The 7 worst ingredients in food

Many well-meaning nutritionists will teach the importance of reading food labels, but the easiest way to eat healthy is to stick with foods that need no food label at all… When was the last time you saw an ingredients list on a grass-fed steak or a bunch of broccoli?

But if you are going to buy packaged foods, reading the label can provide invaluable information and help you to make the most informed decision. Below is a list of some of the worst added ingredients in packaged foods and why they should be avoided…

Artificial sweeteners1. Artificial Sweeteners

Experiments have found that sweet taste, regardless of its caloric content, enhances your appetite, and consuming artificial sweeteners has been shown to lead to even greater weight gain than consuming sugar. Aspartame has been found to have the most pronounced effect, but the same applies for other artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame potassium, sucralose and saccharin.

There are other reasons to avoid artificial sweeteners other than weight gain.The amino acids in aspartame literally attack cells, even crossing the blood-brain barrier to attack brain cells, creating a toxic cellular overstimulation.

Further, inflammatory bowel disease may be caused or exacerbated by the regular consumption of the popular artificial sweetener Splenda (sucralose), as it inactivates digestive enzymes and alters gut barrier function.

2. Synthetic Trans Fats

These are common in foods that contain partially hydrogenated vegetable oil, including margarine, chips, most store-bought baked goods, and all fried foods. Synthetic trans fats are known to promote inflammation, which is a hallmark of most chronic diseases, including cardiovascular disease.

In one 2010 study, post-menopausal women who consumed the most daily synthetic trans fat had a 30 percent higher incidence of ischemic strokes.[1] Synthetic trans fats have been linked to the development of cancer, diabetes and infertility. They also suppress the immune system.

3. Artificial Flavours

What’s particularly alarming when you see a word like “artificial flavour” on an ingredients label is that there’s no way to know what it actually means. It could mean that one unnatural additive is included, or it could be a blend of hundreds of additives. Strawberry artificial flavour can contain nearly 50 chemical ingredients. Research shows that these chemicals have been implicated in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and learning difficulties in children.[2]

4. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

This flavour enhancer is most often associated with Chinese food, but it’s actually in countless processed food products ranging from frozen meals and salad dressing, to snack chips and meats. MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to varying degrees.

5. Artificial Colors

As of July 2010, most foods in the European Union that contain artificial food dyes were labelled with warning labels stating the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The British government also asked that food manufacturers remove most artificial colours from foods back in 2009 due to health concerns.

Many of these additives are associated with hypersensitivity or hyperactivity reactions, particularly in children.

6. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

It’s often claimed that HFCS is no worse for you than sugar, but this is not the case. Fructose is primarily metabolized by the liver, because the liver is the only organ that has the transporter for it. Since all fructose gets shuttled to the liver, fructose ends up damaging your liver in the exactly the same way that alcohol and other toxins do. And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat – it just gets stored in fat cells, which leads to mitochondrial malfunction, obesity and obesity-related diseases.

7. Preservatives

Preservatives lengthen the shelf-life of foods, increasing manufacturers’ profits – at the consumer’s expense, since most are linked to health problems such as cancer, allergic reactions and more. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are preservatives that affect the neurological system of your brain, alter behaviour and have the potential to cause cancer. Tertiary butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) is a chemical preservative so deadly that just five grams can kill you.

The preservative sodium benzoate — found in many soft drinks, fruit juices and salad dressings – has been found to cause children to become measurably more hyperactive and distractible. Sodium nitrite, a commonly used preservative in hot dogs, deli meats and bacon, has been linked to higher rates of colorectal, stomach and pancreatic cancers.

Healthy eating is never likely to be the result of consuming anything that is pre-packaged. Preparing fresh, well balanced meals at home from scratch is the best way to promote good health for the whole family. Many people think that they don’t have the time to do this. But think about it this way: which takes longer…. driving all the way down to the local shops to get takeaway, or chopping up a few vegetables to steam or put in a salad??

Source: 7 Worst Ingredients in Food., 30.12.13


[1] Yaemsiri, S et al. Trans fat, aspirin and ischemic stroke in women. Ann Neurol. 2012 Nov;72(5):704-15

[2] Feingold. B.F. Hyperkinesis and learning disabilities linked to artificial food flavours and colors. Am J Nurs. 1975 May;75(5):797-803

Photo credit: Tony Webster / Foter / CC BY