Cheetos, hot dogs and gummy bears. They all have one thing in common — they’re all highly processed. While they certainly taste good, do you really know what you’re eating?
Unless you walk up and down the grocery store aisles analyzing every single ingredient label (which you should be doing), chances are you have no idea what dangerous food additives you’re putting inside your body.
Did you know that more than 3,000 food additives are added to US foods? For that reason, it’s recommended you adopt a clean diet filled with fruits and vegetables and avoid processed foods altogether. But, let’s be real, you probably have at least a couple processed foods in your refrigerator and pantry right this minute.
When you reach for your boxed treats, there are a few “red flag” ingredients you should be on the lookout for. Below are 9 of the most dangerous food additives that everyone should avoid.
1) Artificial Sweeteners
A lot of people breathe a sigh of relief when they eat artificial sweeteners over sugar. If you are one of the many people who believe artificial sweeteners are a “healthier option,” I’m sorry to break the news to you … they’re not!
Researchers say artificial sweeteners can:
- Enhance your appetite
- Lead to weight gain
- Cause inflammation
- Cause digestive issues
- Kill the good gut bacteria in your digestive tract
Their effect on the body doesn’t end there, though. Researchers have found the amino acids in aspartame (a popular type of artificial sweetener) act differently than the amino acids in whole foods such as salmon, eggs or chia seeds. In this case, the amino acids can actually attack your body’s cells and brain cells, creating an extremely toxic effect on the body.
When checking to see if your food contains artificial sweeteners, look for the following names:
*NOTE: These are just five of the many artificial sweeteners added to your foods.
2) Synthetic Trans Fats
There are several different types of fats. They include monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, saturated and trans fats. You definitely shouldn’t have a fear of fats. In fact, the body needs “healthy fats” in order to function properly. Healthy fats include monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Trans fats, on the other hand, are “unhealthy fats” and pose absolutely zero health benefit. In fact, this type of fat is known to cause inflammation and raise bad cholesterol levels. Trans fats are also linked to heart disease, a weakened immune system, cancer, and diabetes.
Trans fats are found in many fried foods and store-bought baked goods.
3) High Fructose Corn Syrup
You may have heard claims that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is no worse for you than table sugar. Don’t believe that for one second! HFCS is not the same as table sugar (sucrose) or fructose (found in many fruits).
HFCS is not a natural substance and has been linked to:
- Weight gain
- Insulin resistance
- Liver damage
- Weakened immune system
- Poor gut health
- May lead to autoimmune disease
These are just six of the most common side effects of consuming HFCS. The list of scary facts on HFCS certainly doesn’t end there.
4) Refined Vegetable Oils
When you first hear the term, “vegetable oils,” you may actually think they’re healthy. After all, vegetables are very good for you! Refined vegetable oils including canola, corn, soybean, cottonseed and safflower oils are far from healthy, though.
As the name “refined” tells us, these oils are highly processed. The oils are extracted by high heat, pressure, and chemical solvents. Without getting too scientific, through processing the beneficial antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are killed. Along with stripping the oil of its nutrients, dangerous preservatives are also added to these oils to create a long shelf life. I’ll talk more about dangerous preservatives in just a minute.
*It’s important to note that when I use the term “vegetable oils” that I am NOT referring to unrefined olive oil and coconut oil. These are two very healthy oils. If you are making a recipe that calls for canola oil (or another type of vegetable oil), you can easily swap it out for extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil.
When you are cooking, you will notice that most baking recipes call for some type of vegetable oil. Rather than following those directions, you can easily swap out vegetable oils for extra virgin, cold-pressed olive oil.
Coconut oil is another great oil for cooking.
5) Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
If you ever get a headache after eating Chinese food, this may be why. MSG is a dangerous flavor enhancer that is often associated with Chinese food. Your plate of Lo Mein isn’t the only place MSG is hiding, though. If you read the ingredient labels for certain frozen dinners, canned foods, and snack bags, you may be surprised to find that it contains MSG. There is even MSG in bouillon (the popular, instant soup broth flavoring).
While the FDA continues to claim that MSG is safe, many experts disagree. This flavor enhancer is said to damage your body’s cells, leading to various health issues including learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and more.
GMOs are all around us. Approximately 80% of all packaged foods contain GMOs. Don’t think you’re eating GMO-free by avoiding packaged foods, though. Some of the top GMO crops include corn, canola, soybeans and sugar beets. GMO salmon is also being introduced into our supermarkets.
So why is this bad? Well, GMO stands for “genetically modified organism.” To put it simply — it’s not a product of Mother Nature, but rather a product of science. GMOs are used to “enhance” the food we eat by making them prettier and hardier. But that doesn’t mean healthier.
Although the US Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has deemed GMOs safe, eating GMO foods have been linked to:
- An increase in food allergies
- An increase in antibiotic resistance
- Reproductive disorders
Additionally, it can be hard to spot GMO foods in your grocery store because the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) doesn’t require these foods to be labeled. Some tips to help you avoid GMOs:
- Grow your own crops
- Buy foods labeled GMO-free (some companies include this on their products)
- Go organic. By law, no more than 5% of organic foods can contain GMOs
Have you ever looked at the shelf life of your favorite boxed foods or bag of chips? It seems like junk food never spoils. That’s because it’s loaded with preservatives. While manufacturers benefit from adding preservatives to our food, our health certainly doesn’t.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are two commonly used preservatives. Along with lengthening your food’s shelf-life, they can also affect your neurological system and can potentially cause cancer.
Sodium nitrite is another popular preservative found in cold cuts and hot dogs. This type of preservative has been linked to various types of cancers.
Then there’s your soda. With such long shelf-lives, don’t think your favorite bottled soft drinks are preservative-free. They often contain a preservative called Sodium benzoate, which can make kids hyperactive.
8) Artificial Flavors
Rule of thumb – anytime you see food with the name “artificial” written on it … RUN! Artificially flavored foods are loaded with unnatural chemicals that wreak havoc on the body. Artificially flavored foods have been linked to digestive issues and mental health diseases.
9) Artificial Colors
Whether you’re a kid or an adult, people seem to love colorful foods. I’m not talking about red tomatoes and bright blueberries. I’m talking about artificially colored Skittles, Starbursts and gummy bears.
Every year, U.S. food manufacturers add more than 15 million pounds of artificial dyes into our foods. That’s a lot of dye! Some dyes are known to be more dangerous than others. Some are linked to behavioral health problems and others are linked to cancer.
Four of the worst offenders include:
Blue #1 and #2
These dyes are used in candy, drinks, and even pet food. It’s been linked to brain tumors.
This dye is often found in candy, fruit cocktail, maraschino cherries, cherry pie filling, and more. It’s been linked to thyroid cancer.
This dye is used in candy and cereal. It’s been linked to cancer and behavioral health problems in children.
Tips To Avoid These 9 Dangerous Food Additives
There are several ways you can reduce the amount of food additives you put in your body. It starts with your grocery shopping habits. The best thing you can do is avoid the center aisles and stick to shopping the perimeters. While the aisles are usually stocked with boxed foods, the perimeters are typically where you will find fresh produce.
When picking out your produce, it’s best to buy foods that don’t have an ingredient label. Remember, real foods don’t have ingredients. Think about it — a banana doesn’t need an ingredient label because it’s simply a banana. It’s the same with tomatoes, avocados, zucchini, etc.
To avoid harmful GMOs and pesticides, it’s always a good idea to go organic. This is not to be confused with “natural.” The terms “natural” and “organic” are not interchangeable. While “natural” can mean any number of things, “100% organic” assures you that your food is made without the use of toxic pesticides, GMOs, antibiotics or artificial growth hormones.
Since organic produce can be a bit pricier, you may not want to buy all of your foods organic. If that’s the case, refer to the following list that tells you which foods have the highest amount of pesticides:
- Sweet Bell Peppers
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Kale/ Collard Greens
- Snap peas
Lastly, if you are buying boxed foods, make sure to read the ingredient label very carefully! That is the only way you will get a feel for what is inside your food. A general rule of thumb – if the product has a bunch of ingredients that you can’t pronounce, don’t eat it!