While some manufacturers are removing toxic ingredients from packaged foods, the sad fact is that many foods still contain unhealthy additives.
And the FDA does nothing about it.
In fact, this government agency — which is supposed to protect us from harm — actually approves certain toxic ingredients that are used in thousands of foods commonly found on grocery shelves.
Of course, while I recommend eating whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible, sometimes your only option is something that comes in a package.
In that case, it’s a good idea to scrutinize the ingredients label.
Six common food additives that are particularly poisonous to your health
High fructose corn syrup. As I have warned before, the name high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is particularly devious.
Why? Because corn syrup is primarily glucose (sugar). But by adding a little fructose (metabolically safe, natural sugar from fruits), the sellers of sugar water and other sugar products hope to fool consumers into thinking their products are somehow more nutritious—or less unhealthy.
HFCS is not “high” in fructose compared to any real food standard. It is just relatively “high” when compared to zero natural level. And make no mistake—HFCS has never been the innocuous fructose that has sweetened the natural fruits eaten by humans since time began.
Instead, it’s high in sugar. And, as I wrote in the May issue of Insiders’ Cures (“The metabolic poison hiding in plain sight”), sugar is a major cause of obesity, diabetes, cancer, dementia, liver disease, and other chronic health conditions.
Furthermore, virtually all corn grown in the U.S. today (except organic corn) is genetically modified. So not only are you eating corn sugar disguised as something that sounds healthy, but it’s a GMO to boot. And it’s most likely grown with toxic pesticides.
And yet, the FDA allows HFCS to go by the name “natural sweetener.” Of course, “natural” has no real meaning when it comes to food labels. As permitted by the FDA, food companies are printing “100% natural” all over packaged foods regardless of what is in, or what is missing from, the contents.
Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet). This toxin is called an “artificial” sweetener, although, as we just learned, even so-called “natural” sweeteners may really be artificial too.
Aspartame appears to cause damage to neural tissue in your brain and nervous system. And recent studies link artificially sweetened beverages with diabetes, obesity, and other diseases typically caused by excess sugar and carb consumption.
In other words, you are not gaining anything from aspartame, except unwanted body weight.
Hydrogenated oils. These oils are created when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil. The goal is to make the oil less likely to spoil. But what it really does is spoil your health.
That’s because the hydrogenation process creates trans fats, which can substantially increase your risk of heart disease.
While some manufacturers are eliminating hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils, there are still plenty of them around in bread, crackers, other baked goods—and even salad dressings.
The FDA allows a food that contains less than 0.5 grams of trans fats to claim that it actually has zero trans fats. While 0.5 grams doesn’t seem like much, if you eat a lot of processed food, it adds up.
So make sure and read the ingredients label—especially on baked goods. If the label says “partially hydrogenated vegetable oil,” that means it contains some trans fat—even if it claims it doesn’t.
Polyunsaturated, non-hydrogenated soybean oil. Sure, it sounds better than trans fats, which is why this type of oil is replacing hydrogenated oils for deep-fat frying.
But when non-hydrogenated soybean oil is heated, it turns into an oxidant (opposite of antioxidant) and inflammatory agent. And, as you know, inflammation is a culprit in many chronic diseases, including Alzheimer’s, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and arthritis.
Not to mention that just like corn, most of the non-organic soybeans grown in the U.S. today are GMO. So not only are you getting an inflammatory agent when you ingest polyunsaturated oil, but you’re getting a genetically modified one as well.
Sad to say, it was considered some kind of achievement when good, old-fashioned lard was replaced by toxic, artificial polyunsaturated vegetable oils. I recommend you go back to cooking with butter, olive oil, and lard — and watch out for conventional fried foods.
And if you find yourself ordering a burger on the go, do NOT get the fries to go with it.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a crystalline chemical that has been around for more than a century. It’s most commonly added to Asian foods. But beware — MSG is also frequently used in fast-food chicken and in a surprisingly large number of prepared sauces and spices.
In the West, there are four taste sensations: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. But in Asian food and medicine, there’s a fifth taste: umami — which is stimulated by MSG. Unfortunately, MSG also stimulates cells, including brain cells, to the point of irreversible damage.
MSG consumption may ultimately lead to learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s, Lou Gehrig’s disease, and Parkinson’s. Furthermore, many people experience acute allergic reactions that involve itching, sweating, and swelling. Some people may also have circulatory collapse and shock.
The FDA allows this toxin in our foods, with all kinds of tricky labeling. Here’s the agency’s convoluted reasoning: “FDA requires that foods containing added MSG list it in the ingredient panel on the packaging as monosodium glutamate.
However, MSG occurs naturally in ingredients such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein, autolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and protein isolate, as well as in tomatoes and cheeses.
While FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient panel, the agency does not require the label to also specify that they naturally contain MSG.”1
Rather than trying to decipher FDA-approved labeling for MSG, it’s easier to list which foods to watch out for.
Shockingly, some baby foods and infant formulas contain glutamate as a “flavor enhancer.” Most bottled sauces and some bottled salad dressings have added MSG. Protein powders and soy veggie burgers that list “hydrolyzed vegetable protein” on the label contain MSG.
Many soups — even homemade ones — that use bouillon are spiked with MSG. And spice blends, like Cajun or Tex-Mex, frequently contain MSG. Look for “autolyzed yeast” or “yeast extract” on the label. And, of course, make sure to ask if a dish has MSG when you eat in an Asian or Latin restaurant.
Sodium nitrate. This chemical is used as a preservative in processed meats. Nitrates in general are important for cell physiology and are good for blood circulation. However, some studies have found a link between the sodium nitrate added to foods and pancreatic cancer.
In a June Daily Dispatch (“Three reasons why eating meat is still important”), I deconstructed another screaming headline about a study showing that eating red meat is “bad.” But in the same study white meat was good, and overall meat eating was just fine.
The real problem appeared to be processed meats. Is the addition of sodium nitrate the culprit? The jury is still out. But in the meantime, it’s a good idea to keep processed meat consumption to a minimum.
Processed meats include bacon, corned beef, ham, hotdogs, and some kinds of cold cuts.
Practical tips for your summer celebrations
So this Labor Day weekend, you can “get away” with a bacon burger, and a hotdog or two, at cookouts. But if you fry foods, avoid vegetable oils and go back to lard.
Watch for HFCS and MSG in buns, sauces, condiments, and desserts.
And stay away from “diet” drinks spiked with aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. Instead, choose healthy bottled mineral waters or one or two beers or glasses of wine.