These days we are all so busy as a result we rely on processed foods to meet our snack and meal needs but are we taking a real risk with our health by adding in some potentially harmful ingredients?
There is a commercial for Blue Buffalo dog food where the pet owner is evaluating and deciding which brand of dog food is the best choice based off the ingredients list. I love this and I wish more humans would evaluate their food choices the same way we evaluate our pets or even our children’s food choices. If you have not seen the commercial check it out here, Blue Buffalo commercial .
The 3 ingredients I am reviewing are of course, man-made. I do not want to give the impression that I am against everything not naturally occurring but when it comes to these ingredients we need to first understand their purpose for adding these ingredients to food and second what the potential health risk come from these ingredients.
I have not included an analysis of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) or MSG as I find most people are already avoiding these ingredients due to the highly publicized potential health risks. We see this in the marketing of so many food companies now tooting their horn that they “NOW no longer contain HFCS, or “NO MSG.” I am happy to see this switch and I hope for a similar result for the ingredients below.
BHT and BHA
BHT and BHA are preservatives added to food to keep oil in the food from going rancid. Both are considered GRAS by the FDA; that is generally recognized as safe. The debate over safety continues while many of the studies on these preservatives are not done on humans. A Berkley Wellness review shows conflicting results between high and low doses – some low doses were shown to be protective and other low doses were shown to be toxic (1). The risks seen include potential cancer causing effect. The benefits included cancer preventing effect. With such a debate and other products out there I recommend two things:
- Have awareness as to how many and what food sources you regularly consume that contain BHA and BHT.
- Try to find foods that do not use BHA or BHT or use vitamin E instead. Be a label spy!
There is a great app that can help you evaluate your food choices and their preservative content (among other things) – this app is Fooducate Not only will it bring awareness to your food choices but it will help you by offering alternative choices.
This stuff is everywhere. It is used to give food its brown color. The most obvious place we find caramel coloring is dark colored sodas. You may not drink dark sodas and think you are in the clear but there are so many not so obvious places we find caramel coloring – check your balsamic vinegar, precooked sausage, meatless burger or nuggets and you will find caramel coloring. Urvashi Rangan, Ph.D., toxicologist and executive director of Consumer Reports’ Food Safety & Sustainability Center said this about caramel coloring, “There’s no reason why consumers should be exposed to an avoidable and unnecessary risk that can stem from coloring food brown” (2). So what are the risks? The many risk is the carcinogenic effect that is the potential cancer causing effect. For a full detailed report check out Consumer Reports review of caramel coloring.
- Evaluate your everyday food choices, how many caramel color containing foods are you consuming regularly?
- What choices can we make instead? It will be impossible for me to provide a full detailed list of all of the caramel coloring sources and their alternatives but here are some common ones I see in my practice.
- Dark sodas – there is no health benefit to soda just risk upon risk. I would recommend a decrease in soda consumption (even the diet kind) and an increase in water consumption.
- Balsamic vinegar – try Pompeian balsamic vinegar
- Pre-cooked turkey or chicken sausage – try Jone’s Dairy Farm (also does not contain BHT)
- Veggie burgers and nuggets – try Dr. Praeger’s (LOOK AT EACH LABEL AS SOME USE CARAMEL COLORING AND SOME DO NOT).
What is sucralose? It is the little yellow packet known as Splenda. Many use sucralose for the sweetness it provides without providing calories, carbs, or sugar. Many made the switch from aspartame to Splenda thinking it was a healthier artificial sweetener but Splenda (sucralose) IS also an artificial sweetener. Sucralose is made by adding chlorine to sugar, the chemical formula for sucralose is, C12H19Cl3O8 compare this to the chemical formula for sugar, C12H22O11, and you can see that chlorine has been added. Many against sucralose argue that due to the chlorine being added that sucralose is more like a pesticide than table sugar. While there is very limited long term studies of humans and the effect of sucralose on health some observations have been made. Sucralose has been linked to altered gut flora, altered insulin response, and linked to type 2 diabetes, heart disease, metabolic syndrome, and obesity according to Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism published in 2013. The problem with sucralose is not whether you put it in your coffee or not. In my practice once I teach clients to begin looking at food labels they are shocked to find their yogurt, jelly, protein bar, protein powder, bread, etc all contain sucralose – this stuff is everywhere! While there is conflicting research I do worry about the compound effect of constantly exposing our bodies to sucralose through so many sources especially with other natural choices available. I would recommend the following:
- Evaluate your food sources. Look towards the bottom of the ingredient list or even the last ingredient, this is where you will find sucralose if it is in the food or beverage item. How many food and beverage sources do you have for sucralose? Can you use something else?
- Use real organic sugar – in lesser amounts. Remember that your sweetness expectation is a trained behavior and sucralose is not helping you as it is hundreds of times sweeter than sugar. It is causing you to expect more sweetness.
- Use real WHOLE leaf stevia. I am asking you to be a detective here too. Look for stevia sources that are JUST STEVIA. This should be a very concentrated form and will require an extremely small amount to sweeten beverages and foods. Try Trader Joe’s or KAL stevia – notice the ingredients list include only stevia.
Today we have some much information at our finger tips. It can be hard to decide what to believe and what to discredit but with awareness I think we can all make an educated choice that ultimately leads to better health. Evaluate the ingredient lists of the foods you are regularly consuming. Are these ingredients above showing up over and over again? Or is another ingredient? Can we make a switch to a different product or even better a WHOLE real food like fruits or veggies?
Disclaimer – this is not a sponsored blog. I have mentioned specific brands of foods I myself eat and that I feed my children. These are also brands I recommend to my clients due to their ingredient list containing whole real food.
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- Berkeley Wellness. “Two Preservatives to Avoid.” http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-eating/food-safety/article/two-preservatives-avoid
- Consumer Reports. “Caramel Color: The Health Risks That May be in Your Soda.” http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/01/caramel-color-the-health-risk-that-may-be-in-your-soda/index.htm