Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


1 Comment

Eight Ingredients You Never Want to See on Your Nutrition Label

By David Zinczenko with Matt Goulding – Mens Health

The year was 1950, and The Magic 8-Ball had just arrived in stores. It looked like a toy, but it wasn’t. It was a future-telling device, powered by the unknown superpowers that lived inside its cheap plastic shell. Despite a bit of an attitude—”Don’t count on it,” “My reply is no”—it was a huge success. Americans, apparently, want to see their futures.

A few decades later, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act that, among other things, turned the 45,000 food products in the average supermarket into fortune-telling devices. Americans inexplicably yawned. I’m trying to change that. Why? The nutrition label can predict the future size of your pants and health care bills.

Unfortunately, these labels aren’t as clear and direct as the Magic 8-Ball. Consider the list of ingredients: The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 3,000 additives, most of which you’ve never heard of. But the truth is, you don’t have to know them all. You just need to be able to parse out the bad stuff. Do that and you’ll have a pretty good idea how your future will shape up—whether you’ll end up overweight and unhealthy or turn out to be fit, happy, and energized.

While researching the new Eat This, Not That! 2013: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution, I identified 8 ingredients you never want to see on the nutrition label. Should you put down products that contain them? As the Magic 8-Ball would say: Signs point to yes.

1. BHA
This preservative is used to prevent rancidity in foods that contain oils. Unfortunately, BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) has been shown to cause cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. The reason the FDA hasn’t banned it is largely technical—the cancers all occurred in the rodents’ forestomachs, an organ that humans don’t have. Nevertheless, the study, published in the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research, concluded that BHA was “reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen,” and as far as I’m concerned, that’s reason enough to eliminate it from your diet.

2. Parabens
These synthetic preservatives are used to inhibit mold and yeast in food. The problem is parabens may also disrupt your body’s hormonal balance. A study in Food Chemical Toxicology found that daily ingestion decreased sperm and testosterone production in rats, and parabens have been found present in breast cancer tissues.

3. Partially Hydrogenated Oil
I’ve harped on this before, but it bears repeating: Don’t confuse “0 g trans fat” with being trans fat-free. The FDA allows products to claim zero grams of trans fat as long as they have less than half a gram per serving. That means they can have 0.49 grams per serving and still be labeled a no-trans-fat food. Considering that two grams is the absolute most you ought to consume in a day, those fractions can quickly add up. The telltale sign that your snack is soiled with the stuff? Look for partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient statement. If it’s anywhere on there, then you’re ingesting artery-clogging trans fat.


4. Sodium Nitrite
Nitrites and nitrates are used to inhibit botulism-causing bacteria and to maintain processed meats’ pink hues, which is why the FDA allows their use. Unfortunately, once ingested, nitrite can fuse with amino acids (of which meat is a prime source) to form nitrosamines, powerful carcinogenic compounds. Ascorbic and erythorbic acids—essentially vitamin C—have been shown to decrease the risk, and most manufacturers now add one or both to their products, which has helped. Still, the best way to reduce risk is to limit your intake.

5. Caramel Coloring
This additive wouldn’t be dangerous if you made it the old-fashioned way—with water and sugar, on top of a stove. But the food industry follows a different recipe: They treat sugar with ammonia, which can produce some nasty carcinogens. How carcinogenic are these compounds? A Center for Science in the Public Interest report asserted that the high levels of caramel color found in soda account for roughly 15,000 cancers in the U.S. annually. Another good reason to scrap soft drinks? They’re among The 20 Worst Drinks in America.

6. Castoreum
Castoreum is one of the many nebulous “natural ingredients” used to flavor food. Though it isn’t harmful, it is unsettling. Castoreum is a substance made from beavers’ castor sacs, or anal scent glands. These glands produce potent secretions that help the animals mark their territory in the wild. In the food industry, however, 1,000 pounds of the unsavory ingredient are used annually to imbue foods—usually vanilla or raspberry flavored—with a distinctive, musky flavor.

7. Food Dyes
Plenty of fruit-flavored candies and sugary cereals don’t contain a single gram of produce, but instead rely on artificial dyes and flavorings to suggest a relationship with nature. Not only do these dyes allow manufacturers to mask the drab colors of heavily processed foods, but certain hues have been linked to more serious ailments. A Journal of Pediatrics study linked Yellow 5 to hyperactivity in children, Canadian researchers found Yellow 6 and Red 40 to be contaminated with known carcinogens, and Red 3 is known to cause tumors. The bottom line? Avoid artificial dyes as much as possible.

8. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein
Hydrolyzed vegetable protein, used as a flavor enhancer, is plant protein that has been chemically broken down into amino acids. One of these acids, glutamic acid, can release free glutamate. When this glutamate joins with free sodium in your body, they form monosodium glutamate (MSG), an additive known to cause adverse reactions—headaches, nausea, and weakness, among others—in sensitive individuals. When MSG is added to products directly, the FDA requires manufacturers to disclose its inclusion on the ingredient statement. But when it occurs as a byproduct of hydrolyzed protein, the FDA allows it to go unrecognized.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Red and processed meats and cancer prevention

Eat less red meat (such as beef, pork and lamb) and avoid processed meat.

To reduce your cancer risk, eat no more than 500g (cooked weight) per week of red meat, like beef, pork and lamb, and avoid processed meats such as ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and some sausages.

Cancer fact

10% of bowel cancers cases could be prevented through reducing the amount of processed meat we eat.

What is red meat?

Red meat refers to beef, pork, lamb and goat – foods like hamburgers, minced beef, pork chops and roast lamb.

As a rough guide 500g of cooked red meat is the same as 700 to 750g of raw red meat. To help visualise how much this is, a medium portion of roast beef or pork is about 90g and a medium steak is about 145g.

Although eating a lot of red meat is linked to bowel cancer, it is a good source of nutrients including protein, iron and zinc. The evidence shows that eating up to 500g (cooked weight) of red meat per week does not significantly raise cancer risk. Regularly eating more than this, however, does increase risk of bowel cancer.


What are processed meats

Processed meats are meats which have been preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives. Examples include ham, bacon, pastrami and salami, as well as hot dogs and some sausages. Hamburgers and minced meats only count as processed meat if they have been preserved with salt or chemical additives.
 
Research has show that eating processed meat can increase cancer risk. If you eat meat, then it is best to choose unprocessed meat.
Related publications:

Red and Processed Meat: finding the balance for cancer prevention

Meat and cancer – the evidence

There is strong evidence that eating a lot of red meat is a cause of bowel cancer.
 
One possible reason for this is that the compound that gives red meat its colour, haem, may damage the lining of the bowel.
 
Studies also show that people who eat a lot of red meat tend to eat fewer plant-based foods, so they benefit less from their cancer-protective properties.
 
There is strong evidence that processed meats are a cause of bowel cancer.
 
When meat is preserved by smoking, curing or salting, or by the addition of preservatives, cancer-causing substances (carcinogens) can be formed. These substances can damage cells in the body, leading to the development of cancer.

Tips for eating less red meat and avoiding processed meat

  • Keep several meals a week red meat-free. Make every other evening meal meat-free. Try replacing minced red meat with minced Quorn or use lentils or beans instead.
  • Grilled fish and poultry make tasty alternatives to red meat.
  • Choose vegetables and wholegrains first. Try to avoid large portions of meat.
  • Try canned fish including sardines, salmon, tuna and mackerel. These are all great in sandwiches or pasta dishes.
  • Add beans or pulses such as kidney beans, chickpeas and lentils. Tasty alternatives in dishes such as chilli or bolognese, and they can even be made into burgers.
  • Don’t forget eggs, cottage cheese and hummus. These are all good sources of protein too.
  • Swap processed meats for healthier alternatives. Instead of bacon, chorizo or salami, try spicy chicken or vegetarian sausages.
If you want inspiration for meals that do not use a lot of red meat, 
then there are lots of ideas in our recipes section.
Read all our Recommendations for Cancer Prevention