By Dr.Jim Mercola
Processed foods are loaded with preservatives, artificial colors, and artificial flavorings, which is one of the reasons that I recommend avoiding them. Once you become a label reader, you’ll realize just how ubiquitous they are.
The best way to avoid toxic chemical additives is to consume only fresh whole foods. But practically speaking, this can be difficult for many people to accomplish, at least 100 percent of the time. Chances are that, despite your best efforts, you’ll have a processed food or two somewhere in your diet.
Therefore, it’s good to know which of the thousands of chemical additives are the most dangerous and should be avoided at all cost when you spot them on a food label.
An article recently posted on One Green Planet1 highlights eight particularly pernicious ingredients that you and your kids are probably eating. There seems to be good consensus about the worst of the worst, as seven of those were also dubbed the “Scary Seven”2 by Andrea Donsky of Naturally Savvy.
If you notice any of these on a food label, put it right back on the shelf! While I agree with all of One Green Planet’s choices, here I’ve selected my own “worst of the worst” ingredients found in processed foods.
1. Artificial Sweeteners
Studies have shown that tasting something sweet enhances your appetite, regardless of calories, and consuming artificial sweeteners has been shown to result in even greater weight gain than consuming sugar.
Aspartame appears to have the most pronounced effect, but the same applies for other artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame potassium, sucralose, and saccharin. Unfortunately, weight gain is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the health hazards of artificial sweeteners.
Artificial sweeteners raise your risk of diabetes. A recent study in Nature3 told us why—they alter your gut microbiome for the worse. For example, best-selling artificial sweetener Splenda (sucralose) can destroy up to 50 percent of your beneficial gut flora.4
It’s been known for some time that consuming sucralose can cause or aggravate inflammatory bowel disease because of its interference with gastrointestinal function.5
Both animal and human studies have shown that Splenda alters glucose and insulin function, thereby promoting weight gain, insulin resistance, and type 2 diabetes.
But there are additional concerns that sucralose may cause DNA damage, and when heated it releases chloropropanols, which are members of the extremely dangerous class of carcinogens called dioxins.6 Artificial sweeteners are a group of chemical additives that should be completely avoided.
2. Trans Fats and Vegetable Oils
Ever since the introduction of the first trans fat in 1911, Crisco, trans fats have been implicated in numerous serious health problems. First of all, they promote inflammation, which is a benchmark of most chronic disease.
Trans fats also interfere with basic cell membrane function, which can pave the way for cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
Trans fats can radically raise your risk for stroke. A 2010 study involving post-menopausal women found a 30 percent higher incidence of ischemic strokes among those whose daily trans fat consumption was the highest.7
While trans fats are widely recognized as harmful and are largely being eliminated, many restaurants are reverting back to the use of synthetic vegetable oils, which may be creating even MORE of a problem due to the sheer volume people now consume.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils are in the vast majority of processed foods, including crackers, chips, fried foods, and many others. Americans eat more than 100,000 times more vegetable oils than at the beginning of the 20th Century—vegetable oils now comprise about seven or eight percent of all calories consumed.
Unlike trans fats, vegetable oils continue to be ignored despite the fact that they degrade into toxic oxidation byproducts when heated.
One byproduct category is cyclic aldehydes, which are highly inflammatory and may promote heart disease and Alzheimer’s. Vegetable oils such as soybean oil, canola, corn, and other oils have the additional risk of being genetic engineered and contaminated with glyphosate.
3. Artificial Flavors
When you see the term “artificial flavors” on a label, there’s no way to know what it actually means. It could mean that one unnatural additive is included—or a blend of hundreds. For example, strawberry artificial flavor may contain around 50 chemical compounds.8
Some artificial flavorings have quite serious health concerns. For example, the butter flavoring added to microwave popcorn (diacetyl) has several implications for brain health and may contribute to beta amyloid plaques, which are associated with the development of Alzheimer’s disease.