All processed foods have ingredients called additives. While these additives often help food stay fresher longer or improve its flavor and texture, they may also affect your health. Here’s what you should know about a few of these troubling ingredients.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup — or Not?
Food companies know consumers are looking to avoid added sugars and processed sweeteners like high-fructose corn syrup. But read the fine print when a product says it doesn’t have any.
Fructose in cereal is just another kind of high-fructose corn syrup. Other sweeteners that are chemically similar to high-fructose corn syrup include invert sugar, honey, evaporated cane juice, sugar, and sucrose.
Bottom line: Cut back on all sugars, whatever the type. New dietary guidelines from the USDA may recommend keeping sugar to no more than 10% of your daily calories. Proposed changes to food labels will make it easier to spot added sugars.
At least 45 food additives contain phosphate. High levels of phosphate increase the risk of death in people with kidney disease and may also contribute to heart disease, bone loss, and other chronic conditions in people who are otherwise healthy.
Phosphates, commonly found in fast foods, are also added to products such as flavored waters, iced teas, sodas, meat and chicken products, cereal bars, nondairy creamers, and bottled coffee drinks.
Bottom line: If phosphates are a health concern, look at the ingredients list for words containing “phosphate” or “phosphoric.”
These ingredients help oil and water mix together in foods and beverages. In one study, healthy mice that had the emulsifiers polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose added to their diets gained more weight and fat and had worse blood sugar control. In mice with genetic risks for bowel problems, these additives triggered more frequent and severe disease. More tests are planned in humans. You can find emulsifiers in lots of foods, like frozen desserts and nut milks.
Bottom line: Although research is in its early stages, if you are concerned, you may want to avoid ingredients like gums (which are not the same thing as chewing gum), polysorbates 60 and 80, lecithins, and carboxymethylcellulose.
These are tough to find because they’re exactly that: hidden. Undeclared allergens are the biggest cause of food recalls, and they’re on the rise. These are often caused by manufacturers not using the right terms on ingredient labels. Baked goods are the biggest source, along with snack foods, candies, dairy products, and dressings. The most common culprits are milk, wheat, and soy.
Bottom line: Know what types of foods are most likely to contain hidden allergens, and don’t eat them if in doubt. Scan the FDA list of food recalls. If your food allergies are life-threatening, always carry your auto-injector pen.