Unhealthy Ingredients To Avoid In Processed Foods

It is no secret that most processed and/or packaged foods contain a lot of unhealthy ingredients or chemicals that have no place in a healthy diet. Studies have shown that such chemicals can cause a lot of health issues such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancers (at least for those who consume them on a regular basis).

 

As Michael Pollan says: ”avoid food products with more than five ingredients; with ingredients you can't pronounce.” So, next time before you decide to buy any packaged food, make sure to read the nutritional label to know what you’re putting into your body.

 

Now, without further ado, here is a list of unhealthy food ingredients that you should be on the lookout for:

 

 

 

High-Fructose Corn Syrup:

What is it?

High-fructose corn syrup is a sugar substitute that originates from corn syrup. Whereas normal sugar contains both glucose and fructose, high-fructose corn syrup solely has fructose and it is harder for your body to break down, resulting in it being stored as fat. High-fructose corn syrup is commonly found in sodas, sweetened juices, processed desserts such as candy bars and packaged cookies, condiments and salad dressings, and many other foods.

Why you should avoid it:

Many researchers think that the overuse of high-fructose corn syrup is one of the main causes of the increased rates of obesity in America. There is no nutritional value to high-fructose corn syrup and if consumed too much, it can lead to diseases such as diabetes.

 

 

 

Artificial Sweeteners

 

What are they?

Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, Saccharin, and Acesulfame Potassium to name a few) are chemicals that are used to activate the sweet receptors in your brain, making you “taste” sweetness without consuming sugar. They are made from ingredients such as aspartic acid, phenylalanine, acetoacetic acid, or other substances. These are commonly found in chewing gum, frozen desserts, baked goods, meat substitutes, energy drinks, and other foods and drinks that are labeled as diet or sugar-free.

Why you should avoid them:

Even though you are not consuming actual sugar, your brain perceives artificial sweeteners as sugar, which means your body reacts the same way. Artificial sweeteners have been linked with an increased appetite for sweets, which results in the consumption of more calories as compared to eating naturally sweetened food. This can lead to weight gain, imbalances to your blood sugar levels, which in turn can lead to hypoglycemia or diabetes, and cancer. Artificial sweeteners have also been linked to autism and multiple sclerosis.

Trans Fats (Partially Hydrogenated Oils)

What are they?

Partially hydrogenated oils are made by converting unsaturated fat to solid fat using hydrogen. The process of partial hydrogenation is how many trans fats are developed. The process of partial hydrogenation is a cheap way for food processors to lengthen expiration dates and still give their food a desirable consistency. Many foods that include these oils are margarine, fried food, coffee-creamers, processed snacks, and more.

Why you should avoid them:

Partially hydrogenated oils are known to cause many health complications, namely heart complications. Consuming trans fats has been shown to increase the risk of coronary artery disease in part by raising levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL, often termed "bad cholesterol"), lowering levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL, often termed "good cholesterol"), increasing triglycerides in the bloodstream and promoting systemic inflammation.

 

 

 

Artificial Flavors

 

What are they?

Artificial flavors are additives made by combining non-food chemicals to mimic the taste and smell of a natural flavor. This can be used as a cheap way to create a flavor (such as cherry-flavored candy that contains no cherries) or to extend the shelf life of a product (such as by adding additional cherry flavoring to a jar of cherries so it will retain its flavor longer). Common artificial flavors include but are not limited to most fruit flavors, vanilla, and a wide variety of other flavors for popcorn, candy, and other baked goods.

Why you should avoid them:

These chemical mixtures are made by combining a wide variety of ingredients such as glutamic acid, petroleum, paper pulp, or any number of other inedible and volatile substances. Different common artificial flavors have been linked to a variety of medical issues, including headaches, fatigue, seizures, and Alzheimer’s disease.

 

 

 

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) And Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

 

What are they?

BHA and BHT are preservatives that keep food from spoiling or losing its color. These synthetic antioxidants are very common in many household foods, including processed meat, chewing gum, enriched rice, gelatin, potato chips, cereal, nuts, and more.

Why you should avoid them:

Studies have shown that BHA and BHT impair blood clotting in animals (which can lead to excessive bleeding) and alter the neurological system in the human brain (and therefore alter behavior). Additionally, the National Institutes of Health has evidence that butylated hydroxyanisole causes cancer in animals. It is restricted as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65 based on evidence that it causes tumors. It is also banned in Japan and various parts of Europe.

 

 

 

Sodium Nitrites And Sodium Nitrates

 

What Are they?

Sodium nitrate is a form of salt that is used as a preservative and to enhance the flavor of meat. When sodium nitrate is used as a curing agent, it is converted to sodium nitrite, an inorganic antimicrobial. It is the substance that keeps cured meats, including bacon, pepperoni, lunch meat, and hot dogs, from turning brown quickly.

Why you should avoid them:

Evidence suggests that sodium nitrate and nitrite are linked to cancer of the digestive tract. They have also been found to harden and narrow blood vessels, leading to heart disease, and impact the way our bodies use sugar, which can lead to diabetes. Other side effects include dizziness, anxiety, headaches, anemia, and low blood pressure.

 

 

 

Artificial Colors

 

What are they?

Artificial colors are chemical dyes that are often made from crude oil. They are commonly found in a wide variety of foods, including children’s snacks, soft drinks, salad dressing, pickles, fish, and pet food.

Why you should avoid it:

These dyes have been proven harmful and therefore banned in counties like Finland, Sweden, and Norway. For example, Red #3 and Red #40 have been linked to thyroid cancer and shown to interfere with communication between your brain and nerves. Blue #1 and Blue #2 have been linked to attention deficit disorder (ADD). Green #3 has been banned in Europe due to its linkage to bladder cancer. Yellow #3 is known to create allergic reactions while Yellow #6 has been linked to both kidney cancer and allergic reactions.

 

 

 

MSG

What is it?

MSG stands for monosodium glutamate. It is generally used in foods to enhance their flavors. As the name might indicate, it is a combination of sodium and glutamic acid. MSG provides a savory, umami flavor, and is used in many popular Asian cuisines, mostly commercial.

Why you should avoid it:

There are many testimonials from disgruntled MSG consumers mentioning a variety of issues including headaches, muscle stiffness, and tingling and numbness. Most of these issues are observable when over three grams of MSG is consumed in one meal, which is a large amount.

Others have complained about issues with MSG exacerbating the symptoms of asthma or causing obesity and weight gain, although the scientific proof behind these claims is still flimsy for now.

Either way, large amounts of MSG are known to cause health problems for those who are sensitive to it, indicating that it might not be something you want to regularly intake.

 

 

 

Sodium Benzoate

 

What is it?

This food preservative is made by combining benzoic acid with sodium hydroxide (lye), which is a corrosive material used to make soap and drain cleaner. It can be found in soda, salad dressing, and various condiments. 

Why you should avoid it:

This man-made chemical has been linked to Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and multiple sclerosis, especially in fruit-flavored diet soda.  Additionally, it has been linked with inflammation, increased appetite, leukemia, and other blood cancers. It can also trigger allergies as well as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) in children. Side effects also include blood disorders, vomiting, respiratory disorders, and issues with the central nervous system.

          

 

 

Enriched White Flour

 

What is it?

The term ‘enriched’ white flour is particularly misleading. Most of the natural vitamins and minerals are removed during the preparation of this flour to increase shelf life and give the bread a smoother texture. The flour is then ‘enriched’ by adding some (not all) of the nutrients back into the flour. Enriched flour is commonly found in bread, cake, brownies, pasta, and pizza.

Why you should avoid it:

It surprises many people to find that enriched flour is one of the least healthy food ingredients on the market. Your body breaks down enriched flour faster than other flour, which means it raises your blood sugar faster and causes your body to store excess sugar as body fat. It has also been found to contribute to premature aging, high blood pressure, and cancer.

Sulphites

 

What is it?

This food preservative delays food from turning brown, helps wine to maintain a fresh taste, and improve the coloring of cherries and other foods. It is commonly found in baked goods, dried fruit, fruit juice, canned vegetables, cereal, vinegar, ketchup, deli meat, molasses, gravy, and most commonly, wine.

 

Why you should avoid it:

This additive, which is also used to make cellophane, can create allergy-like responses, especially in people with asthma. As an allergen, it has been linked to dermatitis and other chronic skin conditions, chest tightness, coughing, muscle spasms, abdominal pain, lower blood pressure, migraines, and neurological damage.

 

 

 

Propyl Gallate

 

What is it?

This antioxidant is formed by combing gallic acid with propyl alcohol. It is used to delay oxygen from mixing with the oil in food, which makes the food last longer before spoiling. Propyl gallate is often used in animal fats and vegetable oils. It can be found in certain meat products, soup mixes, mayonnaise, frozen meals, and microwave popcorn.

Why you should avoid it:

This preservative has been banned in some counties due to safety concerns. It is linked with stomach problems, skin conditions, and allergic reactions that cause difficulty breathing, especially for those with asthma. It has also been found to cause kidney issues, endocrine disruption, urinary tract irritations, liver damage, as well as an increased likelihood of cancer in the adrenal glands, thyroid, and brain.

 

 

 

Sodium Phosphate

What is it?

This term is used in general for a variety of combinations of salt and phosphate, which is an inorganic chemical. Sodium phosphates can be used to thicken processed food, cure meat, process cheese, and extend the shelf life of sugary breakfast cereals and foods with acid and alkaline.

Why you should avoid it:

Sodium phosphate is a saline laxative that is one of the most damaging ingredients in many fast foods. High levels of phosphates in the body have been linked to headaches, dizziness, abdominal pain, seizures, cardiovascular problems, heart disease, accelerated aging, kidney disease, and higher death rates.

 

 

 

Carrageenan

What is it?

Also called poligeenan, this common additive is used to thicken, gel, and preserve food and drinks. This ingredient is derived from red seaweed (Irish moss) and combined with potassium or alkaline substances and acids. It is commonly found in pet food, toothpaste, deli meats, chocolate milk, ice cream, coconut milk, hemp milk, vegan cheese, yogurt, and other dairy products and alternatives.

Why you should avoid it:

Significant health concerns arise from the consumption of carrageenan, including inflammation, irritable bowel syndrome, glucose intolerance, insulin resistance, stomach ulcers, tumors, and colon cancer. When used as a laxative, it has also been linked to inflammatory bowel disease, arthritis, and gall bladder issues. Most concerning, however, is the link to chronic inflammation, which is the root cause of such serious health issues as coronary artery disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease.

 

 

 

Caramel  Color

 

What is it?

This food additive is created by heating sugar with acids, ammonia, sulfites, and/or alkali metals. It is added to many colors to give it a consistent brown color. Caramel color is most commonly found in colas, baked goods, candy, ice cream, certain meats, and beer.

Why you should avoid it:

This artificial food coloring contains a potential carcinogen called 4-Mel that may require a warning label in the state of California. The California Attorney General has been asked to investigate the level of caramel coloring in popular soft drinks due to government studies indicating it causes thyroid and other cancer in animals, particularly since it has no function other than coloring. It is also linked to high blood pressure, low white blood cell counts, and allergies (particularly for those with gluten intolerance or celiac disease).

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