In addition to my ongoing Ingredient Watch, here are some other dirty words to watch out for: http://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives. Continue to read your labels and take responsibility for your food choices. This is the fundamental right you have as a consumer and duty you have as the owner of a body which will thrive with a little attention and love. ~Lorrie
Ingredient Watch: Sucralose, also known as Splenda, was never intended as a food product. It was originally believed to pass through your body without absorption; however the latest studies show that isn’t the case. The pros are hard to find so I’ll just say that it helps reduce refined sugar intake. The cons far outweigh the single pro. As you taste the artificial sweetener (which is the first con – it’s not real food), your body prepares for sugar to enter the bloodstream. When it doesn’t, the release of insulin in preparation for the sugar (assumed to follow) is left in limbo or released into your body, causing excess. A third con is that it kills the good bacteria in your gut which has been linked to disease and weight gain including obesity. This is high on my “ditch” list.
Ingredient Watch: High Fructose Corn Syrup directly caused the significant intake increase of sugar in the US over the last 30 years. Cheaper than simple table sugar and easier to use, HFCS became a commonly used sweetener in our food manufacturing beginning in the 1970’s. As its usage grew, so did the weight of the average American, increasing our obesity rates dramatically. Derived from corn, HFCS is the resulting starch which sweetens our soda pop, candy and other highly processed snack foods. Sweets, either from natural cane sugar or processed corn syrup, is highly addicting and has a serious impact on the health of our heart, teeth, thyroid, skin, body fat and more. It is also what we term a “nutrient poor calorie”; alone it serves no nutritional purpose: a no brainer when eliminating ineffective and unhealthy calories.
Ingredient Watch: Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite are chemical preservatives which slow the growth of microorganisms in prepared foods intended to extend the shelf life of the product. Regarded as carcinogenic due to their reaction to amino acids when introduced in the stomach, they are an important additive to actively avoid, especially for children. Research shows evidence linking nitrates to childhood cancers. They are used in meat processing (bacon, hot dogs, lunch meat, jerky) and other processed foods. Meats are now available without either of these, except as naturally occurring. Watch your labels.
Ingredient Watch: Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils, partially or fully, utilizes a process that changes liquid to solid. It is yet another additive that preserves the shelf life of the product (rather than the consumer!) This is the “TRANS FAT” which was exposed many years ago to the “heart health” industry and the even the less savvy consumer as a poison. You’ll find a good number of products boasting “no trans fat” for this reason. This one is a fundamental anti-health ingredient that is NOT recognized as GRAS (generally regarded as safe) by the FDA. That says it all since they are fairly slow to react to additive testing, in my opinion.
Ingredient Watch: Food Dyes: are artificial color agents used in a variety of foods including (but no way limited to) cereals, beverages, candy, desserts, cosmetics and pet food. Sadly, a number of these products are marketed towards our children. Food dyes are linked to allergic responses, tumors and cancer, hyperactivity and behavioral problems in children. In 2010, the European Union ended the legal use of these artificial colors and flavors. I hope the US takes the same care in establishing what is safe to eat. Artificial colors, your days are numbered!
Ingredient Watch! Soy Lecithin
What is it? It is an emulsifier that keeps ingredients which don’t mix well naturally (i.e. oil and water) from separating. Commonly referred to as industrial “sludge”, this stuff is in so many products, it’s hard to avoid. A waste product containing solvents and pesticides, SL has a range of consistencies from a fluid to solid. You may even find it mixed with organic products, but only if you see an “organic lecithin”, is it a reasonable choice.
According to Vitguide.Com – 7 side effects to this additive include: Gastrointestinal problems like diarrhea; Changes in weight (loss and gain); Loss of appetite; Skin rashes; Nausea, dizziness, vomiting and confusion; Low blood pressure (which is just as dangerous as high blood pressure); and Blurred vision and occasional fainting.
You’d most likely have to ingest a good quantity to experience many of these symptoms, but some people are more sensitive than others, so be aware. “Lecithin” itself isn’t a bad thing on it’s own and can have healthy effects on the body. My concerns are specifically about a lecithin produced from soybeans that are not organic and have been highly treated with pesticides. I’d say skip this ingredient.
Ingredient Watch! Xanthan Gum
What is it? It’s an aged sugar, usually from corn, mixed with a bacteria, used for thickening and emulsifying. It’s a common allergen and is a highly processed food. Personally, I have never liked the taste and texture so I’ve always avoided it. Found most commonly in dressings and likely to be highly gmo (pesticide warning).
Most common reactions include bloating, stomach upset and flu-like symptoms. The World Health Organization (WHO) has set the maximum acceptable intake for Xanthan gum as a food additive at 10 mg/kg per day. That being said, labels rarely tell you how much is in there, but it’s not very much. My bottom line – dump it if you want to rule out things that make you feel crappy. If you have some, don’t worry about it but avoid it when you have the choice.
Ingredient Watch: Caramel Coloring
It was once believed that caffeine in soda caused high blood pressure and hypertension. A report finding from the AMA now shows that Caramel Coloring is the real culprit. Found in a number of food products, Caramel Coloring is produced by heating corn syrup and similar sugars to high temperatures where it caramelizes. It is used for both coloring and emulsifying. While it still maintains a label of GRAS (generally regarded as safe) it has been linked to cancer in lab mice.
Did you know that: “The caramel color that Coke and Pepsi used to give colas that distinctive brown hue contained a chemical, 4-methylimidazole — 4-MEI — that is listed as a carcinogen by the state”(CA). resource: http://www.npr.org/ NOTE: CocaCola has recently made a switch to a less toxic ingredient.
Ingredient Watch: Sodium Lactate
Sodium Lactate is a fermentation from a sugar source such as corn or beets. The upside is that it’s determined as being a non-carcinogenic and not harmful. The downside is that sugar beets and corn are at the top of the list of GMOs – which means pesticides, which are carcinogenic. However, in the doses used for cosmetics and food, concern is relatively low.
Ingredient Watch: Carrageenan
Carrageenan is a water-soluble fiber found in certain types of seaweed. It forms a gel therefore it’s often used as a thickener. There is a debate as to whether it is dangerous in quantity; not all natural ingredients are healthy in large doses. Part of the debate revolves around negative effects found in lab animals though scientists feel it is safe for humans. The outcome of this debate is non-conclusive. Luckily, it is found in foods that are oftentimes questionable in terms of health ratings so to avoid them is to avoid it. If it’s the ONLY ingredient you’re questioning in your potential purchase, it is likely to be fine in small doses. Personal choice on this one.
Ingredient Watch: Ginger Root
For many, Ginger is a treat. It’s an appetite stimulator, a tongue cleanser and it fights nausea. Did you know that ginger improves the absorption of essential nutrients? And if you are one prone to motion sickness, ginger is a common treatment. Are you a natural born flatulator? I don’t expect anyone to cop to that, but ginger helps this situation. It also helps with sore throat healing and warming you on a cold day. For those who need a little help in the boudoir, ginger is reportedly an aphrodisiac! It’s great for sinus infections and congestion. It can induce menstruation when it’s running late and help with menstrual cramps if you ingest it before the onset of them.
Ginger is a wonderful ingredient to use in stir fry, smoothies and desserts. Start off easy with ginger desserts and candied ginger. Move to small bits in your smoothie and build from there. Try pickled varieties when enjoying sushi out, it’s usually on every table. But whether you slice it, grate it or pickle it, it’s a YES!
Ingredient Watch: Sorghum
Sorghum is an ancient cereal grain that is naturally sweet and gluten free. Used to feed cattle predominantly, it’s becoming more and more popular with those who have trouble digesting wheat. If you want to try it out, look for “organic whole sorghum”.
Ingredient Watch: Xylitol
Xylitol is a naturally occurring sugar alcohol. It is extracted from plants, specifically birch wood, often to be used in medicines. More commercially, it’s taken from the corn cob (so typically gmo and pesticide ridden sources). It’s known to the food world as a sugar substitute. Promoted for not causing tooth decay, it’s a common sweetener in gum. Recommended by some doctors for diabetes patients due to the lack of a typical sugar reaction in the bloodstream, many find it a great replacement.
During the processing of it, however, a catalyst is used to hydrogenate it – nickel aluminum alloy. This isn’t something that attracts me to consume it! It’s been shown to cause acid reflux or at least make it worse. Tests have shown that it kills rats half the times it’s tested. (source: http://www.naturalnews.com/022986_xylitol_health_sugar.html)
My bottom line is that we should leave Xylitol to the doctors who can use it to treat certain illnesses (childhood ear infections) and not use it as a food source, or anything you take routinely. In smaller irregular doses, I wouldn’t worry too much about it. But be aware that it can be fatal for dogs.
Ingredient Watch: Natural Flavors
I held out a long time in discussing “Natural Flavors”. Attempting to avoid sensationalist posts, it’s hard to discuss NF without sounding dramatic, so I’ve always walked the “you don’t want to know” line. If it comes from a natural source, labels tout this phrase “natural ingredients” like it’s always a positive thing. In truth, there are many sources within nature on which I don’t care to dine. MSG, naturally occurs in meats, mushrooms and other food sources. It is used commercially to give flavorless food a flavor boost. MSG has been linked to a number of human reactions, including headaches, depression, heart irregularity and obesity. I say, stay clear of “natural flavors” unless you know what they are (see Castoreum below for motivation). There are natural flavors that are fine – such as rosemary extract. I would contact the company and just ask, “what is it?” Trust me, they are getting used to this question.
Ingredient Watch: Castoreum
There is absolutely no need to use Castoreum in your food or beauty products. It is used for fragrance and vanilla flavor and has no benefits to humans. Is it going to kill you? No. Will it make you sick? Only when you hear what it is. Remember when I said that you don’t want to know what’s in “Natural Flavors” but didn’t say why? Well, this falls under Natural Flavors because they won’t put its originating source on a label: Anal Secretions of Male or Female Beaver.
Ingredient Watch: Parsley
Generally starring in a minor role as “garnish”, Parsley deserves more attention and use! Rich in Vitamin K/Potassium, Vitamins A and C, iron and flavonoids, studies show that the presence of its “volatile oil” slows the growth of tumors, specifically in the lungs. The health benefits of Parsley include illness prevention, cell damage prevention, digestion improvement, reduction in spasms and is known for cleaning the palate and tongue and serves as a breath freshener as well. Put it on your next grocery list. I add it to green smoothies for that extra boost of clean goodness.
Ingredient Watch: Citric Acid
Naturally occurring and often found it citrus fruits, CA is used as a natural preservative and flavor enhancer. It’s the tart and tangy that helps less than ripe produce (or non food substances) along in commercial production. The downside of CA is that while it can come from citrus, scientists find it cheaper to make it from specific molds. They don’t have to disclose whether it’s from an orange or a test tube, so buyer beware and know who you’re buying from. If it’s a staple item for you, it would serve you to know this information. So, you might ask, if it’s from a lab, does that make it horrible? Perhaps not as bad as many of the ingredients I review, but it does make it processed and not whole – and unnecessary to your diet. How important is that item on your shopping list? It’s your call.
Ingredient Watch! Aluminum
There is a debate on whether using aluminum cookware and foil in our food prep is really a danger. The most significant argument is that you’ll get far more of it in other ways than by using aluminum in the kitchen. I find that a silly argument. While it’s absolutely true, it’s like saying you get poison from pesticide covered fruit so you may as well eat poison. I don’t buy this argument.
My advice is to reduce your use of aluminum where it offers little to no value. This includes eliminating aluminum in hygiene products and antiperspirant (use deodorant instead!), otc remedies like antacids, processed foods and commercial baked goods (we don’t eat those anyway, do we?), canned goods without a BPA-free lining, aluminum foil and cookware.
Excess aluminum, or toxicity, has been linked to Alzheimer’s, osteoporosis, gastrointestinal problems, general memory loss, liver problems and more. No need for panic about what’s lurking behind your next meal. Just be aware of your choices, when you have them, and cut out the most obvious sources.
Ingredient Watch! Sodium
Thumps up for sodium, thumbs down for excessive salt. We’ve all been told to watch our sodium intake. Use of packaged and take-out foods are horrible for our health and sodium is excessively high in these items. According to the CDC, Americans eat twice the amount they need. But, did you know that sodium is a blood electrolyte and mineral which is essential to life? It helps us digest food, distribute our fluids properly, maintain our blood pressure and keep our nerve and muscle tissue communicating properly – even ensuring the beating of our hearts. Sodium has gotten a bad rap due to American’s overuse.
The best way to get healthy sodium, especially during the hot summer months, is through nutrient-rich foods like seaweed, olives, celery, artichokes, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, spaghetti squash, zucchini, sweet potatoes and other vegetables that have a reliable amount, eaten regularly. Raw juices, especially from celery, are great for sodium bursts. Try a sodium-rich salad this weekend to beat the heat and support your ability to sweat healthy style!
If you are cutting back on sodium, don’t forget to get your critical need of iodine! Cutting back on iodized salt will call for an increase in iodine-rich food like sushi wraps and other sea dwelling culinary treats that support your thyroid. For more on this subject, visit http://1fwtraining.com/cruciferous-vegetables-and-your-thyroid/
Ingredient Watch! Bisphenol-A
Better known as BPA, you will find this substance present in many foods that are packaged in cans and plastic. In a continued effort to move towards whole foods, I hope this provides incentive for you. If you’ve been around for awhile, you may remember the day that rusting tin cans and metallic flavored canned foods went away. Hooray! …Well, not so much. What we didn’t know was hurting us. Growing in popularity since the 60’s, BPA in plastic and cans offered Commercial food packagers the ability to avoid food spoilage, a longer shelf life and a better taste to their product.
Especially harmful to unborn and young children, this is an ingredient to avoid in notable doses. Even the FDA, who I feel is slow to broadcast current dangers in food, says there is reason to worry. “Researchers found that feeding BPA to pregnant rats was associated with lasting alterations to the ‘epigenetic’ structure of genes in the brain tissue of their offspring, causing possible changes to certain aspects of sex-specific behaviour, such as chasing, sniffing and aggression.” http://www.independent.co.uk/news/science/study-shows-dangers-of-bpa-chemical-used-in-plastic-packaging-8633551.html
Other than causing harm to the young, studies show that BPA has more widespread dangers that include increase risk of breast cancer, obesity and Type II Diabetes. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-holt-gimenez/bpa-food-cans_b_3493469.html
My bottom line – I’ve been a canned tomato consumer for a very long time and due to their high acidity, they are one of the worst items to buy canned since the acid eats into the coating. I am making the change to carton and glass for my tomatoes. Next year, I’ll be canning my own from the garden. Did you know that you can grow bushels of tomatoes on your front porch, no yard needed? Think about that.
SOURCES OF NON-BPA PRODUCT: http://bpafreecannedfood.wordpress.com/bpa-free-canned-food-brands/
Ingredient Watch! Potassium Bromate
Potassium Bromate is a “powerful oxidizing agent that chemically ages flour much faster than open air. It bleaches dough, and enhances its elasticity by strengthening its network of molecular bridges, which makes for the formation of tiny, thin-walled bubbles as the bread rises. The end product is fluffy, soft and unnaturally white.” www.livescience.com
Most commonly found in baked goods and flours, Potassium Bromate has been banned in China, the European Union, Canada and Brazil among other countries. It was declared a carcinogenic in the early 80’s when it induced cancerous tumors in rats and mice. Instead of banning in the US, the FDA requested that bakers volunteer to stop its use. California took it a step further and enforced all manufacturers to label PB products with a cancer warning. Though you’re less likely to see it on labels these days, you will most likely get it with fast food breads like hamburger buns and sandwich rolls. Yet another reason to stick to clean whole grain breads. It’s good to note that King Arthur Flour Company have never used this ingredient. It’s time all manufacturers followed suit and dumped it. For your health, stay clear of this ingredient.
Ingredients Watch! Tuna
A delicious and nutritious “fast” food that many of us clean eaters enjoy. However, it is also flagged as carrying too much Mercury in certain varieties. For those of who love tuna like I do, check your local grocer for Skipjack tuna packed in water. Termed “light” tuna, it is a better choice than “white” tuna, also known as albacore. Trader Joe’s skipjack tuna is a great option. It is packed in water with sea salt and was pole and line caught. All of the best stuff in one can. For more information on which fish to select and which to avoid, visit http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/mercury/guide.asp. Among those to avoid, sadly, is Ahi Tuna. Among those that you can eat any time is wild caught salmon. Although they list Tilapia as a fish to enjoy often, I recommend other fish over this selection. Heavily farmed in polluted waters, it’s hard to find a healthy Tilapia these days.
Ingredient Watch! Stevia;
Stevia is a sweetener extracted from leaves of the Stevia plant. It has zero calories or sugar. Stevia has 50-400 times the sweetness of sugar but little to no effect on your blood sugar levels.Although Stevia has been around for a very long time, the more attention it gets, the more widespread its usage for people looking for sugar alternatives. It is a great option and much healthier than the unnatural and highly processed sugar replacements out there. There are several acceptable brands so just check the label for anything other than pure and organic “stevia”. Avoid alcohols (erythritol, xylitol), fillers, preservatives and “natural flavors”.
Coconut sugar, fruit and honey are still my favorites, but stevia has its place and a pre-diabetic condition has put it squarely in my daily routine. The best use I’ve found for it is in not eliminating sugar, but in reducing it. By using a small amount of coconut sugar, honey or banana, I find that any after-taste issues are alleviated. More importantly, my body is signaled that sugar is coming whenever it tastes something sweet. If I don’t give it actual sugar to work with, it is noticeably less happy. So I work with my body and my tastebuds at the same time while giving my blood sugars a nice even flow of nutrients that don’t cause spikes, energy surges, crashes and headaches.
As always, listen to your body. If it doesn’t work for you, ditch it and try something else. What works for one, doesn’t work for all. If you are diabetic, talk to your doctor before making any significant changes.
Ingredient Watch! Fulvic Acid; a major contributor to decomposition of organic matter; in the soil and in our bodies. It contains 70 or more chelated vitamins (boundto metal ions and shown to be easier for our bodies to absorb) and has been studied for it’s nutritional support in boosting energy, promoting cell longevity, improve circulation, improve endurance and stimulating metabolism. All good stuff! You’ll find it naturally occurring in our plant foods as it comes from healthy soil. You can also find it in electrolyte drinks. Look for it!