Packaged foods can be a blessing. It’s hard to imagine going back to a time where humans depended on what they could grow, and what little they could trade, in order to make all of the food they consumed. It was hard work, and, usually, someone in the household had to dedicate the majority of their time to making the food available and edible for their family.
On the other hand, before the food industry took off, you knew what ingredients you were putting into your body, and if it wasn’t for somewhat undeveloped knowledge of good sanitary practices, it was pretty wholesome.
It’s hard to get into the habit of checking the ingredients on all of the packaged foods you buy. We often trust the branding on the front of the package, especially if it's a seemingly harmless staple in your home. Manufacturers, however, have a funny way of sneaking some strange, and sometimes awful ingredients, into basic foods like bread, instant coffee, organic cereal, soups and pancake syrup. Even “healthy” foods may contain a plethora of extras you definitely don’t want in your body.
In order to make your life a little easier, we have compiled a list of four ingredients or additives that you should always check for before buying packaged food.
1. Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Most people know that margarines and shortenings are made with vegetable oil. However, oil, as we know, is liquid at room temperature. But how do they make it that creamy-solid consistency so you can spread on your morning toast?
To keep oil solid at room temperature, manufacturers put it through a chemical process called hydrogenation. Some of this oil turns into trans fat. Trans fat is one of the biggest culprits of higher risks of a lot of the food-related health issues we face today, including heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Note that even when packages claim to that the food is “trans fat-free,” always check the label. Foods are allowed to say they are free of trans fats when they contain less than 0.5g per serving. So your best bet is to look at the ingredients and avoid foods that contain partially hydrogenated oil.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
People first became wary of artificial sweeteners in the 70s and 80s when a few studies with rats revealed a link between a high consumption of artificial sweeteners, particularly saccharin, and an increased risk of certain types of cancer. However, continued research has shown that the same effects do not apply to humans.
Recent research has shifted away from its influence on cancer risk, and instead has focused on how a high intake of artificial sweeteners is linked to an increased risk of type 2 diabetes, as well as increased calorie intake. This may be related to how artificial sweeteners alter natural and healthy bacteria in the gut.
If you are watching your weight, go for natural non-calorie sweeteners instead, like Stevia. Make sure you are buying pure Sstevia, since many products marketed as Stevia contain the natural sweetener mixed with artificial sweeteners.
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG was originally known as a common flavor enhancer often added to Asian cuisine. The debate is ongoing regarding how MSG affects us. Some of the research that is most strongly against its use in food found a series of symptoms, together called MSG symptom complex, supposedly linked to high consumption of MSG, such as headache, flushing, sweating, facial pressure, numbness in the neck, heart palpitations, chest pain, and others.
However, other researchers have found no link between these symptoms and the consumption of MSG. For this reason, the FDA has labeled it “generally recognized as safe.”
Even so, foods that contain MSG also contain a range of other ingredients that aren’t very good for you, namely high sodium content that can lead to blood pressure and heart disease. To protect your heart health, avoid foods containing MSG.
Sauces, instant soups, and microwave foods often contain MSG. Don’t be fooled; companies use many different names to disguise the use of MSG; monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, autolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, and yeast extract are code names for MSG.
4. High-Fructose Corn Syrup
Food containing high-fructose corn syrup is processed with dangerously high volumes of sugar. While fructose is a sugar naturally found in fruits, added fructose acts differently in the body. Research has shown that people who consume foods high in added fructose may lead to increased fat storage in the body, insulin sensitivity, and type 2 diabetes.
Note that high-fructose corn syrup isn’t only found in sweet things; it's often an additive in breads, salad dressings, and sauces.
While you may usually look at the nutritional facts table on the back of foods to check for calories, sugar and fat, you might want to start taking another minute to read the ingredient list. Much of what you might find there may have a much more detrimental effect on your health than a few extra calories.