changes their overall chemical makeup, and makes them more likely to clog arteries and lead to heart problems. You’ll see them listed on the ingredient decks of chips, cookies, pastries, and more.
7. Pesticides. These chemicals are designed to kill bugs, but they can also seriously affect our health. Pesticides have been linked with brain and nervous disorders, and research shows that they can cause brain cancers in children. Buy organic produce when you can-one study found that when kids were switched to organic produce, the pesticide levels in their urine dropped overnight and stayed low.
8. Phosphoric acid. Did your mother ever tell you that soda would rot your teeth? If so, she was right, as it comes with this ingredient, which is literally an acid that dissolves the carbon dioxide in the soda. Did you know that it’s also used to clean the rust off of metals?
9. Sodium nitrite. It’s best to stay away from anything with the word “nitrite.” These are carcinogens you’ll find in some lunch meats and other processed meats like bacon, pepperoni, sausage, and hot dogs. Look for the words “nitrite-free” on your processed meats, or better yet, avoid them completely.
10. Sugar. A little sugar won’t hurt you. The problem is that it’s everywhere in our food supply, not just as sugar, but as corn syrup, corn syrup solids, and more. Refined sugar is stripped of all the good stuff and serves no good purpose in the body, but it does contribute to weight gain and may encourage diabetes and mood disorders. Cut back when you can, and choose stevia and agave as more nutritious sweetening options.
Have you changed your shopping habits to avoid toxins in food? Please share your tips.
Photo courtesy jazzijava via Flickr.com.