We compiled a list of the Top Ten Toxic Food Ingredients found in our everyday packaged, pickled, canned, preserved, and processed food. As always, adhere to your unique and individual situation regarding food allergies and sensitivity to food products.
Dehydrated, pickled, or canned food contains chemicals to preserve it, hence will be considered a “processed food”. Processed foods today make up approximately 75% of the median American diet.
Most people do not realize that some of the foods we eat come loaded with toxic chemicals. Sadly, some of the ingredients commonly found in processed foods may have toxic chemicals. The word ‘toxic’ means anything that can potentially harm you if ingested or applied to the skin. High fructose corn syrup, BPA (Bisphenols), Nitrates, Nitrites, MSG, artificial colors and flavors, benzoates, and so on. The list of chemicals would be too long to list here. Experts highly recommended that we avoid foods that contain these chemicals, and to read food labels whenever we go food shopping. The list below identifies the top ten ingredients in foods we should all avoid:
1. Hydrogenated oils (vegetable oil, oil spreads, corn oil, soybean oil, sunflower oil, safflower oil, rice bran oil, grapeseed oil.)
The fats in some oils, like corn oil, soybean oil, or palm oil are normally not unhealthy. They become unhealthy when fried in foods, or infused with hydrogen atoms (hydrogenated) which turns the fat into a solid, and then becomes a “trans-fat”. Trans fats negatively impact our heath by increasing the bad cholesterol (LDL) and triglycerides (level of fats in the blood), and decreasing the good cholesterol (HDL.) As a result, this can increase the risk of heart disease, heart attack, stroke, and type-2 Diabetes. Use healthier oils like extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil, flaxseed oil, avocado oil, sesame oil and walnut oil.
2. Shortening and Margarine.
Avoid foods that have shortening or margarine. These contain the unhealthy hydrogenated trans fats we discussed above, along with their negative health impacts. Substitute healthier monounsaturated fats, such as extra virgin olive oil, peanut oil and canola oil. Above all, these oils contain unsaturated omega-3 fatty acids, heart healthy fats that improve cholesterol and reduce bad cholesterol levels.
3. Pasta, White Flour, White Bread.
Refining whole grain removes most of its nutrients, and basically produces a product that has no nutritional value. To extend its shelf life, they remove the bran and germ, as a result all the fiber, vitamins, and minerals degrade. Above all, your blood sugar and insulin response increases. This leads to potential health problems, such as type-2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome and heart disease. Replace processed grains with whole grains, such as brown or wild rice, quinoa, wheat bread, wheat pasta, barley, oats, and farro.
4. High Fructose Corn Syrup.
One of the most common ingredients in processed foods is high fructose corn syrup. High fructose corn syrup and sugar increase systemic inflammation, which can be associated with an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. In addition to inflammation, excess fructose increases harmful substances called advanced glycation end products (AGEs), which may harm your cells. Above all, it can lead to insulin resistance, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Avoid foods that contain HFCS, such as soda drinks, candy, salad dressing, breads, canned fruit. The list is too long to mention. Read the food labels carefully.
5. Artificial Sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners, or otherwise called sugar substitutes, contain chemicals added to some foods and beverages to make them taste sweet. People often call them “intense sweeteners”, since they provide a taste like that of table sugar but up to 500% sweeter. Although some sweeteners contain a few calories, the amount required to sweeten products almost equals zero calories. The long-term health effects remain unestablished, hence it makes sense to steer away from them. Sweeteners like Aspartame, Saccharin and Sucralose, the top ones used today, make up a large percentage. Use natural sweeteners such as honey, nectar, coconut milk, maple and date paste.
6. Sodium Benzoate and Potassium Benzoate.
These two preservatives are quite common in many of today’s foods and beverages. Therefore, it is a common ingredient in products such as soda, bottled lemon juice, pickles, jelly, salad dressing, soy sauce, and other condiments. Studies suggest that sodium benzoate may increase your risk of systemic inflammation, cellular oxidative stress, morbid obesity, ADHD, and allergies. It may also convert to benzene, a potential carcinogen, however the low levels found in beverages remain safe. Use common sense and read food ingredient labels. Avoid these preservatives as much as possible.
7. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA).
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) remain very widely used by the food industry as preservatives. They prevent oils in foods from oxidizing and becoming rancid. Oxidation affects the flavor, color and odor of foods and reduces some nutrients. Butter, meats, cereals, baked goods, sweets, beer, vegetable oils and many other products contain BHA. Data from the National Toxicology Program concludes that it is a potential carcinogen, while other researchers have concluded that it is a anticarcinogen. Do not risk your health, avoid using any products that use BHA.
8. Sodium Nitrates and Sodium Nitrites.
The preservative sodium nitrite fights harmful bacteria in ham, salami, and other processed and cured meats. However, under certain conditions in the human body, nitrite can damage cells and potentially morph into molecules that cause cancer. Sodium nitrate is a type of salt to preserve foods. You can find it in many foods including bacon, beef jerky, ham, hot dogs, lunch meat, salami, and smoked fish. It creates a salty, yet distinct flavor, controls lipid oxidation, and acts as an antimicrobial. Both preservatives, potentially considered carcinogenic, additionally raise blood pressure, cause digestive issues, decreased hemoglobin levels and arrhythmia. It is best to get your sodium from natural foods such as fresh fruits, vegetables, legumes, and seafood.
9. Artificial Colors – Blue, Red, Yellow.
A food dye contains chemical substances developed to enhance the appearance of food by giving it artificial color. Most food dyes come from petroleum-based by-products. Many artificial food dyes developed contain toxic chemicals. There is no conclusive evidence that food dyes are dangerous for humans or animals. Nevertheless, they may cause allergic reactions in some people and hyperactivity in sensitive children. However, the recommendation is to avoid most food dyes found in processed foods. Below is a list of dyes and their uses:
- Red No. 3 (Erythrosine): A cherry-red coloring commonly used in candy, popsicles, and cake-decorating gels.
- Red No. 40 (Allura Red): A dark red dye used in sports drinks, candy, condiments, juices, cereal.
- Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine): A lemon-yellow dye found in candy, soft drinks, chips, popcorn, juices, and cereals.
- Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow): An orange-yellow dye used in candy, sauces, baked goods, and preserved fruit snacks.
- Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue): A greenish-blue dye used in ice cream, canned peas, soups, popsicles, and icings.
- Blue No. 2 (Indigo Carmine): A royal blue dye found in candy, ice cream, snacks, candy, and cereal.
10. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG).
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) gives food its flavor enhancing properties, commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups, and processed meats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) classified MSG as a food ingredient, “generally recognized as safe,” but its use remains controversial. Evidence indicates that MSG is safe in moderate amounts. However, large doses may impact health negatively. People that react adversely to MSG should not consume it. Moderation is the key, and always following good common sense, makes sense.
Bottom line– Read food and drink ingredient labels carefully and use common sense. If you cannot pronounce one or a few of the ingredients, put the product back on the shelf!