When it comes to how to eat right, most of us are lost. We're consuming far too many processed snacks, and we're not getting enough of what we need, like greens. About 70% of us are omega-3 deficient (which can cause mood disorders, inflammation and fatigue) and 77% of us have suboptimal vitamin D levels, a condition linked to everything from cardiovascular disease to asthma.
It doesn't help that we're inundated with nutrition overload. And a lot of this info isn't great; in fact, many health studies are reported incorrectly, in ways that are wildly misleading. One day we're told to eat Paleo, but the next we hear veganism is the way to go.
At Smartypants it's our mission to make it easier for people to be healthier everyday — both by making products that help fill gaps in our diets and by sorting through all the conflicting information to find the truth worth sharing.
That's why our research team has created this straightforward list of ingredients and toxins that may be lurking in our foods and supplements. You should study this list for one reason only … so you can avoid everything on it!
Here are 9 ingredients you definitely don't want anywhere near your mouth:
1. Sodium Benzoate
Sodium benzoate is an additive used as a preservative in some fruit juices, sodas and pickles. When used in beverages that contain ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C), the mixture can form small amounts of benzene, a substance that may cause cancer. Additionally, one study found that sodium benzoate may increase hyperactivity in some children. Our advice? Stay away.
2. Potassium Bromate
Potassium bromate is often used as a food additive in the bread-making process. You’re likely to find it in white bread, crackers and other snacks. Problem is, potassium bromate has been shown to cause cancer in rats and has been banned in many industrialized countries. Don't take any chances with your health; double-check the labels of your favorite brands to make sure this isn't listed.
3. Artificial sweeteners and flavors
We’ve mentioned this before but it’s worth repeating. All artificial sweeteners like sucralose, saccharin, aspartame and others are synthetic. While the evidence is mixed, one thing's certain: these sweeteners provide zero nutritional value. Steer clear of fake sugars.
We also recommend that you avoid fake flavors in all forms, especially artificial butter flavoring, found in many popcorns, margarines, and snack foods. One ingredient in artificial butter flavoring, diacetyl, has been linked to Alzheimer's disease.
4. Potassium Sorbate
Commonly used in cheeses, ice cream, fruit drinks and baked goods, potassium sorbate helps to extend shelf life. (No wonder it's one of the most prolific preservatives in the food industry.) It's been found to be toxic in animals, and the FDA says there haven't been any studies on people to really understand the effects.
Acrylamide is a chemical typically found in processed carbs like cereals, crackers, bread, or potato products. According to the FDA, it’s been linked to cancer in enough animal studies that they actually have a tip sheet to help you avoid it. And if you're not ready to overhaul your diet just yet, avoid potato chips and French fries altogether, because they contain the highest levels of acrylamide, according to Cancer.gov.
6. Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO)
BVO is a food additive that keeps citrus flavoring from separating in sodas and sports drinks.The additive is still legal in the US, even though it's banned in the European Union, Japan, and Australia because it contains bromine, the element found in flame retardants that has been linked to nerve issues.
Earlier this year, Fanta, Mountain Dew and Gatorade all announced that they'd remove BVO from their products, but some generic soda brands still use it, so look closely at the ingredient list. (Or better yet, skip the soft drink and enjoy some refreshing water instead.)
7. Sodium nitrate … or any nitrate.
Sodium nitrate is a preservative used in processed meats, such as bacon, jerky and luncheon meats. We already know that processed meats are high in sodium and fats, but the addition of sodium nitrate is associated with an increased risk of heart disease and diabetes. If you do eat meat, choose lean, fresh meat and poultry, keep serving sizes small, and pass on the processed stuff.
8. BHA & BHT
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are often added to foods to preserve fats. They're found in everything from butter to chewing gum.
As with other suspicious substances in our food, most research on BHT and BHA has been confined to animals and test tubes, and not directly studied in people, making it hard to say conclusively that this is dangerous. However one recent study that looked at the effects of BHA on cells found that it was indeed toxic. And in the Department of Toxicology's Report on Human Carcinogens, it's listed as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Yikes!
Most of us already know to avoid MSG but we're listing it here because it's a chemical that might be harder to recognize. MSG is often found in canned soup, diet beverages, fast food, packaged sausages, beef stew, instant soups, salad dressing and some packaged vegetarian foods. It's designed to stimulate our taste buds and can make bland food taste really good.
Problem is, MSG goes by many names: monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, autolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract and even citric acid. There are more than 40 forms of this processed additive in grocery stores. And currently labeling standards do not require MSG to be listed in the ingredient list of thousands of foods. MSG is so known to be dangerous that there's actually a name for symptoms associated with it: MSG symptom complex. The Mayo Clinic says MSG can trigger headaches, chest pain, numbness, and heart palpitations.
The bottom line? Whether you want to avoid MSG or optimize your nutrition, eat real, whole, unprocessed foods and avoid anything in a box or a wrapper. Eating close to nature, using as few ingredients as possible, is always your best bet.
Keep it simple and let us worry about sifting through the studies.