Five Ingredients to Avoid

BRACE YOURSELF. I’m about to go after some of your favorite foods – sodas, snacks, treats, and more. These ingredients can also be found in foods like pasta sauces, cereals, and side dishes – things you eat at meals every day.

All five have all been linked to serious health problems. In some cases the evidence is clear, in others, the jury is still out – we still aren’t sure whether the ingredient is harmful or not – but the risk isn’t worth it.

Getting these five ingredients out of your house will make your family healthier, cut down on useless calories and chemical additives, and could save you money (if you can stop or cut back on buying certain products).

YOU MAY OR MAY NOT THINK YOU CAN ELIMINATE these ingredients completely from your shopping list, but limit them as much as you can. Sometimes an alternative product is available; sometimes the food item can be removed from your family’s daily consumption all together. In some cases, maybe the best you can do is cut back.

But even that will help.

1. Dyes

Used in: Sports drinks, fruit drinks, candy, cereal, crackers, cereal bars, ice pops, most anything with bright colors, even color you think is from fruit.

Usually made from petrochemicals, dyes are used to make food brightly colored and “fun” and/or to make food look as if it contains healthy fruits and vegetables.

Food dyes like yellow 5 and red 40 are linked to various health problems in children such as hyperactivity, impulsivity, learning difficulties, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  Studies on the blue dyes show potential kidney problems.

Because of those links, dyes commonly used in the United States in have already been banned in the U.K. Food makers, such as Kellogg’s, make two versions of products, one without dyes (using colorings made from real food ingredients) for U.K. and one with dyes for U.S.

I talked about dyes in more detail (with references) in Red Dye 40 and Its Colorful Friends.

2. Benzoates (Sodium benzoate, Potassium benzoate)

Used in: sodas, sports drinks, salad dressing, vinegars, and more

Benzoates have recently been linked to several health problems, leading scientists to call for the FDA to retest these ingredients. Original tests are quite old.

Professor Peter Piper (okay, it sounds fake, but stay with me) has done research linking sodium benzoate to cellular damage, specifically to cell mitochondria.

When benzoates are combined with ascorbic acid in the ingredients of a food product, benzene, a known carcinogen, is created – albeit in levels not considered dangerous for consumption.

Finally, studies done in the U.K. in 2007 linked sodium benzoate to hyperactivity when used with artificial colors.

3. Trans Fats (Partially Hydrogenated Oils)

Used in: Crackers, fast food, snack foods, cookies, margarines, and more.

Trans fats have been directly linked to coronary heat disease, Alzheimer’s, cancer, diabetes, obesity, liver dysfunction, infertility in women.

The evidence is so strong, there are movements to ban trans fats in several cities and states in the U.S., including New York City, Philadelphia, Chicago, Massachusetts, Maryland, and Vermont. Denmark already has a nationwide ban and other countries are attempting the same.

4. Artificial sweeteners

Used in: cereals, sodas, low-calorie foods, gum, almost anything that says “sugar-free”

Artificial sweeteners are hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. As a result, your palate grows accustomed to needing super-sweet foods. This leads to consumption of more artificially sweetened foods and less naturally sweet foods like fruit.

Studies on animals have been done to see how the body reacts to some artificial sweeteners. The results aren’t pretty. Artificial sweeteners can actually cause weight gain. The sweet taste creates an insulin response, but there is no increase of blood sugars. The result is hypoglycemia and increase food consumption at the next meal.

For every study saying artificial sweeteners are safe, there’s one saying they aren’t. Evidence is far from clear. Here’s a rundown of the five FDA-approved artificial sweeteners.

Saccharin (Sweet and Low, Sweet Twin, Sweet’N Low, and Necta Sweet): Listed as a carcinogen for decades for causing cancer in laboratory animals, it was delisted in the 1990’s after the original studies were criticized for high dosages (hundreds of times the “normal” human intake). As a result, the FDA has strict regulations about allowable amounts and many people believe saccharin should be avoided by infants, pregnant women, and small children.

Aspartame ( Nutrasweet, Equal, and Sugar Twin): Linked to headaches and depression, both of which can be severe in people with mood disorders. Ongoing studies are researching a possible link to cancer and weight gain.

Acesulfame Potassium (acesulfame K, Ace-K, or Sunett): This sweetener has not been subjected to long-term studies. It contains the carcinogen methylene chloride, which can cause headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver effects, kidney effects, visual disturbances, and cancer in humans with long-term exposure. The FDA has not required any further testing.

Neotame: A new version of aspartame without the phenylalanine dangers, so it can be consumed by people with PKU. The makers of Neotame claim 100 studies have been done, although these studies are not available to the public. No independent studies have been done.

Sucralose (Splenda): Contains chlorine, a carcinogen. There have been no long-term studies on sucralose to determine how it’s digested and absorbed into the body. Short-term studies have linked it to bloating, gas, diarrhea, nausea, skin irritations, wheezing, cough, runny nose, chest pains, anxiety, moods swings, depression, and itchy eyes.

More information:

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

Used in: drinks, sodas, snacks, cookies, treats, bread, pasta sauce, salad dressing, jams, and more

No point in beating a dead horse; I wrote about why to avoid HFCS before and we’ve all heard about the potential health problems associated with HFCS. The bottom line is that no one yet knows whether HFCS causes metabolism problems, weight gain, or worse. You don’t want to fool yourself into thinking a food is healthy just because it contains sugar not HFCS. But scientists are very clear on how bodies process sugar, while they aren’t 100% certain about HFSC and whether it’s causing unintended effects.

HFCS is often found in highly processed foods – foods that can often be avoided or limited. Why mess around? Avoid HFCS whenever you can.

The bottom line: Avoid buying food products with these ingredients. Find alternatives or skip the product all together. What you can’t avoid, limit. Your family will be healthier and you’ll cut back on unneeded calories and additives. If you need help finding good alternatives, email me and I’ll do my best to help.