8 Ingredients on Nutrition Labels to Avoid

Posted Fri, 08/24/2012 - 9:15am by Camilla Cheung

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A recent article by David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding in Men's Health warns consumers about eight ingredients, commonly found in processed foods, that you should avoid eating. Many of these ingredients are known carcinogens or can cause other negative side effects, and they are found in foods as common as Lucky Charms, Knorr side dishes, Coca-Cola, and ice-cream sundaes. All in all, the moral of the story is, avoid processed foods when you can, and when you do buy prepackaged goods, check the nutrition label and avoid the following ingredients:

1. BHA

This preservative has been shown to cause cancer in mice and rats, but is still found in sugary cereals and other packaged foods. BHA is used to prevent fats from spoiling, so it can even be found in butter, baked goods, and sometimes even beer.

2. Parabens

Parabens are a group of preservatives that are commonly used in food as well as shampoos and cosmetics. Research has shown that parabens may act as endocrine disruptors, mimicking the hormone estrogen. It may decrease sperm production in men and be a factor in breast cancer in women (parabens have been found in breast tumors).

3. Partially Hydrogenated Oil

Partially hydrogenated oils are the culprits behind the vilified trans fats. But Zinczenko and Goulding explain that a product can list zero trans fats on its nutrition label, but still contain up to 0.49 grams of trans fat. To avoid these artery-clogging fats, look for partially hydrogenated oil in the ingredient list, and stay far away if the product contains it.

4. Sodium Nitrite

Commonly used as a preservative in processed meats such as hot dogs, deli meats, and cured meats (such as bacon, prosciutto and salami), nitrites inhibit bacteria and maintain that attractive pink/red color. But nitrites turn into nitrosamines once ingested — "powerful carcinogenic compounds," as Zinczenko puts it. Instead, look for nitrite-free or preservative-free meats, which are becoming increasingly common.

5. Caramel Coloring

Caramel made from sugar and water is delicious, but caramel coloring made commercially by treating sugar with ammonia is a carcinogen, so limit your intake of Coke and Pepsi, or stop drinking soft drinks altogether!

6. Castoreum

Zinczenko and Goulding included castoreum in their list of ingredients to avoid, although health-wise, it is not harmful. This "natural ingredient" is actually derived from beavers' anal scent glands, and is used to give vanilla and raspberry-flavored foods a distinctive flavor. While it won't hurt you, it may gross you out to know you're eating beaver spray.

7. Food Dyes

Artificial food coloring may be responsible for hyperactivity in children, some are contaminated with known carcinogens, and others cause tumors. Avoid them as much as you can altogether, although that may be difficult as they are found in much-loved children's foods such as Jell-O, Skittles, and sugary cereals.

8. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein

You may think that if a label says MSG-free, you're safe from the food additive monosodium glutamate, which may cause headaches and other adverse reactions in some people. However, many processed foods avoid having to put MSG on their label by using hydrolyzed vegetable protein instead, which reacts with sodium in your body to form monosodium glutamate. So much for MSG-free.

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