One of the best arguments for eating in a “whole foods” style – that is, cooking from scratch with fresh vegetables, dry beans or rice or whole wheat flour – is that by preparing food in this manner, it is possible to avoid some of the unhealthy additives that the food industry has been sneaking into its products for years. However, with schedules busier than ever, avoiding processed foods is not always possible. In that case, read the food labels carefully before buying and avoid the following additives.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
This chemically modified sweetener is found in a whole array of processed foods, even products like bread or TV dinners that many consumers don’t necessarily think about. While many food companies have been reducing their use of this ingredient in response to public objections, it is still extremely widespread. It has been linked in multiple studies to obesity and an increase in abdominal fat and puts consumers at an increased risk for developing diabetes or cardiac disease.
Consumers are now becoming aware of the danger that these industrially modified oils pose to human health. To avoid them, look for ingredients on the label that read “partially hydrogenated oil”, “shortening” or “mono- and diglycerides”. What is dangerous about these oils is that they have been known to raise cholesterol levels and put consumers at greater risk for heart attack and stroke due to occluded blood vessels; they have also been linked to diabetes and some forms of cancer.
Better known as “MSG”, this flavor intensifier is used throughout the food and restaurant industry. However, many consumers have had reactions to this ranging from chest pain to heart palpitations to full-blown anaphylactic shock (an severe allergic reaction that usually requires emergency medical treatment and can be fatal). It has also been linked to increase in blood pressure, a risk factor for serious conditions like strokes or heart attacks.
These artificial dyes are also widespread in the production of processed foods. What is particularly disturbing is that they are found particularly often in children’s cereals, snacks and beverages. These dyes can cause or worsen sinus or allergy symptoms, but what parents should be particularly concerned about is that it can cause hyperactivity and worsen the symptoms of attention deficit disorder, already a major pediatric problem.
America’s sweet tooth combined with its craze for dieting has led to a variety of artificial sweeteners flooding the market in recent years. For some sweeteners, like sucralose and neotame, there is not yet enough clinical evidence to determine its safety (or lack of it). However, aspartame and its metabolites can affect the central nervous system and cause side effects which range from mild (headaches, dizziness) to severe (memory problems or even convulsions).
This is an umbrella term for a variety of chemicals used by the food industry to lengthen the shelf life of processed foods. Some of the most common are sulfites (which can induce allergic reactions, especially in those with asthma) and nitrates or nitrites (which can also provoke allergic reactions and are suspected carcinogens). Also common is potassium sorbate, which can cause nausea and vomiting and also damage DNA.
So, if it is necessary to buy processed foods, read the labels carefully. The additives discussed above are certainly better avoided.
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