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What's Actually in My Food?

They say that when you go food shopping you should stick to the outer perimeter as much as possible. This is true for many reasons! One, that's where all the healthiest, fresh and most vibrant foods will be. The food that nourishes our bodies and offers the most nutritional content per bite.


Two, that's where the REAL food is. With lives becoming busier and time flying by, it can definitely be tempting to pack the kitchen with convenient foods. However, is it worth it? Processed, pre-made foods are usually packed with ingredients that cause serious inflammation, hormone imbalance, ADHD and even cancer. What's more is many of these ingredients are banned in other countries but are allowed in our foods here in the US. It's time we become smart buyers!


Here is a list of ingredients to look out for when food shopping, why you want to avoid them and where you would find them.


Acesulfame Potassium (Ace K) – E950

What it is: Artificial sweetener.

Why to avoid: The Center for Science in Public Interest says to avoid it because safety testing done in 1970’s were inadequate and some research links it to cancer. See “Artificial Sweeteners”.

Commonly found in: Diet drinks, protein shakes and powders, fruit cups, yogurts, “sugar-free” products.


Artificial Flavors

What it is: Synthetic flavor made from proprietary chemicals.

Why to avoid: These are used to make fake food taste real. This is not a single ingredient – each flavor may contain of up to 100 ingredients, including synthetic chemicals, solvents and preservatives such as BHA, propylene glycol, MSG, parabens, and more.

Commonly found in: Cereal, candy, drink mixes, desserts, soft drinks.


Artificial Sweeteners

What it is: Zero calorie sweeteners such as aspartame and sucralose.

Why to avoid: Although they have no calories, artificial sweeteners have been shown to contribute to weight gain by encouraging sugar cravings. Research finds they stimulate your appetite, increase sugar cravings, and promote fat storage and weight gain. Researchers from the University of Texas discovered that drinking sodas made with artificial sweeteners will expand your waist girth, which is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes. When you eat something sweet – even when it has no calories – your brain is tricked into wanting more calories because your body is not getting enough energy (i.e. calories) to be satisfied. So, you keep craving sweets, eating sweets, and gaining weight. This is why a lot of people never reach their full health potential or weight loss goals, because they are constantly being pushed around by these chemical artificial sweeteners that trick the brain and body.

Commonly found in: Anything labeled “diet”, “low calorie”, “sugar-free”, or “reduced sugar”.


Aspartame (Nutrasweet) – E951

What it is: Artificial sweetener.

Why to avoid: Linked to increased risk of brain tumors, lymphomas, leukemia and heart disease. This study showed that replacing sugar with aspartame simply increased hunger and the subjects compensated by eating more calories. See “Artificial Sweeteners”.

Commonly found in: Diet drinks, protein shakes and powders, fruit cups, yogurts, chewing gum, “sugar-free” products.


Azodicarbonamide (aka “yoga mat chemical”) – E927

What it is: Dough conditioner.

Why to avoid: The World Health Organization has linked it to respiratory issues, allergies and asthma. When the azodicarbonamide in bread is baked, there is research that links it to tumor development and cancer. Semicarbazide (a carcinogen) and urethane (suspected carcinogen) can form from azodicarbonamide during baking. This additive is banned in Europe and Australia, and The Center for Science in the Public Interest has called on the FDA to ban it in the U.S. as well.

Commonly found in: Sandwich breads, buns, rolls, and other baked goods.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) – E320

What it is: Synthetic preservative.

Why to avoid: Shown to be an endocrine disruptor, linked to cancer, causing tumors in animal studies. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies BHA as “possibly carcinogenic to humans and it’s been deemed a “reasonably anticipated human carcinogen” by the U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services, National Toxicology Program. It’s also on EWG’s Dirty Dozen List of Food Additives to avoid and banned in other countries.

Commonly found in: Sausage, pepperoni, pizza, canned soup, boxed potatoes, potato chips, drink mixes, canned refried beans, spaghetti sauce, chewing gum.


BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) – E321

What it is: Synthetic preservative.

Why to avoid: Shown to affect the signaling from our gut to brain which tells us to stop eating, which could be contribute to overeating and obesity. BHT is an endocrine disruptor which is also linked to cancer in some animal studies. The EWG includes BHT on their Dirty Dozen List of Food Additives to avoid.

Commonly found in: Cereal, packaged nuts, pepperoni, cake mix, granola bars.


Blue 1 (Brilliant Blue) – E133

What it is: Artificial blue dye derived from petroleum.

Why to avoid: This is one of the worst artificial colors because it has been shown to cross the blood-brain barrier. According to testimony at a FDA committee meeting, the FDA asked doctors to stop adding Blue #1 to tube feedings because “patients were dying, not from their disease, but from the Blue number 1, which apparently caused refractory hypotension and metabolic acidosis, and also, incidentally, turned their colons bright blue.” This dye is also linked to hyperactivity and an increased risk of kidney tumors. Some research suggests it is a potential neurotoxin. Artificial colors can disrupt the immune system, as research has found “The molecules of synthetic colorants are small, and the immune system finds it difficult to defend the body against them. They can also bond to food or body proteins and, thus, are able to act in stealth mode to circumvent and disrupt the immune system.”

Commonly found in: Candy, drink mixes, soft drinks, chewing gum, toaster pastries, popsicles, marshmallows, fruit snacks.


Calcium Peroxide – E930

What it is: Bleach and dough conditioner.

Why to avoid: Its use is a sign that the product is heavily processed. Banned in Europe and China (and also from some natural food stores like Whole Foods in the U.S.)

Commonly found in: Croutons, sandwich breads, buns, rolls, and other baked goods.


Calcium Propionate – E282

What it is: Mold inhibitor.

Why to avoid: Considered a safer preservative, but research published in the Journal of Pediatric Child Health links it to “irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbance in some children” and long-term consumption has been shown to damage the stomach lining and induce ulcers.

Commonly found in: Croutons, sandwich breads, buns, rolls, and other baked goods.


Canola Oil

What it is: Refined cooking oil.

Why to avoid: Goes through an insane amount of processing with chemical solvents, steamers, neutralizers, de-waxers, bleach and deodorizers before it ends up in the bottle. Most often extracted with the neurotoxin hexane – it’s literally bathed in it. Some hexane residue can remain in the oil, and the FDA doesn’t require food manufacturers to test for residues. Canola oil is extracted from rapeseed plants, that have been bred to have lower levels of toxic erucic acid. Before it was bred this way, it was called Rapeseed Oil and used for industrial purposes because the erucic acid in it caused heart damage in animal studies. It got the fancy new name “canola”, but it still contains trace amounts of erucic acid (up to 2%, which they consider “safe”). In 1995 they also began genetically engineering (GMO) rapeseed to be resistant to herbicides, and now almost all canola crops in North America are GMO. Research has also found some trans-fat in canola oil, created during the heavy processing that it goes through. These trans fats are not labeled.

Commonly found in: Boxed mixes, bakery items, desserts, dressings, sauces, frozen meals, crackers, snack foods.


Caramel Color – E150

What it is: Brown food coloring.

Why to avoid: There are 4 different types of caramel color used by the food industry. Class IV caramel color (E150d) is the most common type used, but the label will only say “caramel color”. This type is created by heating ammonia and sulfites under high pressure – a process that produces a cancerous substance called 4-methylimidazole (4-MEI). A federal study in 2007 concluded that 4-MEI ingestion led to cancer in mice, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer determined the chemical to be “possibly carcinogenic” to humans. In 2011, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban caramel coloring due to safety concerns and the cancer risk. Likewise in 2014, the Consumers Union (the policy and action arm of Consumer Reports) petitioned the FDA to set a federal standard for 4-MEI and in the meantime to require manufacturers to list the type of caramel color they use on their products’ ingredient lists and bar them from foods with the “natural” label. It has no nutritional benefits and is only used cosmetically to improve the appearance of food. It’s sometimes added unnecessarily to food and drinks that are naturally brown.

Commonly found in: Soft drinks, pancake syrup, coffee shop drinks, cereal, deli meat, soups.


Carrageenan – E407

What it is: Thickener and emulsifier to keep ingredients from separating.

Why to avoid: Known to cause digestive problems and intestinal inflammation. It is also contaminated with “degraded carrageenan”. Tests have found as much as 25% degraded carrageenan in “food-grade carrageenan” (the kind used in food and drinks). Degraded carrageenan is classified as a “possible human carcinogen” by the International Agency for Research on Cancer.

Commonly found in: Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, dairy-free milks, ice cream, deli meat, cottage cheese, coffee creamers.


Cellulose – E460

What it is: Anti-caking agent and thickener usually made from wood. It is also sometimes used to bulk up foods with fake fiber.

Why to avoid: Cellulose is much cheaper to obtain from wood than from vegetables, so the food industry uses wood byproducts to make it. Cellulose can also come from vegetables but will be listed on the label as such (very rare). Research links consumption of this additive (not naturally occurring) to weight gain, inflammation and digestive problems.

Commonly found in: Shredded cheese, pizza, spice mixes, pancake syrup, foods labeled as “high fiber” or “added fiber”.


Corn Oil

What it is: Refined cooking oil.

Why to avoid: Goes through an insane amount of processing with chemical solvents, steamers, neutralizers, de-waxers, bleach and deodorizers before it ends up in the bottle. Most often extracted with the neurotoxin hexane – it’s literally bathed in it. Some hexane residue can remain in the oil, and the FDA doesn’t require food manufacturers to test for residues. Comes from GMO corn unless Non-GMO Project verified or organic. Loaded with omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids that are unstable when exposed to heat. This instability causes oxidation, a process that generates free radicals. Free radicals are renegade molecules in the body that damage cells, triggering a host of diseases from liver damage to cancer.

Commonly found in: Chips, frozen meals, coated pretzels, cookies, sausages, snack mix, crackers, microwave popcorn, canned soups and chili.


Corn Syrup

What it is: Heavily processed form of sugar made from corn.

Why to avoid: This refined sugar has no nutritional value. Typically made from GMO corn that produces its own insecticide (unless organic or Non-GMO Project verified).

Commonly found in: Sauces, crackers, desserts, pie, pancake syrup.


Cottonseed Oil

What it is: Refined cooking oil.

Why to avoid: This oil is made from a byproduct of the industrial waste from the cotton farming industry, which isn’t a food crop. Despite being one of the most prevalent GMO crops (designed to produce an insecticide), cotton crops still require an intense application of agricultural chemicals and that’s why cotton has been called the “World’s Dirtiest Crop”. Residues from these pesticides can remain in cottonseed oil according to data collected by the FAO/WHO Joint Meetings on Pesticides Residues in Food. To extract the oil the cottonseeds are subjected to intensive chemical refining with toxic hexane, bleach, and deodorizers.

Commonly found in: Fries, fried foods, chips, baked goods.


DATEM (Diacetyl Tartaric Acid Esters of Monoglycerides) – E472e

What it is: Dough conditioner that is usually derived from soybean or canola oil (GMO crops).

Why to avoid: This ingredient can be a hidden form of deadly trans-fat. See “Monoglycerides”.

Commonly found in: Sandwich breads, buns, baked goods, crackers.


Dextrose

What it is: Heavily processed form of sugar, usually made from corn. Also used as a filler.

Why to avoid: This refined sugar has no nutritional value. Typically made from GMO corn that produces its own insecticide (unless organic or Non-GMO Project verified).

Commonly found in: Chips, artificial sweeteners, frozen meals, cake mix, cookies, cereal, meat sticks.


Dimethylpolysiloxane (“silly putty” ingredient) – E900

What it is: Defoaming agent.

Why to avoid: There have been no major studies conducted on the safety of dimethylpolysiloxane in food by the FDA or the Food Industry since it was approved in 1998, but the food industry is allowed to use it in anything they want (except milk). Most of the safety studies were conducted or paid for by the chemical companies, and not enough independent research has been done. The FDA allows it to be preserved with formaldehyde, a very toxic substance.

Commonly found in: French fries, deep fried foods, yogurt, fountain drinks, phase oil (butter substitute used by some restaurants).


Enriched Flour and Bleached Flour

What it is: Heavily processed flour with synthetic vitamins and minerals added.

Why to avoid: Flour can be treated with any of the 60 different chemicals approved by the FDA before it ends up on store shelves – including chemical bleach. The industrial processing destroys nutrients, such as Vitamin E and fiber. It has no nutritional value and is essentially dead food, so they “enrich” it with synthetic vitamins (niacin, reduced iron, thiamine mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid) that are not from nature. (See “Synthetic Vitamins”). Wheat has been heavily hybridized to make it easier for the food industry, is believed to be contributing to an increase in celiac disease and is often sprayed directly with Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

Commonly found in: Sandwich breads, buns, rolls, and other baked goods.


Erythritol – E968

What it is: Sugar alcohol and low-calorie sweetener.

Why to avoid: It can wreak havoc on healthy gut bacteria, which can lead to a whole host of diseases and if you’re trying to lose weight or stay slim, keeping your gut healthy is vital! Erythritol is also known to cause diarrhea, stomach upset, headache when consumed in “normal amounts”, is a powerful insecticide, and can also increase appetite just like artificial sweeteners do so you’ll end up eating more food. Research by Cornell University shows that the body metabolizes erythritol and associates high levels of erythritol in the blood to weight gain, which has spawned more studies. Although this is a naturally occurring sugar that is sometimes found in fruit, food manufacturers don’t actually use the natural stuff. Instead, they usually start with GMO corn (unless organic or non-GMO verified) and then put it through a complex fermentation process to come up with chemically pure erythritol.

Commonly found in: Stevia products, diet drinks, yogurt, pudding cups.


Gellan Gum (E418), Locust Bean Gum (E410), and Guar Gum (E412)

What it is: Thickener.

Why to avoid: These ingredients are known to cause stomach issues like bloating and gas in people who have sensitive digestive systems.

Commonly found in: Almond milk, coconut milk, soy milk, non-dairy milks and creamers, ice cream, cottage cheese.


High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

What it is: Heavily processed sweetener made from cornstarch, contains more fructose than regular corn syrup.

Why to avoid: This sweetener increases appetite, the risk of weight gain, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, cancer and dementia. HFCS especially contributes to type 2 diabetes in children. One study also found it can be contaminated with toxic mercury.

Commonly found in: Soft drinks, pancake syrup, BBQ sauce, ketchup, cookies, breads, buns, frosting, pies.


HFCS-90 (Fructose or Fructose Syrup)

What it is: Heavily processed sweetener made from cornstarch, contains more fructose than high fructose corn syrup. Regular HFCS contains up to 55% fructose, whereas HFCS-90 has 90% fructose by weight. This is 9 times more fructose than the average fruit.

Why to avoid: An overload of fructose in the diet is associated with obesity and cardiovascular disease. HFCS-90 is derived from corn starch, which is likely GMO. Some companies say that fructose is natural and comes from fruit, but this processed additive is typically derived from GMO corn. When HFCS-90 is used, the ingredient label won’t indicate that “high fructose corn syrup” is an ingredient, rather it is deceptively labeled as “fructose” or “fructose syrup” without any reference to high fructose corn syrup.

Commonly found in: Yogurt, cereal, granola bars, potato chips.


Maltodextrin

What it is: Heavily processed starch used as a filler, thickener, preservative and sweetener.

Why to avoid: Has been shown to negatively affect gut bacteria which can put you at greater risk of disease. It has no nutritional value (not real food) and can be used as a “filler” to artificially increase the volume of processed foods, so this indicates a heavily processed food. Typically derived from GMO corn (unless organic or Non-GMO Project verified). It is also a hidden form of MSG.

Commonly found in: Potato chips, mac n’ cheese, frozen meals, powder drink mixes, pudding.


Monoglycerides and Diglycerides (mono- and diglycerides) – E471