Whole foods like fruits and vegetables are among the healthiest foods we can eat. These foods are generally unmodified and packed with nutrients that lend to good overall health. But eating fresh fruits and vegetables isn’t always practical. Many of us rely on packaged foods with longer shelf lives due to the convenience or simply because we prefer the taste (and when many packaged foods are loaded with salt and sugar, it’s no wonder they taste so great).
However, packaged foods are also often loaded with harmful chemicals and additives. Research shows that 61 percent of the foods Americans consume are heavily processed, and packed with chemicals and toxic ingredients that increase the risk for serious health problems. Learning which of these ingredients to avoid can help you maintain good health and even accelerate weight loss — especially since many of these substances can cause hormonal imbalances that may interfere with your weight-loss goals.
When buying processed foods at the grocery store, watch out for these additives, and choose foods with fewer ingredients whenever possible.
High-fructose corn syrup
HFCS is a highly processed form of glucose that is manufactured from genetically modified corn. This toxic, fattening ingredient causes weight gain, insulin resistance, diabetes, and high blood pressure. HFCS sometimes shows up on labels as “corn sugar,” and can be found in many processed foods, including ketchup, soda, and salad dressing.
Artificial flavors are exactly that — man-made chemicals that are added to foods to enhance their flavor. Manufacturers add artificial flavoring to foods because these chemicals often cost far less than real foods. For instance, many blueberry muffin mixes contain artificial blueberry flavors instead of real blueberries. Artificial flavors can cause reproductive issues, neurotoxicity, and cancer.
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is another processed flavor enhancer that has more than 40 different names, including yeast extract, citric acid, natural flavors, and maltodextrin. MSG has been linked to a number of serious health problems such as migraines, obesity, and Alzheimer’s disease. Carefully peruse all food labels to avoid any form of MSG, including those on food products marketed as all-natural and organic.
Partially hydrogenated oil
This unhealthy trans fat is popular among food manufacturers because it’s low in cost and extends the shelf life of food while maintaining the food’s flavor. Partially hydrogenated oil increases the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease, and can often be found in baked goods, salad dressings, and crackers.
BHA and BHT
These two chemical preservatives can be found in processed foods that typically have a long shelf life, like breakfast cereal, potato chips, and gum. BHA and BHT are known carcinogens that can increase the risk for liver damage, kidney damage, and cancer.
Ingredients like Red 3, Yellow 6, and Green 3 are derived from petroleum, and have been linked to a number of tumors and cancers in both rodents and humans. Food coloring agents are typically used to enhance the appearance of foods like cookies, cakes, and sugary drinks. Stay away from foods with fake dyes, and stick to foods with natural food colorings that are safe to consume, like carmine and beta-carotene.
This additive is commonly added to breads to enhance their volume and flavor, but greatly increases the risk for cancer. Potassium bromate is actually banned in many industrialized countries except the U.S. and Japan, and requires a warning label when added to foods sold in the state of California.
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