I don’t believe in dieting or food deprivation to improve health or lose weight, because I believe that weight loss and better health can be achieved through making smarter choices most of the time and eating more mindfully.
There are, however, a few food ingredients that I avoid most of the time and don’t feel good about feeding my family. These ingredients often make their way into popular processed/convenience foods at the grocery store, or perhaps foods that you may order in when you don’t feel like cooking. When people ask me what to look at when purchasing foods, I always tell them to look at the ingredients first and foremost as it will tell you everything you need to know. The nutrition facts table is a nice-to-know, but it really doesn’t give you much information about the quality of the product that you are buying. When looking at the ingredients list, be wary of lists with more than 4 or 5 ingredients, especially when you don’t recognize the ingredient (in other words- it’s not a real food) or is sounds more like a chemical.
Here are my top five ingredients to avoid:
Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT) and Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) are preservatives that manufacturers commonly add to foods to prevent spoilage and extend shelf-life. BHA is added to foods such as butter, meats, cereals, chewing gum, snack foods and beer to prevent oils and fats from going rancid and/or as a yeast de-foaming agent. BHT is meant to preserve the odour, colour and flavour of foods and to prevent fats from becoming rancid. It is often added to breakfast cereal and packaged snack foods. Although these preservatives help manufacturers keep their products on shelves longer, they may be harmful to those of us who consume these foods. BHT and BHA are known carcinogens (increase risk of cancer) and they may interfere with normal endocrine function which could alter hormone levels which could result in health and behavioural changes among other long term problems. To read more about BHT, check out my friend Gwen’s post here.
Hydrogenated oils (or trans-fats) are chemically altered liquid oils that are made into semi-solid fats that have a long shelf-life. These fats are unhealthy and increase our risk of heart disease among other diseases. You’ll often see “hydrogenated palm kernel oil” or “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil” on foods such as store-bought cookies, muffins, pudding mixes, pastries and microwave popcorn. Trans fats are also found in deep fried foods because restaurants often use partially hydrogenated oils for deep frying. Limit your fried food indulgences and try to avoid any store-bought baked goods and bake your own instead.
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or “glucose-fructose”:
High fructose corn syrup (or often labeled “glucose-fructose” on food labels) is one of the most common sweeteners added to processed foods. It is a liquid sweetener made from cornstarch and is used because it is cheaper than regular sugar. HFCS is most commonly found in soft drinks and flavoured fruit drinks, but can also be found in condiments like ketchup, breakfast cereals, canned fruits, boxed desserts, ice cream, flavoured yogurts and jams and jellies. Although the verdict is still out as to whether HFCS is worse for us than other types of sugar, we know for sure that too much sugar can lead to obesity, metabolic disease, heart disease, and Type 2 Diabetes among other health issues. HFCS also leads to gastrointestinal issues like gas and bloating because HFCS feeds that natural bacteria in our gut.
Sodium nitrites or nitrates:
Nitrates and nitrites are commonly added to processed meats to stop the growth of bacteria and to preserve the flavour and colour. These nitrates are known carcinogens and are likely one of the reasons that processed meats increase our risk of colon cancer. We should try to avoid processed meats altogether for this reason. Organic processed meats, on the other hand, do not contain nitrates by law in Canada. Nitrates can also be naturally found in certain foods such as celery, beets, and spinach, but the benefits of these vegetables WAY outweigh any potential harm that these naturally occurring nitrates may cause. Organic vegetables typically have lower amounts of nitrates as compared to conventional vegetables.
Artificial food colourings:
Artificial food colourings such as Allura Red, Sunset Yellow FCF , Tartrazine, and Citrus Red #2 are synthetic chemical dyes that are approved in Canada and are often added to candy, soft drinks, icings, ice cream, some cereals and other processed foods. Artificial food colourings have been linked to Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in kids and can also cause side effects such as rash, asthma, dizziness and fainting.
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Katie Couzens says
Great article, thanks Sarah! I wasn’t familiar with BHT/BHA – so great learnings for me as a RD! Thanks!
Sarah Remmer says
Glad you enjoyed! Thanks Katie!
I believe the best way to avoid these food ingredients is to not shop in the middle aisles.
Katharine Heskes says
Great artical Sarah!