How to read labels and avoid toxic ingredients

Like me and many others you probably too have never thought of reading food labels. The only thing I used to read on products was the calorie content. I literally assumed and trusted that whoever sells food has to go through hundreds of tons of paperwork to be approved by the government so there is no need for me to read it, it’s safe. No, it’s not. It’s not safe to eat foods that contain MSG – a processed flavor enhancer that screws with the brain chemistry and makes you want to eat more. But who cares? They don’t. You buy more, they make more. It’s all about the money, not about you or your health. And what about organic versus conventional? Is organic really organic or it’s just more expensive?  Let’s find out.

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I’ll start by defining what normal was not so long ago. Our soil was rich in nutrients and the ingredients we used for our recipes used to be natural, not processed or enriched. The taste, smell and color of vegetables and fruits was delightful. In some countries, you can still find this, countries like Romania where I was two weeks ago. I was able to feel the life in the fruits there, the freshness, the rich flavors, and colors. No herbicides or pesticides, just the pure result of mother’s nature.

What is normal now? Nowadays the majority of our food supply is manufactured in a laboratory with substances that can harm our health in the long run and with the intention to make us consume more. You would think that cooking at home is your only option but even cooking at home becomes a concern because the majority of the ingredients that are going into your home cooked meal are genetically modified or filled with herbicides and pesticides. Studies have shown that many of these toxic additives can cause headaches, make you fat, cause allergies, and are a catalyst for diseases such as diabetes, hormonal imbalances, heart disease, cancer or high blood pressure.

So what can we do? How can we maintain a healthy diet while being surrounded by all these toxic harmful hidden ingredients that are found in our food? By educating ourselves and learning how to read labels. Shopping with an untrained, uneducated eye has become critical to our health.

 

The FIRST STEP is to completely ignore the labels on the front of the packaging. That’s where the marketing companies can trick you. Manufacturers want to make you believe that their product is healthier than others.

The SECOND STEP is to look at the ingredients list. If it’s longer than 2–3 lines, you can assume that the product is highly processed. Another simple rule is ” If you can’t read it, don’t eat it!”

The THIRD STEP is to educate yourself and learn how to spot toxic ingredients.

 

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Genetically Modified Organisms – GMOs

” Genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are living organisms whose genetic material has been artificially manipulated in a laboratory through genetic engineering. This creates combinations of plant, animal, bacteria, and virus genes that do not occur in nature or through traditional crossbreeding methods. ” ( source )

For example, plants are genetically modified by inserting bacterial genes so they can handle higher amounts of herbicides. These genes allow them to survive doses of herbicide that would otherwise kill them under normal circumstances.

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Is there any evidence that says GMOs are not safe?

Conducting a study that is valid and reliable requires a lot of work. Especially, in the field of nutrition, you’ll find a lot of contradictory studies. Lots of them are funded by big corporations which need a certain result in order to continue selling their products so even studies are not that trustworthy. But let’s be honest now, there is no smoke without fire.

” Anti-GMO crusader Jeffrey Smith, on his personal website, the Institute for Responsible Technology, lists more than a dozen cases in which he claims animals fed GMOs exhibited abnormal conditions, including cancer and early death. He also references his own self-published book, and anecdotal evidence that pigs fed GM feed turned sterile or had false pregnancies and sheep that grazed on BT cotton plants often died.”

“Nearly every independent animal feeding safety study on GM foods shows adverse or unexplained effects,” he writes. “But we were not supposed to know about these problems…the biotech industry works overtime to try to hide them.” – article by Jon Entine at Forbes.

A study published in 2014 links GMOs to cancer, liver/kidney damage, and severe hormonal disruption.

It was interesting to find that both the cultivation and imports of GMOs are banned in some countries such as Russia, Algeria, Kenya, Peru but in countries like Saudi Arabia, Ukraine, Turkey, Switzerland imports are allowed but cultivation is banned.

 

Monosodium Glutamate – MSG

MSG is a flavor enhancer added to most of the processed food we consume. This substance crosses the blood-brain barrier and quite literally excites your brain cells to death.

According to Mayo Clinic – ” it’s commonly added to Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that’s “generally recognized as safe,” but its use remains controversial. For this reason, when MSG is added to food, the FDA requires that it be listed on the label.

Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness

” The MSG regulation allows food manufacturers to include some MSG in your food without labeling it. In order for food companies to list MSG as an ingredient, the glutamic acid content in the food must be 79% or greater. If there is 78% or less of glutamic acid in the substance, the food companies are not required to include MSG in the labels.” – (source)

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List of ingredients you should be aware of:

  • Glutamate
  • Glutamic acid
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • Magnesium glutamate
  • Natrium glutamate
  • Gelatin
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Textured protein
  • Hydrolyzed protein (anything hydrolyzed)
  • Yeast nutrient, yeast extract
  • Yeast food
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Vetsin
  • Ajinomoto
  • Carrageenan
  • Maltodextrin
  • Malt extract, Malt flavoring
  • Barley malt
  • Citric acid
  • Soy protein concentrate, soy protein isolate, soy protein
  • Whey protein concentrate, Whey protein isolate, whey protein
  • Seasonings
  • Protease, Protease enzymes
  • Pectin
  • Natural Flavor, flavorings

 

Aspartame

Aspartame is one of the most common artificial sweeteners in use today. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It has been used in the United States since the early 1980s. Commonly used as a tabletop sweetener, as a sweetener in prepared foods and beverages, and in recipes that do not require too much heating (since heat breaks down aspartame). It is sold under the brand names NutraSweet and Equal and most often labeled as containing phenylalanine. It can also be found as a flavoring in some medicines.

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Some examples of aspartame-containing products include:

  • sugarless candy
  • diet soda
  • sugar-free ice cream
  • reduced-calorie fruit juice
  • yogurt
  • gum

There is still inconsistent outcomes in studies but some research links the use of aspartame to disease. Other studies show that women drinking two diet sodas per day are 50% more likely to die from heart-related disease.

Artificial sweeteners may increase your risk of weight gain, obesity, metabolic syndrome and other related problems like Type 2 diabetes by inducing “metabolic derangements,” according to a report published in the journal Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism. ( source)

Natural alternatives to aspartame:

  • honey
  • maple syrup
  • agave nectar
  • blackstrap molasses
  • stevia leaves

 

Cancer-causing additives

Nitrites and nitrates are used in processed meats. They function as preservatives, helping to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria. They also add a salty flavor and improve the appearance of the meat products by giving them a red or pink color.

They are also found naturally in foods like vegetables, foods that are generally perceived as healthy. Vegetables are actually the biggest dietary source of nitrates.

Our bodies naturally produce nitrates in large amounts and secrete them into saliva, they function as antimicrobials in the digestive system.

BUT when nitrites are exposed to high heat, in the presence of amino acids ( protein – meat), they can turn into compounds called nitrosamines ( potent carcinogens). Because most bacon, hot dogs, and processed meat tend to be high in sodium nitrite and they’re high protein foods (a source of amino acids), exposing them to high heat creates the perfect conditions for nitrosamine formation ( formation and occurrence of nitrosamines in food).

What to look for :

  • sodium nitrite
  • potassium nitrite
  • anything that has nitrite or nitrate in the name

 

High-fructose corn syrup

High-fructose corn syrup is a sweetener made from corn. It’s sweeter and cheaper than sucrose, which is the form of sugar made from sugar cane.

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Dr. Mark Hymann gives us 5 reasons high fructose corn syrup will kill us on his website.

” HFCS is a marker for poor-quality, nutritionally-depleted, processed industrial food full of empty calories and artificial ingredients. If you find “high fructose corn syrup” on the label you can be sure it is not a whole, real, fresh food full of fiber, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and antioxidants. Stay away if you want to stay healthy. We still must reduce our overall consumption of sugar, but with this one simple dietary change you can radically reduce your health risks and improve your health.”

 

Sodium benzoate

Sodium benzoate is a food additive used as a preservative. It’s suspected that sodium benzoate, in addition to artificial food color, may increase hyperactivity in some children. Sodium benzoate in soft drinks may also react with added vitamin C to make benzene, a cancer-causing substance.

 

Hydrogenated oils

Hydrogenation is a process in which a liquid unsaturated fat is turned into a solid fat by adding hydrogen. During this process, a type of fat called trans fat is made.

Partially hydrogenated oils can affect heart health because they lower HDL the ‘good’ cholesterol and increase LDL the ‘ bad’ cholesterol.

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How to spot them?

  • vegetable shortening
  • baked foods, especially premade versions
  • packaged snacks
  • ready-to-use dough
  • margarine
  • coffee creamers, both dairy and nondairy

How to avoid them?

Use vegetable oils when cooking such as sunflower oil, avocado oil.

 

Hidden sugar

  • barley malt
  • molasses
  • cane juice crystals
  • lactose
  • corn sweetener
  • crystalline fructose
  • dextran
  • malt powder
  • ethyl maltol
  • fructose
  • fruit juice concentrate
  • galactose
  • glucose
  • disaccharides
  • maltodextrin and maltose.

 

I know this may be overwhelming, which is why I want to remind you that big changes require time and effort. Take small baby steps whenever you want to change something in your life, be patient and kind to yourself. Some of the ingredients found in our food can cause addiction, suddenly taking them out of your diet may cause headaches or mood changes. You don’t have to stop eating everything that has these ingredients today! Do it over time, learn and develop new recipes that contain wholesome food, research your area and see if you find a farmer’s market and read food labels. Change requires time.

 

I hope this post was helpful to you if you have any questions feel free to address them in a comment below or find me on Instagram.

Love,

R

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