Here’s a secret.
A healthy diet isn’t complex. It doesn’t require punishing yourself with monthly cleanses or self-deprivation. Simply live by the rule “if you can’t read it, don’t eat it.”
Have you ever looked at some of your favorite food labels? Some of them look like a high school chemistry project.
It’s generally understood that processed foods aren’t the best. Some have been linked to pretty scary health risks. Or they’re just gross—for instance, carmine, a red food coloring, is made from ground up cochineal insects.
Check out the following five ingredients you never want to see in your box of cereal or soup can.
A common preservative typically found in lunchmeat and pork products (bacon, ham, and sausages). Several studies have marked sodium nitrates/nitrites as carcinogens. The FDA allows their use only because they prevent bacteria growth and maintain meat’s pink hue.
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Food scientists created partially hydrogenated and fully hydrogenated oils as a replacement for saturated fats. Nevertheless, they are still a form of trans fat, which research shows is the worst fat for your body.
Trans fats have been linked to inflammation, cancer, diabetes, Alzheimer’s and cardiovascular disease. Common commercial foods that include hydrogenated vegetable oils include peanut butter, cookies, cakes and salad dressings.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
You’re probably already aware of the controversy surrounding HFCS. Research has presented troubling concerns over links between HFCS and diabetes as well as weight gain and Alzheimer’s disease.
A relatively inexpensive sweetener compared to sugar, HFCS is probably lurking inside some of your favorite foods, like sodas, salad dressings, bread (including both white and whole wheat), pastries and condiments. (See Fact or Myth: Is High Fructose Corn Syrup The Worst Sweetener of Them All?)
A chemical sweetener, aspartame does not raise blood sugar, which is why it’s often marketed to people with diabetes. However, recent research has shown it can raise insulin levels, which can promote fat storage. One study suggested that aspartame-sweetened beverages (diet soda and flavored waters) may promote obesity rather than fight it. Participants in the study who consumed aspartame-sweetened beverages gained more abdominal weight than those who consumed sugar-sweetened beverages.
Another flavor enhancer and preservative, monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a growing health concern. Some research shows that monosodium glutamate promotes weight gain, as well as other toxic effects in the body and the brain.
Mozaffarian D, Pischon T, Hankinson SE, Rifai N, Joshipura K, Willett WC, Rimm EB (2004). “Dietary intake of trans fatty acids and systemic inflammation in women.” American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15051604
Morris MC, Evans DA, Bienias JL, Tangney CC, Bennett DA, Aggarwal N, Schneider J, Wilson RS. (2003). “Dietary fats and the risk of incident Alzheimer disease.” Archives of Neurology. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12580703
Michael I. Goran, Stanley J. Ulijaszek & Emily E. Ventura. (2013). “High fructose corn syrup and diabetes prevalence: A global perspective.” Global Public Health: An International Journal for Research, Policy and Practice. http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17441692.2012.736257#.Uads7-3MigE
Davidson TL, Martin AA, Clark K, Swithers SE. (2011). “Intake of high-intensity sweeteners alters the ability of sweet taste to signal caloric consequences: implications for the learned control of energy and body weight regulation.” Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21424985
Ka He, Shufa Du, Pengcheng Xun, Sangita Sharma, Huijun Wang, Fengying Zhai, Barry Popkin. (2011). “Consumption of monosodium glutamate in relation to incidence of overweight in Chinese adults: China Health and Nutrition Survey (CHNS).” The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/93/6/1328