High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a common sweetener used in a wide range of drinks and food. From soda and juice to candy, sauces, and crackers, there is no shortage of HFCS in our food supply. You have likely heard of this ingredient and that is because of the bad reputation it has garnered over recent years. Research suggests this ingredient may increase your risk of metabolic and glucose dysregulation as well as obesity. With outcomes as serious as these, experts recommend monitoring your intake of added sugar, including HFCS.
This ingredient isn’t the only one with potential health risks. In fact, you may be surprised how many of your favorite foods contain questionable ingredients such as food dyes and colorings, artificial sweeteners, and certain forms of oil. While these ingredients may not benefit your health, food manufacturers use them for a variety of reasons. Some can extend the shelf life of food, others enhance flavor, and some aid in cheaper manufacturing costs.
These outcomes may benefit the manufacturer, but you are better off skipping them. If you are wanting to improve your food selections for your health, there are a few easy rules to follow. First, limit your intake of processed foods. This includes items like cereal, crackers, bread, sweets, and deli meats, just to name a few. You should also swap your sweetened drinks, whether made with sugar or a substitute, for water or other unsweetened beverages. If you can follow these suggestions while increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables, lean protein, and minimally processed whole grains, you’re on your way to protecting your health.
In 2018, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) determined that partially hydrogenated oils (PHOs) fats were no longer “generally regarded as safe,” and ordered manufacturers to discontinue using them. However, you may still find them in products that were part of a manufacturing process that began before the FDA assigned a cut-off date.
Vegetable shortening, bakery items, microwaveable popcorn, and frosting name some foods that may PHOs. Manufacturers use this in place of butter and lard as a cheaper alternative that can extend shelf life, and enhance the flavor and texture of foods. However, this ingredient can also add trans fat to your food that are linked to negative health outcomes, like cardiovascular disease (CVD), weight gain, and diabetes.
Your body does not need trans fat, so you should eat as little as possible. Eventually, you may not be able to find PHOs in your favorite snacks, but for now, you should remain on the lookout.
This sugar substitute is 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose—table sugar—and was developed as a sugar substitute. Although it is used in a wide range of beverages and “diet” products, it remains a controversial ingredient. Studies suggest there may be a link between aspartame consumption and the development of diabetes, and this ingredient may also influence obesity, glucose and insulin intolerance, and changes in the gut microbiota.
Mood disorders and depression may also be caused by aspartame. While some of this research has only been documented in animals, other studies have documented negative outcomes in humans. There is enough negative research surrounding the use of aspartame to limit your consumption. Instead of aspartame-sweetened drinks, try safer zero-calorie sweeteners, like stevia and monk fruit.
This common food preservative is most often found in processed and cured meats, like deli meat and jerky. Although sodium nitrite is considered to be safe for human consumption, this ingredient has been linked to an increased risk of cancer development. It is important to note this is true for synthetic sodium nitrite used in processed foods, and not for naturally occurring nitrates.
Many vegetables contain nitrates that convert to nitrites in the body. However, these vegetables do not contain heme iron and are natural sources of antioxidants, like vitamins C and E, that keep these veggies from posing the same health risks of sodium nitrite in your processed meats. Many manufacturers are now making deli meat and other products free from nitrites, making it easier to avoid this ingredient in your common foods.
This coloring is one that is currently used in food products, but it has been banned from being used in cosmetics due to negative health outcomes. However, this is concerning considering one study conducted in rats found those administered red no. 3 had a higher incidence of thyroid tumors.
Many food dyes and colorings have been found to be associated with negative outcomes in research. These products are used to create an appealing aesthetic in food and drinks, but it may be at the cost of your health. You’ll find red dye no. 3 and other colorings in processed food and drinks, giving you one more reason to reduce your intake of packaged and processed items.