Unless you grow all of your own food, you have no way of knowing exactly what you’re putting into your body. Even then, up to 90 percent of all ground water contains at least trace amounts of pesticides and herbicides due to run-off. A simple can of green beans or a bottle of water can contain toxins that aren’t even listed on the label.
The bottom line: food labels are confusing and often misleading. For that matter, many of the chemicals in your food aren’t even LISTED on the label. Those are the ones that we’re going to discuss today.
During the Green Revolution that occurred post-WWII, scientists started fiddling with genetically hybridizing different types of wheat and in order to increase yield and disease resistance. The movement was led by a guy named Norman Borlaug, who actually won the Nobel Peace Prize for “saving 1 billion lives.”
One of the initiatives that he led developed a new, high-yielding species of a semi-dwarf wheat that, when grown with certain pesticides and fertilizers, increased wheat yields exponentially. The goal of solving world hunger was met but many believe that it was at the cost of the nutritional value of wheat and the health of the general population.
GMOs are also used in growing soybeans and cotton. Though the USDA declares that GMOs are safe, there are independent studies that show that they aren’t.
These studies have shown that foods that have GMOs may be linked to organ failure and sterility in later generations of lab animals. GMO wheat may also explain why so many more people are developing issues with gluten, though the studies comparing gluten levels in GMO wheat compared to wheat grown 100 years ago are divided.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Basically, aspartame, saccharine, sucralose and sorbitol are man-made chemicals used to add sweetness to food without adding calories. The FDA says they’re safe even though they’ve been linked, depending on which one you look at, to central nervous system damage, cancer, metabolic changes, dizziness, headaches and hallucinations (which I personally think is a side effect of central nervous system damage, but that’s just my opinion).
They also may cause over-eating because your brain thinks that it’s getting sweets because your taste buds say so, but when no carbs show up, the craving continues. Also, people think that since it’s no-calorie, they can eat with abandon. Products with artificial sweeteners often contain other undesirable chemicals as well.
3. Potassium Benzoate and Sodium Benzoate
These are often added to foods and carbonated beverages to prevent the growth of mold, give a product longer shelf life, and to prevent fats from going rancid. Benzene, the chemical additive in both, is a known carcinogen and has also been linked to thyroid damage, heart problems, asthma, skin problems, allergies, and can affect estrogen levels. But at least your food won’t go bad. Hmph. You’ll often see these listed as BHA, BHT, or TBHQ, if they’re listed at all.
4. Artificial Flavorings and Colors
Yeah, candy corn looks pretty with its stripes and soda is more eye-catching with colors that match flavors. Cake mixes look great with those little sprinkles on top and cereal is definitely more appealing to kids when it contains a rainbow of colors. However, the old saying, pretty is as pretty does applies here and let me tell you, artificial colors are pretty ugly in that context.
Artificial colors are made from coal-tar derivatives. Artificial flavors are made by using various chemicals that emulate the flavor. Both are linked to skin problems such as rashes, hyperactivity, headaches, allergic reactions, asthma and fatigue. Artificial flavors may also negatively affect beneficial enzymes, your thyroid and RNA, which, in a nutshell, protects your DNA strands. Often, if a food contains one, it contains the other. Not so pretty now, huh?
Some names to look for include Tartrazine (yellow 5), Blue 1, Green 3, Red 40, and yellow 6. Basically, if it’s processed and lists artificial colors, you should probably avoid it.
5. Fake Fats and Oils
For decades, butter and lard have been blacklisted as being horrible for your heart and your health in general. To replace it, hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, shortenings, margarine and olestra were created. Now, some of these may be listed as palm oil, soybean oil and other natural-sounding stuff, but the bottom line is that the hydrogenation process ruins any health benefits that the oil may have started with.
All of them contain high levels of trans fats, which aren’t natural fats at all. The food industry created them as “healthier” alternatives to natural fats because butter was deemed bad for us. Trans fats contribute to heart disease by increasing “bad” cholesterol levels while decreasing “good” cholesterol levels. Plus, butter is delicious and contains heart-healthy omega-3’s so there’s really no need to use a substitute.
I’ll probably get flamed for saying that, so let me add that ANY fat should be used in moderation. If the idea of butter doesn’t appeal to you, try coconut oil or nut oils such as almond oil. They’re much healthier than the fake stuff or butter.
Oh, and just FYI, olestra is indigestible and can cause GI disease, gas, bloating, diarrhea, bleeding and incontinence but hey, if you really want to eat the chips without absorbing the fat, go for it. Personally, I’d suggest making our own chips at home with a healthy oil or grabbing some broccoli instead.