Updated: Jan 18
As you may or may not know I'm a huge stickler for ingredients and checking absolutely everything I'm buying. Yes this means spending the extra time in the store, but to be honest it’s worth it. There are so many things that are out of our control when it comes to our health, for example pollution and certain stressors, that I make it a point to ensure I can eliminate as many things that I have control over.
There are so many culprits in our packaged foods these days that do nothing in terms of supporting our health and in fact do more damage than good. There is absolutely no denying the convenience of packaged foods, but have you ever taken a look at the ingredients of some of your pantry staples? The products that claim to be “healthy”, “vegan”, “gluten free”, “dairy free”, “non-GMO”, “natural” and the list goes on, yet are riddled with ingredients like carrageenan, xanthan gum, locust bean gum, natural flavors, safflower oil, maltodextrin and high fructose corn syrup. All of these have negative implications on your overall wellbeing.
I'm going to dive into, in my opinion, three of the worst offenders and why we should be avoiding them.
I know what you’re thinking, they are natural. But are they? Natural flavors are derived from plant or animal sources and that’s where the extent of “natural” ends. They are manipulated by a flavorist whereby the end product resembles, both chemically and structurally that of artificial flavors. These flavors can be 100 different ingredients or more with very limited restrictions (unless they are organic flavors). They can therefore contain synthetic solvents, emulsifiers and the like.
Natural flavors also trick your brain into wanting more as they are enhanced to bring out the best of the flavor they are trying to re-create. It’s also worth mentioning companies own the rights to their flavors and don’t have to disclose their ingredients. So anyone suffering from allergies or intolerances will want to stay clear from these because there really is no way of knowing 100% what they contain (and most companies won't tell you even if you ask..I've tried).
This is another ingredient we need to be watchful of. When saturated fats started getting a bad rep, low saturated fat oils such as canola oil began to rise in popularity. But as we’ve come to know, saturated fats possess important benefits for our health and ultimately the real problem with canola wasn’t it’s low-saturated fat content but more so all of its chemical constituents. Canola oil is a GMO (genetically engineered) crop and has been contrived to withstand glyphosate – the main active ingredient in Roundup (used to kill weeds). As a result, canola has very high levels of glyphosate which is a known carcinogen and hormone disrupter. Aside from glyphosate, the process in which the oil is extracted from the seed uses hexane. The oil is heated and finally bleached rendering the oil damaged and creating FrankenFats. These are trans-fats that are created as a result of heating fats that should not exist in the body (yikes!).
Did you know that heated, oxidized and damaged oils promote inflammation in the body? This is why we have to be extra mindful of which oils we consume. This is the same with vegetable oils and all refined oils such as safflower oil, sunflower oil, peanut oil and so on. So which oils do you want to see in your products? Anything from avocado oil, extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil are all phenomenal additions.
Refined Sugar and Sugar Additives:
Sugars are another heavy hitter. There are a lot of terms listed on labels that are really just another way of saying sugar. And just for a fun fact, there are approximately 56 different terms for sugar. Here are a handful to keep an eye out for – brown rice syrup, agave syrup, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, maltodextrin, fructose, fruit juice concentrate.
Contrary to popular belief, agave syrup is not an ideal alternative to white sugar. Despite the fact that it is has a much lower glycemic index and therefore doesn’t affect your blood sugar levels (but with consistent ingestion this could actually not be the case) such that white sugar does, it is primarily composed of the simple sugar fructose which is toxic to the liver and where metabolizing occurs. The same can be said about high fructose corn syrup. With an over abundance of fructose, the liver can convert this into fat which is how persons develop non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. Agave syrup is also highly processed which removes any and all of its nutritional value.
So what are appropriate sugar substitutes? Coconut sugar is a phenomenal refined sugar alternative. It’s very low on the glycemic index and due to the fact that it contains some fibre it slows down the rate of glucose absorption. It also rich in nutrients such as iron and zinc and contains antioxidants. Some other substitutes are yacon syrup (extracted from yacon plant), maple syrup, dates and raw honey.
So there you have it. However, we still cannot forget about gums (carrageenan, xanthan gum, guar gum) and preservatives (sodium sulphite, BHT, sodium benzoate as examples) as they all have varying effects on the body, most notably causing GI upset.
But guess what? There are tons of companies out there who recognize the need for change and are disrupting the ways of the food industry for the better. I wanted to provide with you some healthy swaps for some of your favorite pantry staples.
2. Pasta: Jovial Foods
3. Tortilla Chips: Siete Foods
5. Oil: Chosen Foods Avocado Oil
7. Popcorn: Lesser Evil
8. Pancakes: Simple Mills
9. Broth: Kettle & Fire
10. Canned Fish: Safe Catch
Allow me to introduce you to your new favorite online market, Natura Market. It is everything you could want and then some. Your one stop shop for all of the clean, amazing products (which are linked above). They understand how hard it is to find clean products and have decided to take things into their own hands with providing an incredible experience to those with dietary restrictions and unique needs.
I want to leave you with one more thing. When you're shopping, I want you to ask yourself these questions:
do you know what each ingredient is and can you pronounce it?
what kind of oils are being used?
what sugar ingredients are there and also how many?
With that being said, happy shopping and be mindful for all of those crappy ingredients lurking in your foods.