Do you read food labels? Chances are, you don’t know what all those mystery ingredients are. The more processed the food, the more ingredients. Most are not harmful, but there are a few that are best avoided. The following is a list of ingredients to watch for.
This is a commonly used preservative added to prevent rancidity in foods that contain oils. Unfortunately, testing on mice, rats and hamsters shows that it is a carcinogen. But, because it causes cancer in their forestomachs (something humans don’t have) it is believed to be safe for human consumption in low doses. BHA is commonly found in potato chips, butter, cereals, instant mashed potatoes, baked goods and chewing gums.
Parabens are synthetic preservatives used to inhibit mold and yeast formation in food and cosmetics, including lotions and deodorants. There has been some speculation that parabens, especially those in foods, may disrupt the body’s hormonal balance by increasing estrogen production and lowering sperm count. Parabens are added to cakes, pastries, icings, cereals and potato-based snacks. They are often listed as methyl, ethyl or propylparaben.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils
These are also known as trans fats. Just because the food label says there are zero grams of trans fat per serving does not mean that the food is trans fat free. The FDA allows the manufacturer to say there are 0 grams if the amount is less than .5 g per serving. When you consider that the upper limit of trans fat in our diet should not exceed 2 grams per day, you can see how those partial bits of trans fat can quickly add up. Avoid foods that have partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list.
Nitrites and nitrates are used to inhibit botulism-causing bacteria in meats and to help retain the pink color in processed meats. The problem with nitrites is that when eaten, they form nitrosamines, a carcinogenic compound. Adding vitamin C seems to help thwart that process, which is why you may see vitamin C added to your bologna. Nitrates and nitrites can be found in lunchmeats, hot dogs and bacon.
A common additive in sodas, caramel coloring seems harmless. The problem is that it is often made by treating sugar with ammonia, which can produce carcinogens. There’s no way to know from the label how the caramel coloring was made.
Artificial food coloring is commonly found in fruit flavored candies and sugary cereals. Most are harmless, but some may cause problems. Yellow #5 has been linked to hyperactivity in children. Yellow #6 and Red #40 may contain carcinogens. Look for artificial colors in any highly processed, colorful food.
Page 2 of 2 - Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
This is a savory flavor enhancer that starts out as a plant protein (soy) that is broken down into amino acids. One of these is glutamic acid, which can combine with sodium in your body to form MSG. MSG is known to cause adverse reactions in some people who are sensitive to it. If you are sensitive to MSG, you might want to avoid foods containing hydrolyzed vegetable protein. It is found in veggie burgers, gravy mixes, soup mixes, chicken nuggets and other processed foods.
Your best bet for good health is to stick to minimally processed foods. Start with raw food, cook from scratch and leave the other stuff on the shelf.
Anita Marlay, R.D., L.D., is a dietitian in the cardiac rehab department at Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach, Mo.