5 Things to Avoid on Food Labels

As a dietitian and a mom, I believe in whole foods nutrition. This means eating foods that are found growing in nature, and have undergone as little processing as possible. This doesn’t mean I never eat processed foods. It is pretty difficult not to in today’s world.

There are a few things I recommend avoiding:

  1. High Fructose Corn Syrup– This controversial sweetener makes the list for a few reasons. It is found in highly processed foods and beverages that are often high in calories and sugar. Also, fructose requires a “carrier” in the gut for digestion. These carriers get overwhelmed with large amounts of fructose coming through the gut at once (i.e. beverages sweetened with high fructose corn syrup), which results in gut bacteria breaking down fructose with side effects such as gas, bloating, pain, nausea, diarrhea and/or constipation. Furthermore, it is a highly processed food which is created using chemical processes.Mother examining a food label
  2. Partially hydrogenated– These words mean the same thing as “trans fat”. Trans fat is bad for us because of its chemical structure and the way it gets stored in our body (lining blood vessels). It is highly susceptible to oxidation, which is a chemical reaction that breaks the hydrogen bonds of the trans fatty acid chain, releasing free radicals. Free radicals can then break more hydrogen bonds, including in lining of cells, which causes cell damage and releases more free radicals, and the cycle continues.
  3. Artificial sweeteners– These make this list because they are chemicals, and often found in highly processed foods and beverages. Sucralose (aka Splenda) has a similar chemical structure as a sugar molecule, except chlorine atoms replace some carbon groups. Chlorine is not something we typically think of as a good thing to put in our body, in any quantity. In addition, they trick us into thinking we are going to eat something sweet, which arguably makes us crave the real thing.
  4. Artificial Food Coloring– European countries have imposed a voluntary ban onmany artificial food colorings because research indicates they may have harmful effects. There is controversy over whether artificial food coloring exacerbates aggression and/or ADHD symptoms. But the bottom line is, if a food is artificially colored, it is probably not a healthy food.
  5. Any label with a laundry list of unrecognizable, un-pronounce-able ingredients– This should raise a red flag. So many packaged, processed foods have a long list of ingredients that our grandparents and ancestors would never have considered “food”. And the obesity epidemic and cancer rates we have now didn’t exist in their day either.

Can you identify this common food by its ingredient list?

WATER, HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OIL (COCONUT AND PALM KERNEL OILS), HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP, CORN SYRUP, SKIM MILK, LIGHT CREAM, CONTAINS LESS THAN 2% OF SODIUM CASEINATE, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVOR, XANTHAN AND GUAR GUMS, POLYSORBATE 60, SORBITAN MONOSTEARATE, BETA CAROTENE (COLOR).

It is “whipped topping”. I will leave the brand name anonymous- but it’s the one we’ve all had on top of birthday cakes, pies, and ice cream.
Some of the healthiest foods in the world do not have food labels with ingredient lists to read at all. Do you have foods in your cupboards or fridge that don’t have food labels? If not, take a serious look at your diet and your overall health. A good rule of thumb is, the shorter the ingredient list, the better; and the more ingredients you recognize, the better. Better yet, get single “ingredient” foods without labels like fruits, vegetables, and farm fresh animal products. For more tips for better nutrition and better health, see a registered dietitian at North Shore Pediatric Therapy.

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