More than 3,000 food additives — preservatives, flavorings, colors and other ingredients — are added to foods, and this is one of the key reasons why we should avoid most of the processed foods that contain them.
While we already know the importance of reading food labels, the easiest way to eat healthy is to stick with foods that need no food label at all…
There’s a good chance, though, that you do eat some processed foods, and if this is the case reading the label is invaluable. There are literally thousands of ‘red flags’ to watch out for in the foods you eat, but a handful take the proverbial cake for worst of the worst.
When foods are processed, not only are valuable nutrients lost and fibers removed, but the textures and natural variation and flavors are also lost. After processing, what’s left behind is a bland, uninteresting “pseudo-food” that most people wouldn’t want to eat. So at this point, food manufacturers must add back in the nutrients, flavor, color and texture to processed foods in order to make them palatable, and this is why they become loaded with food additives.
The Worst Ingredients in Processed Foods:
1. Artificial Sweeteners
Experiments have found that sweet taste, regardless of its caloric content, enhances your appetite, and consuming artificial sweeteners has been shown to lead to even greater weight gain than consuming sugar. Aspartame has been found to have the most pronounced effect, but the same applies for other artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame potassium, sucralose and saccharin.
Yet, weight gain is only the beginning of why artificial sweeteners should generally be avoided. Aspartame, for instance, is a sweet-tasting neurotoxin. As a result of its unnatural structure, your body processes the amino acids found in aspartame very differently from a steak or a piece of fish.
2. Synthetic Trans Fats
These are common in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, such as crackers, chips, most store-bought baked goods, and any fried foods, just to name a few examples. Synthetic trans fats are known to promote inflammation, which is a hallmark of most chronic and/or serious diseases.
For instance, in one 2010 study, post-menopausal women who consumed the most daily synthetic trans fat had a 30 percent higher incidence of ischemic strokes.4 Synthetic trans fats have also been linked to:
3. Artificial Flavors and Colors
What’s particularly alarming when you see a word like “artificial flavor” or “artificial colour” on an ingredients label is that there’s no way to know what it actually means. It could mean that one unnatural additive is included, or it could be a blend of hundreds of additives.
They are usually found in candies, baked goods, beverages, pet foods, cereals and much more. They are linked to health issues ranging from:
– hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions in children
– brain tumors
– hypersensitivity in children
4. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
Fructose is primarily metabolized by your liver, because your liver is the only organ that has the transporter for it. Since all fructose gets shuttled to your liver, and, if you eat a typical Western-style diet, you consume high amounts of it, fructose ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do. And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat – it just gets stored in your fat cells, which leads to mitochondrial malfunction, obesity and obesity-related diseases.
The more fructose or HFCS a food contains, and the more total fructose you consume, the worse it is for your health. As a standard recommendation, I advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day. For most people it would also be wise to limit your fructose from fruit to 15 grams or less, as you’re virtually guaranteed to consume “hidden” sources of fructose if you drink beverages other than water and eat processed food.
Preservatives lengthen the shelf-life of foods, increasing manufacturers’ profits – at your expense, since most are linked to health problems such as cancer, allergic reactions and more. Preservatives also affect the neurological system of your brain, alter behavior and have the potential to cause cancer.
The preservative sodium benzoate — found in many soft drinks, fruit juices and salad dressings – has been found to cause children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible. Sodium nitrite, a commonly used preservative in hot dogs, deli meats and bacon, has been linked to higher rates of colorectal, stomach and pancreatic cancers. And the list goes on and on…
Making Healthier Choices
Swapping your processed food diet for one that focuses on fresh whole foods is a necessity if you value your health. Remember, people have thrived on vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods were only recently invented.
If you want to eat healthy, spend quality time in the kitchen preparing high-quality meals for yourself and your family. If you rely on processed inexpensive foods, you exchange convenience for long-term health problems and mounting medical bills.