Hidden Ingredients in Food Labels
In a typical grocery shopping scenario, we often look at the price and brand of the commodity without even sparing a second to turn the label and read its nutritional facts and ingredients . For most consumers, as long as the price and quantity suits them, they immediately place them in the cart without second thoughts. This should not be the case. We must not compromise our health and well-being just because of some sale or promo at the grocery store. It is important to be aware and informed of the benefits as well as ill-effects of the goods we take in our bodies.
For years now, the importance of reading food labels has been pounded into our heads. It is highly advised by health practitioner and nutritionists to always look at the nutritional facts of the goods we buy in the market. Whether looking at the macro and micro-nutrient breakdowns or inquiring about ingredients, it is important to be a well-informed consumer. It is always better to be safe than sorry later on. You will oftentimes find that even foods that appear to have suitable macro-nutrients are made with some sketchy ingredients. Whether you stick to the principle of “if you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it” or not, investigating what exactly makes up the foods you are eating isn’t a bad idea. There’s no harm in finding out what hidden ingredients you are taking in to your bodies.
There are basic “no-no” ingredients that the media has plastered across their outlets and seared into our brains like high fructose corn syrup, soybean oil, etc. The media and the health sector has never failed in their duties of informing us of these bad ingredients in our foods. But there are a ton of other ingredients that most people can neither spell nor pronounce lurking in our foods – even the healthy ones! Here are a few of these to look out for next time you find yourself reading an ingredient list.
Diacetyl: This chemical can be naturally found in apples, artichokes, beans, butter, coffee, dairy, fruits, honey, tobacco, and vinegar but only in low concentrations. Concerns about the side effects of diacetyl stems from worker safety issues initially, not from the general public consuming diacetyl-induced food at home. This awareness about diacetyl started when microwave popcorn factory workers started having breathing problems in the late 1990s. Since then, research on animals eventually found the correlation between high concentrations of diacetyl and extreme lung diseases. Studies found that this chemical has been linked to respiratory problems and creation of plaque in the brain that is a sign of Alzheimer’s disease. Seeing as how this ingredient produces a buttery flavor and scent, it is found most often in microwave popcorn, but also in candy, margarine and baked goods. Individuals who are repeatedly exposed to high concentrations of diacetyl are in a higher risk to contract potential health risks.
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA): This ingredient is used to prevent food from spoiling. BHA can be found in potato chips, lard, butter, cereal, preserved meat, and other goods. Surprisingly, it is also found in rubber, petroleum products, and wax food packaging. In lab tests, consumption of BHA’s has been linked to causing cancer in rats and other laboratory animals. Having said that, BHA is considered to be a carcinogen. Fortunately, BHA has a much safer and more natural alternative which is Vitamin E. This natural ingredient has almost the same role with BHA and it is perfectly safe in small doses compared to BHA. If possible, choose the healthier and safer option the next time you visit your local grocery stores.
Nitrites: If you’ve ever eaten a hot dog, lunch meat or processed meats of any kind, then most likely you’ve eaten nitrite. Nitrites are often added to processed meat like bacon, ham, sausages, and hotdogs. They are food preservatives which helps mainly to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. They can also be used as food flavoring as they add saltiness to the meat and makes it look fresh by giving it a red and pink color. Nitrite consumption has been linked to increased colorectal/stomach/pancreatic cancer, COPD, mutations of DNA and greater risks of developing brain tumors. We are aware that consuming processed meat is strongly linked to cancer and digestive diseases and many people believe that nitrites are the main reason for that. The nitrite actually kills harmful bacteria in ham, salami, and other cured meat but it can also damage digestive cells when it enters the human body which can cause some digestive cancers.
Keep in mind that all the ingredients listed above and many more are viewed under a controversial scope. As with anything deemed “good” or “bad,” there is science to support the claims and there is science to counteract them just as well. Think about the back and forth nature of the food industry the past few years regarding artificial sweeteners.
Aside from ingredients, there are also some strange substances lurking in your food – sometimes just for the purpose of altering color or appearance. Substances coming from plants and animals which may seem natural and organic. For example, cochineal insects are ground up by the thousands, which produces a red powder. This red powder is then used as food coloring. This dye is used to color candies, juices, and most infamously, in a handful of Starbucks drinks. Now there are some artificial food coloring chemicals that are out in the market which we should never incorporate in our cooking. One example of that is Tartrazine, also known as “Yellow #5”. It is also used as a food dye, and is found in prescriptions and food. Yellow #5 comes from coal tar and is known to cause severe allergic reactions and side effects in some individuals, such as thyroid cancer, clinical depression, insomnia and aggravation of Carpal Tunnel. Another side effect of this is that it can even cause hyperactivity in most kids.
Now you know that there are a lot of ingredients hiding in the foods we consume every day that we really should avoid at all cost, if possible. Oftentimes, when picking up a package of essentially “calorie-free” food (Walden Farms has built an entire business around it), you will be shocked by the long list of barely-recognizable ingredients. Some of these you still have to look up on the Internet and be shocked at what you find. Some say it’s the price you pay for aesthetics and to save calories, while others would rather eat the natural product than put a load of fake ingredients into their bodies. When you are not really sure of what hidden substances are being injected into your food, it is better to go back to the natural and safer alternative. It’s difficult to be on top of your game to the point where you know what each ingredient means or where it came from. But it is safe to say that if you try to stick to foods that are closest to their true form, you can be as sure as possible that you are avoiding any hidden surprises.