Food Ingredients To Avoid List

Written by Dr. Steve Chaney on . Posted in current health articles, Food and Health, Health Current Events, Nutritiion

Food Ingredients to Avoid Part 2: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

food additivesIt is getting really hard to find a food or food supplement that doesn’t have any ingredients on the internet “naughty list”. The problem is that many of the internet warnings about food ingredients are what I call “urban nutrition myths”.  Want to know the truth about which additives should be on the  food ingredients to avoid list?

Last week I identified the top 25 food ingredients on the internet “naughty list” and told you which ones were actually “good” – OK for most people most of the time. This week I’m going to tell which ones are “bad” and which ones are truly “ugly”.

Food Ingredients to Avoid List?  The Bad

food ingredients to avoid badThe term “bad” for the food ingredients in this list is a bit of a misnomer. These are food ingredients that some people will want to avoid, but are perfectly OK for many people. In some cases, the type of food the ingredients are added to determines whether the ingredient is OK or should be avoided.  So, the following could possibly be on your food ingredients to avoid list.

Sodium Nitrate and Nitrite: This is a topic I have covered in a previous article titled “Nitric Oxide Benefits and Side Effects” . It is a perfect example of a food ingredient that can be “bad” in certain foods and “good” in others. Briefly:

  • When sodium nitrate and/or sodium nitrate are added to processed meats, they can combine with the amino acids from the meat in the intestine to form cancer-causing nitrosamines. As you might suspect, this is not a good thing.
  • On the other hand, when sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite are found in fruits are vegetables or combined with natural antioxidants such as vitamin C, they are converted to nitric oxide, which has a number of beneficial effects in the body. So when they are present in these foods or food supplements, they are actually beneficial.

Sugar & High Fructose Corn Syrup: As I said in my video “The Truth About Sugar” , there are no sugar villains and there are no sugar heroes. For example, high fructose corn syrup has been particularly vilified in recent years, but its chemical composition is not significantly different from honey and agave nectar, which are considered to be “good” sugars.

The problems associated with sugars of all types in the American diet are related to the amount of sugar in our diet (too much) and the kinds of foods they are found in. Let’s focus on that last one for a minute.

  • When sugars are consumed as a part of foods that are rich in fiber and/or protein they have much less of an effect on blood sugar levels (a lower glycemic index) than when they are consumed in sodas, juices and highly processed foods. That’s important because the bad health consequences of sugars are primarily caused by foods that lead to high blood sugar levels. See, for example, my article “Can Soft Drinks Cause Heart Disease?” .
  • Consequently, we should be focusing on the glycemic index (the effect on blood sugar levels) of the foods we eat rather than obsessing about the amount or kinds of sugar on the label.

MSG: MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a particularly interesting case. MSG is the sodium salt of the amino acid glutamate.

Glutamate is a neurotransmitter.

  • When MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in foods with a low protein content, the glutamate is very rapidly taken up by the brain and can overstimulate some neurons.
  • For most people this is no problem, but a small number of people experience what used to be called “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” due to the large amounts of MSG used in some Chinese foods.
  • The common symptoms associated with “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome” are headache, sweating, skin flushing, nausea & fatigue. Allergic reactions to MSG can even be life threatening in some individuals.

Glutamate is also found in every protein we eat. Consequently, we create lots of MSG in our intestine every time we eat and digest protein. In this situation it is no more harmful than any other amino acid in the proteins we eat.

  • The most logical explanation for this phenomenon is that when all of the amino acids are in our bloodstream simultaneously they compete with glutamate for uptake into the brain. This slows the entry of glutamate into the brain and prevents overstimulation of neurons.

The bottom line is that MSG as a flavor enhancer is harmless for most people, but problematic for some. MSG as a component of hydrolyzed vegetable protein or sodium caseinate is harmless because it is in balance with the other naturally occurring amino acids. Some websites claim that MSG is found in maltodextrin and citric acid. It is not.

Salt (Sodium): I could, and probably should, write a whole article on sodium intake. Suffice it to say that 1) most of us consume too much sodium, 2) most of that sodium is hidden in the foods we eat rather than added at the table, and 3) some people are more sensitive to the bad effects of sodium than others.

Refined Grains: Again, this could be a whole article. Suffice it to say that 1) whole grains are better than refined grains and 2) most of us would benefit from eating fewer grains in any form and more fruits and vegetables in their place.

Food Ingredients to Avoid List: The Ugly

Finally, there are some food ingredients that most experts (except for those in the food industry) agree should be avoided. I call them the dirty dozen. All should be on everyone’s food ingredients to avoid list.  They are:

food ingredients to avoid ugly

  • Trans fats (also known as partially hydrogenated vegetable oils).
  • Aspartame
  • Acesulfame-K
  • Sucralose
  • Artificial colors
  • Artificial flavors
  • BHA & BHT
  • Propyl gallate
  • Sodium and potassium benzoate
  • Potassium bromate
  • Potassium sorbate
  • Polysorbate 80

 

The Bottom Line

If you were to believe everything you read on the internet about food ingredients that you should avoid, you could end up spending most of your day reading food labels and still find very few foods that you could eat. Some of those warnings are true, some are partially true, and some are mostly myths.

To help you determine which to place on your food ingredients to avoid list,  I have identified the top 25 food ingredient warnings and have divided them into the good, the bad and the ugly.

  • The “good” are those food ingredients that are perfectly OK for most people, most of the time. Here are some examples (see the article above for a full explanation).
  • Soy: The supposed dangers of soy have been disproven by numerous clinical studies, but the myths persist. I do recommend that you choose non-GMO soy protein.
  • GMO: GMO foods and proteins are a concern but purified food ingredients obtained from GMO foods pose no health risks. There are, however, possible environmental concerns due to the overuse of Roundup.
  • Carrageenan and Caramel Color: In this case it is contaminants rather than the food ingredients themselves that are the problem. As long as you choose a manufacturer who performs rigorous quality control tests on their ingredients, you need not be concerned about these ingredients.
  • Canola Oil, Maltodextrin and Soy lecithin: The supposed dangers of these food ingredients are myths. They are not backed up by credible clinical studies. However, they are generally derived from GMO foods, so there is a possible environmental concern.
  • The “bad” are the food ingredients that do pose a problem for some people, particularly when those ingredients are found in the wrong kinds of foods. However, those same ingredients are OK for many people when they are in the right foods.
  • Sodium nitrate and nitrite: Those ingredients are a concern when added to processed meats, but are actually healthy when found in fresh fruits and vegetables or combined with antioxidants such as vitamin C.
  • Sugar and High Fructose Corn Syrup: We definitely need to reduce the amount of sugar in our diet. However, when looking at individual foods we should focus more on glycemic index than on the amount or kind of sugar.
  • MSG: MSG is a concern for some individuals when used as a flavor enhancer in low protein foods. However, it poses no risk when it is present as a component of partially digested proteins such as hydrolyzed vegetable protein or sodium casseinate.
  • The “ugly” are those ingredients that most experts agree we should avoid. They include trans fats, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, artificial flavors, artificial preservatives and a few others listed above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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Comments (2)

  • kathy aleman

    |

    the issue of GMO ingredients, I haven’t been able to get a sound answer from Shaklee on GMO’s in their products. I see that you have on products to avoid canola oil, maltodextrin, soy leccithin. How is it different when Shaklee uses them in their products. I never buy canola oil. Also why would we use non-gmo soy but not other non gmo ingredients for the Shaklee products. What is the logic? and where is the proof that any GMO is really okay for the human to ingest.. I am getting these questions more and more.. please help.

    Reply

    • Dr. Steve Chaney

      |

      Dear Kathy,

      All of the supplement manufacturers are struggling with the GMO ingredient issue. The problem is that there is a mythology that has grown up around the GMO issue that is not scientifically sound. If you are talking about a plant or a protein derived from a plant, it is indeed possible that genetic modifications could cause issues for some people. However, purified ingredients such as canola oil, maltodextrin and lecithin contain no genetic material. They are chemically and biologically identical from GMO and non-GMO sources. Companies have to choose between continuing to produce scientifically sound supplements, or produce more expensive non-GMO supplements based on irrational market pressures. If you go to https://healthtipsfromtheprofessor.com and type GMO in the search box, you will find some of my articles on the topic. If you click on the Video tab, you will find my “Truth about GMO” video.

      DR. Chaney

      Reply

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Latest Article

Can Plant-based Diets Be Unhealthy?

Posted September 10, 2019 by Dr. Steve Chaney

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

 

plant-based diets vegetablesPlant-based diets have become the “Golden Boys” of the diet world. They are the diets most often recommended by knowledgeable health and nutrition professionals. I’m not talking about all the “Dr. Strangeloves” who pitch weird diets in books and the internet. I am talking legitimate experts who have spent their life studying the impact of nutrition on our health.

Certainly, there is an overwhelming body of evidence supporting the claim that plant-based diets are healthy. Going on a plant-based diet can help you lower blood pressure, inflammation, cholesterol and triglycerides. People who consume a plant-based diet for a lifetime weigh less and have decreased risk of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.

But, can a plant-based diet be unhealthy? Some people consider a plant-based diet to simply be the absence of meat and other animal foods. Is just replacing animal foods with plant-based foods enough to make a diet healthy?

Maybe not. After all, sugar and white flour are plant-based food ingredients. Fake meats of all kinds abound in our grocery stores. Some are very wholesome, but others are little more than vegetarian junk food. If you replace animal foods with plant-based sweets, desserts, and junk food, is your diet really healthier?

While the answer to that question seems obvious, very few studies have asked that question. Most studies on the benefits of plant-based diets have compared population groups that eat a strictly plant-based diet (Seventh-Day Adventists, vegans, or vegetarians) with the general public. They have not looked at variations in plant food consumption within the general public. Nor have they compared people who consume healthy and unhealthy plant foods.

This study (H Kim et al, Journal of the American Heart Association, 8:e012865, 2019) was designed to fill that void.

 

How Was The Study Done?

plant-based diets studyThis study used data collected from 12,168 middle aged adults in the ARIC (Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities) study between 1987 and 2016.

The participant’s usual intake of foods and beverages was assessed by trained interviewers using a food frequency questionnaire at the time of entry into the study and again 6 years later.

Participants were asked to indicate the frequency with which they consumed 66 foods and beverages of a defined serving size in the previous year. Visual guides were provided to help participants estimate portion sizes.

The participant’s adherence to a plant-based diet was assessed using four different well-established plant-based diet scores. For the sake of simplicity, I will include 3 of them in this review.

  • The PDI (Plant-Based Diet Index) categorizes foods as either plant foods or animal foods. A high PDI score means that the participant’s diet contains more plant foods than animal foods. A low PDI score means the participant’s diet contains more animal foods than plant foods.
  • The hPDI (healthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “healthy” plant foods. A high hPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) and low in animal foods.
  • The uPDI (unhealthy plant-based diet index) is based on the PDI but emphasizes “unhealthy” plant foods. A high uPDI score means that the participant’s diet is high in unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) and low in animal foods.

For statistical analysis the scores from the various plant-based diet indices were divided into 5 equal groups. In each case, the group with the highest score consumed the most plant foods and least animal foods. The group with the lowest score consumed the least plant foods and the most animal foods.

The health outcomes measured in this study were heart disease events, heart disease deaths, and all-cause deaths. Again, for the sake of simplicity, I will only include 2 of these outcomes (heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths) in this review. The data on deaths were obtained from state death records and the National Death Index. (Yes, your personal information is available on the web even after you die.)

 

Do Plant-Based Diets Reduce Heart Disease Deaths?

plant-based diets reduce heart deathsThe participants in this study were followed for an average of 25 years.

The investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years and compared people with the highest intake of plant foods to people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods. The results were:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods (whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea) had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods (refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts) had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

What Else Did The Study Show?

The investigators made a couple of other interesting observations:

  • The association of the overall diet with heart disease and all-cause deaths was stronger than the association of individual food components. This underscores the importance of looking at the effect of the whole diet on health outcomes rather than the “magic” foods you hear about on Dr. Strangelove’s Health Blog.
  • Diets with the highest amount of healthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of carbohydrates, plant protein, fiber, and micronutrients, including potassium, magnesium, iron, vitamin A, vitamin C, folate, and lower intake of saturated fat and cholesterol.
  • Diets with the highest amount of unhealthy plant foods were associated with higher intake of calories and carbohydrates and lower intake of fiber and micronutrients.

The last two observations may help explain some of the health benefits of plant-based diets.

 

Can Plant-Based Diets Be Unhealthy?

plant-based diets unhealthy cookiesNow, let’s return to the question I asked at the beginning of this article: “Can plant-based diets be unhealthy?” Although some previous studies have suggested that unhealthy plant-based diets might increase the risk of heart disease, this study did not show that.

What this study did show was that an unhealthy plant-based diet was no better for you than a diet containing lots of red meat and other animal foods.

If this were the only conclusion from this study, it might be considered a neutral result. However, this result clearly contrasts with the data from this study and many others showing that both plant-based diets in general and healthy plant-based diets reduce the risk of heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths compared to animal-based diets.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

There is one other subtle message from this study. This study did not compare vegans with the general public. Everyone in the study was the general public. Nobody in the study was consuming a 100% plant-based diet.

For example:

  • The group with the highest intake of plant foods consumed 9 servings per day of plant foods and 3.6 servings per day of animal foods.
  • The group with the lowest intake of plant foods consumed 5.4 servings per day of plant foods and 5.6 servings per day of animal foods.

In other words, you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet.

 

The Bottom Line

A recent study analyzed the effect of consuming plant foods on heart disease deaths and all-cause deaths over a 25-year period.

When the investigators looked at heart disease deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had a 19-32% lower risk of dying from heart disease than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

When the investigators looked at all-cause deaths over the 25 years:

  • People with the highest intake of plant foods and the highest intake of healthy plant foods had an 11-25% lower risk of dying from any cause than people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.
  • People with the highest intake of unhealthy plant foods had the same risk of dying from heart disease as people with the highest intake of red meat and other animal foods.

The main message from this study is clear.

  • Replacing red meat and other animal foods with plant foods can be a healthier choice, but only if they are whole, minimally processed plant foods like whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, coffee and tea.
  • If the plant foods are refined grains, fruit juices, French fries and chips, sugar sweetened and artificially sweetened beverages, sweets and desserts, all bets are off. You may be just as unhealthy as if you kept eating a diet high in red meat and other animal foods.

A more subtle message from the study is that you don’t need to be a vegan purist to experience health benefits from adding more whole, minimally processed plant foods to your diet. The people in this study were not following some special diet. The only difference was that some of the people in this study ate more plant foods and others more animal foods.

For more details on the study, read the article above.

 

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

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