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Smart Shopping: 15 Harmful Ingredients to Watch Out for on Food Labels

Blog Post By Chef Lisa of Free Flowing Health

In today's world of complex food choices and endless options, it's crucial to become a savvy consumer. Understanding food labels is a vital skill that empowers you to make healthier choices for you and your family. At Free Flowing Health, we believe in the power of real food and want to help you navigate the aisles of the grocery store with confidence. In this blog post, we'll highlight the top 15 harmful ingredients to avoid on food labels and provide you with healthier alternatives.

1. Refined and Processed Oils: Examples: Canola Oil, Corn Oil, Soybean Oil, Vegetable Oil, Palm Oil. Why They're Harmful: These oils are often heavily processed, refined, and may come from genetically modified (GMO) crops. They contain high levels of unhealthy saturated fats, trans fats, and omega-6 fatty acids, which can contribute to inflammation, heart disease, and other health problems. Additionally, the production of palm oil is associated with deforestation and environmental damage. Healthier Alternatives: Opt for healthier oils made from natural, unprocessed sources.

2. High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): Examples: HFCS in soda, HFCS in processed snacks. Why It's Harmful: High-fructose corn syrup is a highly processed sweetener derived from corn. It's linked to obesity, diabetes, and other health issues due to its high sugar content and rapid absorption in the body, leading to spikes in blood sugar levels. Healthier Alternatives: Choose natural sweeteners like Honey and Maple Syrup in moderation.

3. Artificial Sweeteners: Examples: Aspartame in diet sodas, Saccharin in sugar-free snacks. Why They're Harmful: Artificial sweeteners are synthetic sugar substitutes that may disrupt metabolism and have uncertain long-term health effects. Some studies suggest a potential link between artificial sweeteners and weight gain, as they can affect appetite regulation.

4. Artificial Coloring: Examples: Red 40 in candy, Yellow 5 in colored beverages. Why They're Harmful: Artificial colorings are synthetic chemicals added to food and beverages to enhance their visual appeal. They can cause allergic reactions and have been linked to hyperactivity, especially in children. Some artificial colorings may also contain contaminants.

5. Artificial Flavors: Examples: Artificial flavors in packaged snacks, flavored beverages. Why They're Harmful: Artificial flavors are chemical compounds used to mimic the taste of real foods. They often contain undisclosed ingredients and can come from non-food sources, making it difficult to determine their safety.

6. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Examples: MSG in processed and fast food, MSG in savory snacks. Why It's Harmful: Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer commonly used in processed foods. While it's considered safe for most people, some individuals may experience adverse reactions such as headaches, sweating, and chest pain after consuming MSG-containing foods.

7. Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate: Examples: Sodium nitrite/nitrate in bacon, sodium nitrite/nitrate in deli meats. Why They're Harmful: Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are preservatives commonly used in processed meats to preserve color and prevent bacterial growth. However, they have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, particularly when exposed to high-heat cooking methods.

8. Trans Fats: Examples: Trans fats in fried foods, trans fats in packaged snacks. Why They're Harmful: Trans fats, often found in partially hydrogenated oils, increase the risk of heart disease by raising levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) while lowering levels of good cholesterol (HDL). They also contribute to inflammation and oxidative stress.

9. Sodium Benzoate: Examples: Sodium benzoate in soft drinks, sodium benzoate in salad dressings. Why They're Harmful: Sodium benzoate is a synthetic preservative used to extend the shelf life of various food and beverage products. When combined with certain additives, it may form harmful compounds, including benzene, a potential carcinogen. Additionally, some individuals may experience hyperactivity after consuming products containing sodium benzoate.

10. BHA/BHT: Examples: BHA/BHT in snack foods, BHA/BHT in breakfast cereals. Why They're Harmful: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are synthetic antioxidants used to extend the shelf life of various processed foods. They are potential endocrine disruptors and have been associated with cancer in some studies.

11. Artificial Food Dyes: Examples: Red 40, Yellow 6, Blue 1. Why They're Harmful: Artificial food dyes are synthetic chemicals used to enhance the color of foods and beverages. They have been linked to hyperactivity in children, allergies, and may contain contaminants.

12. Sodium Sulfite: Examples: Sodium sulfite in dried fruits, sodium sulfite in wine. Why It's Harmful: Sodium sulfite is a preservative used to prevent discoloration and spoilage in various foods and beverages. It can trigger allergic reactions in some individuals, particularly those with asthma.

13. Potassium Bromate: Examples: Potassium bromate in bread, potassium bromate in baked goods. Why They're Harmful: Potassium bromate is a food additive used to strengthen dough and improve bread texture. It's a potential carcinogen and banned in several countries.

14. Propyl Gallate: Examples: Propyl gallate in processed meats, propyl gallate in snack foods. Why They're Harmful: Propyl gallate is a synthetic antioxidant used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling. It's a possible endocrine disruptor and has been linked to cancer in animal studies.

15. Sodium Sulfate: Examples: Sodium sulfate in powdered soups, sodium sulfate in processed foods. Why It's Harmful: Sodium sulfate is used as a filler and stabilizer in various processed foods. While generally recognized as safe (GRAS) by the FDA, it can lead to digestive discomfort in some individuals.

Conclusion: Navigating the world of food labels can be challenging, but armed with knowledge, you can make informed choices that promote your health and well-being. At Free Flowing Health, we encourage you to read ingredient lists carefully, avoid these harmful ingredients, and opt for real, whole foods whenever possible. Your body will thank you for it.

For more information and guidance on making healthier food choices, visit

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