Whether we’re concerned with weight loss, increasing life expectancy, or just making things that taste good, food is a major part of our lives. We have complex relationships with nutrition: Some of us use food to fill in emotional voids, most of use food to enhance a positive or celebratory experience. From Thanksgiving dinners to pumpkin flavored Halloween treats, from Christmas cookies to Easter candy and 4th of July BBQ’s, there’s no escaping the preponderance of food and drink in our everyday lives. These days, the ‘foodie’ industry is bigger than ever, with the Food Network one of the most profitable companies in television.
However, along with the boom of interested and conscientious foodies, there is an ever-expanding obesity epidemic. Thanks to more widespread healthy eating campaigns aimed at combating the obesity problem in the Western world, we have easy access to information that elucidates what, exactly, goes into our favourite snacks and the repercussions for our health – if we choose to seek that information out. Yes, that cheeseburger might be delicious, but it could also contain ingredients that may cause heart problems and could lead to death. The food industry has spent billions of dollars in creating flavors that are appetising and moreish,but it’s often exactly those ingredients that cause the most damage to our bodies.
The following are ten dominant ingredients, common in foods we all eat, that should be avoided wherever possible. These are the fillers, the agents of instant gratification and the aesthetically pleasing additions to foods that are actually eating away at our insides.
10. The Colors: Blue, Green, Red, and Yellow
Brightly coloured foods appeal to a primal instinct; we associate bright colours with freshness, nutrition and abundance, harking back to our days of gathering fresh fruit and vegetables. But when those artificially bright colours are present in chocolate or fruity candies, beware.
Recent studies have shown that the artificial colors green 3, red 3, yellow 6, and blue 1 and 2 have been linked to numerous cancers including, but not limited to brain, thyroid, kidney, adrenal, and bladder. If you absolutely need to use colours in your food, there are a range of natural options – colours which originally come from fruits, vegetables and even insects.
9. Sodium Nitrates & Nitrites
These lethal ingredients have been linked to colon cancer as well as health conditions that cause diabetes – even medical professionals discourage pregnant women from eating lunch meats, bacon, and hot dogs which typically contain these preservative ingredients. Veterinarians also advise not feeding your pet any of these processed meats. That alone should be enough to give you pause.
8. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Here we have another preservative that has the stamp of approval from the Food & Drug Administration. You would think that this would make this ingredient safe for consumption, right? Not quite. BHA is popular in numerous food brands because it prevents food poisoning and maintains the “freshness” of the food longer without spoiling. However, the problem with BHA is that it messes with your hormones to a disturbing degree. BHA has also been found in cosmetics, so when you’re shopping for food or beauty needs, be sure to take a peek at the ingredients to see what you’re getting yourself into.
7. Potassium Sorbate
The story of potassium sorbate is rather disturbing and might send you running to the nearest organic market. This preservative is used in cheese, baked goods, fruit drinks, and ice cream in order to extend the food’s shelf life. It has also proved to be a toxic ingredient to animals. But what do the FDA have to say about the most popular preservative on the market? They’re not sure about the effect potassium sorbate has on humans because it hasn’t been studied yet. And no one is working on that right now. But it’s still being used in foods.
Also known as monosodium glutamate, MSG is often listed under numerous other names, but many people don’t think to check. MSG is the most common chemical that people know to avoid, after numerous Asian eateries came under fire for using the chemical in their food. It’s addictive and messes with the consumer’s brain, making bland food taste good and stimulating the taste buds. It is commonly found in diet soda, packaged soups, salad dressing, beef stew, and more. The current protocol for food labeling isn’t strict on listing MSG, so there’s no telling what may be in your instant soup.
5. Artificial Sweeteners
The issue of artificial sweeteners is an ironic on, as they are commonly consumed by people who want to lose weight or want to get a handle on their blood sugar. But in fact, these artificial sweeteners are dangerous synthetic chemicals which do more harm than good to the body. Artificial sweeteners are commonly made with sucralose, saccharin, and aspartame, and in fact trigger the brain to desire more sweet items because the taste receptors for sweetness are stimulated, but the body fails to receive the calorific hit of sugar. Indirectly, then, artificial sweeteners can actually exacerbate obesity problems and overeating. If you still want to avoid the fake sugar but still stay away from real sugar, try honey or agave syrup.
4. Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
Brominated vegetable oil contains the ingredient bromine, which is actually an ingredient in flame retardants. So why in the world would it be used in our drinks? It keeps the citrus flavors from separating in sports drinks and sodas.
Companies such as Mountain Dew, Fanta, and Gatorade finally announced that they would be transitioning their products away from BVO, but it doesn’t stop the public concern of the United States. BVOs have been banned in Japan, Australia, and the European Union, so why isn’t the US jumping on board the train to healthier drinking of citrus beverages?
3. Potassium Bromate
It’s fairly common knowledge now that white flour products like bread and crackers don’t have any nutritional value. Not only that, but they are incredibly easy to digest, which isn’t always a good thing. In fact, it messes with your blood sugar and your insulin. So what is the deadly ingredient in white bread and other white flour products? Potassium bromate.
Numerous western countries have banned the ingredient, especially since it has been shown to cause cancer in rats. You’re better off grabbing whole grain products.
This ingredient will make consuming potato products all the more depressing. Acrylamide is commonly found in processed carbs and sugars like bread and cereal, as well as various potato products like chips and fries. Cancer.gov even released a statement advising consumers to avoid foods like potato chips and french fries, which contain a high amount of the chemical. So, what’s so bad about it? It has been pretty definitively linked to cancer in animals.
1. Trans Fats
Trans fats have been covered in enough pop culture venues – like cartoons “American Dad” and “King of the Hill” – that we all now know trans fats as the ingredient that makes food taste good but does no good for our bodies. Trans fats come in a variety of forms from shortening to palm oil. Even if it does make food taste better, the risks involved, which include heart problems, blood clots, and negatively affecting your cholesterol, are not worth the temporary indulgence. Trans fats have also been definitively linked to the rise in obesity and have been proven to increase the risk of metabolic syndrome.