10 Ingredients to Avoid for Better Health

Photo Credit: The Memoirs of Megan

When you begin the habit of looking at the ingredients list of foods before purchasing, it’s easy to feel like you have no idea what you are looking at or what you’re looking for. Of course, the first rule of thumb is a short and pronounceable ingredient list. But what if you would really like to purchase an item that seems fairly processed but would like to make sure it doesn’t contain anything really bad? And why are these things bad?

Having a short list of some of the worst ingredients in your head is helpful. After a while, these ingredients will become familiar to you as you recognize them in almost ALL processed foods and drinks. Scan the label quickly for your “no-no” ingredients, and move on. It’s as simple as that. You see one of these on the list and you just don’t eat it.


1.) Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)

Sucralose (Splenda)

Acesulfame potassium (Sunett, Sweet One)

Neotame

Saccharin (Sugar Twin, Sweet’N Low)

WHAT 

Chemically created, no-calorie sweeteners.

WHY

When eaten with frequency, these super sweeteners cause our sugar receptors to become overstimulated. When that happens, we will crave more unnaturally sweet foods and won’t enjoy the taste of natural flavors of fruit and vegetables. It becomes a vicious cycle of sugar craving.


Ingredients to Avoid - natural flavors

Photo Credit: The Memoirs of Megan

2.) Natural and Artificial Flavors

WHAT

Although it appears as one ingredient, artificial or natural flavors are a complex mix of chemicals. Even “natural flavors” are transformed from natural origins into a chemical mix to create a flavor.

WHY

The fact that artificial strawberry flavoring contains 49 ingredients should be fairly convincing. Aside from that, and wanting to avoid eating unknown chemicals, if a food contains these chemicals, then it should be a red flag to you that it is altered and processed enough to not be natural and healthy. If it’s augmented with chemicals to give it flavor, you don’t need to eat it.


3.) Food Coloring

Especially blue 1 and 2, green 3, red 3, yellow 6

WHAT

Food dyes are chemicals that are added to give color to food, enhance the color or even regulate the color so it’s consistent between batches.

WHY

Although still approved by the FDA, food dyes are continually being pointed at as a possible cause of ADHD in children. It isn’t worth the risk.


Ingredients to Avoid  soda

Photo Credit: The Memoirs of Megan

4.) HFCS, Corn Syrup

WHAT

Used as an added sweetener, High Fructose Corn Syrup is a mixture of glucose and fructose (both forms of sugar). Why do they use HFCS instead of sugar if it is inherently sugar? It’s sweeter, and it’s cheaper.

WHY

In small amounts, there is not commonly accepted evidence that HFCS is harmful. What IS harmful is that it is added to so many foods and drinks that you could easily end up eating way more sugar than is healthy. This sweetener overload can lead to many weight related health issues, including type 2 diabetes and heart disease.


ingredients to avoid 1

Photo Credit: The Memoirs of Megan

5.) Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Yeast Extract

WHAT

When yeast enzymes are broken down, the result of the usable substance is referred to as autolyzed yeast extract. It contains free glutamic acid or MSG, and is less expensive than MSG. It is used to add salty flavor to foods.

WHY

Opponents of autolyzed yeast extract say that using the ingredient is no less harmful than using MSG. Although even MSG is “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA, it continues to be a controversial ingredient due to a small percentage of people experiencing a list of uncomfortable side effects.


6.) Benzoate Preservatives

BHA, BHT, TBHQ

WHAT

These preservatives are added to food to prevent it from molding. Sodium Benzoate is also used in fireworks to create that great whistling noise when compressed and ignited.

WHY

When combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), sodium benzoate and potassium benzoate form a known carcinogen called benzene. Some people may have trouble metabolizing BHA and BHT which can result in health problems and behavioral changes. There have been no clinical studies to confirm the anecdotal evidence, but it has been thought that TBHQ may cause anxiety and aggravate ADHD in some children.


7.) Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)

WHAT

Vegetable Oil that has bromine atoms bonded to it. Bromine itself is corrosive and toxic. BVO is used to help citrus oils remain suspended in liquids, such as soft drinks.

WHY

It is not approved for use in the EU, India or Japan. Because it is included in beverages that people tend to consume freely and in high quantities, these people can suffer severe side effects from the bromine.


8.) Bleached Flour

WHAT

It is “all-purpose” flour that is bleached bright white with the use of chlorine gas or benzoyl peroxide (also used to treat acne) instead of allowing the flour to naturally lighten in the oxidation process (which takes over a month).

WHY

The use of Benzoyl Peroxide as a food additive has been banned in the EU, Canada and China due to health concerns. It is also another “money saving” process similar to using HFCS, that doesn’t add anything nutritionally to the food.


Ingredients to Avoid - partially hydrogenated oils

Photo Credit: Cookies for Breakfast

9.) Partially Hydrogenated Oils

WHAT

These are oils put through a chemical process to turn liquid fat into solid. These oils contain trans fats.

WHY

Trans fats raise the bad cholesterol in your body and lower the good cholesterol. Although many foods are now listing that they are “trans fat free” it does not mean that they are 100% free of them. They are allowed to have 0.5g or less of trans fat per serving to be considered trans fat free. If multiple servings are eaten, you have certainly eaten trans fats.


ingredients to avoid - nitrates

Photo Credit: The Memoirs of Megan

10.) Sodium Nitrates/Nitrites

WHAT

A preservative that is added to processed meats. Think hot dogs, bacon, pepperoni.

WHY

Nitrates are thought to lead to heart disease through blood vessel damage and hardened arteries, along with changing the way your body uses sugar – increasing your risk of diabetes.


Not all the ingredients on this list will make you sick and unhealthy if you have some of them in small amounts. Try to give yourself the 80/20 rule of clean eating, so that once in a while if you want to be carefree and eat “junk” you can feel better knowing that your body isn’t already on overload with chemical ingredients.

Check out www.foodfacts.com to look up foods in your cupboard and find out if they contain controversial ingredients!

This post is meant for educational purposes only. It is not intended to replace medical advice from your physician, doctor or health care professional. Please read our terms of use for more information.

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Megan V.

Megan is a fashion industry drop-out turned stay-at-home-mom to a baby girl named Luna. Her days are filled with creative endeavors such as embroidery, calligraphy and photography in between changing diapers and nursing sessions. She has a passion for all things handmade, eco-friendly, unique and modern. You can peek more into her life and projects at her blog, Lilac Saloon, and follow her on Pinterest, Twitter and Instagram!

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