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The Terrible Ten: The Villains within Your Favorite Foods...Part 1

Label literacy is key these days, as we learn more and more about how commonly used ingredients can jeopardize our health.

On the one hand, it's depressing that big food companies don't have our best interests in mind—their goals have to do with extending shelf life, boosting appeal with gaudy colors, and increasing their profit margins.

On the other hand, knowledge is power! Steering clear of toxic ingredients isn't just logical—it also protects your family members and sends a message to mega food companies that individual consumers are educated enough to reject their products for something more wholesome--and they need to clean up their act.

Feel overwhelmed? We've made it easy to shop safely and toxin-proof your pantry by listing the ten diciest ingredients hiding in your favorite foods.  

As we say at, foods should heal, not harm. Otherwise, every time you take a bite, you're complicit in a toxic relationship. And I bet your mama didn't raise you for that!


WHAT IT IS: an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in processed foods (one of the most common food additives).

WHY IT'S BAD: It's known as an excitotoxin, which is a neurotoxic chemical additive shown to harm nerve cells— overexciting them to the point of cell death. Regularly consuming excitotoxins like MSG destroys significant numbers of brain cells and can lead to serious health problems, including neurological disorders. (The two other common excitotoxins used in food are aspartic acid (found in aspartame) and l-cysteine,which is used as a dough conditioner.) In addition, regular consumption of MSG has been shown to stimulate the appetite and contribute to weight gain and obesity.

 MSG goes by several aliases, such as Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Vegetable Protein Extract, Yeast Extract, Glutamate, Glutamic Acid, Sodium Caseinate, Textured Protein, Soy Protein Isolates, Barley Malt, Calcium Caseinate and Malt Extract.

 processed foods like salad dressings, low-fat yogurt, canned meats, frozen entrees, potato chips, canned soups (including Campbell's Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup), and flavored crackers (like Wheat Thins, Cheez-Its and Triscuits).


 an artificial sweetener.

 Like MSG, aspartame is a known excitotoxin. It is believed to be carcinogenic, and produces neurotoxic effects such as headaches, dizziness, blurry vision, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Aspartame contains 10-percent methanolwhich has been shown to be released in the body and further broken down by the body into the toxic by-products formic acid and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is considered to be a potent nerve toxin and carcinogen, which may explain why aspartame accounts for more reports to the FDA of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.

 NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel, Spoonful, Natrataste, AminoSweet, and more.

 over 6,000 products, including diet and sugar-free sodas and drinks, sugar-free chewing gum, yogurt, breath mints, instant breakfasts, frozen desserts, juice beverages, and gelatins.

AVOID ITS PALS: Splenda (Sucralose), Sweet 'n' Low (saccharine)


WHAT IT IS: a highly refined artificial sweetener in which corn starch is separated from the corn kernel. The corn starch is then converted into corn syrup through a process called acid hydrolysis. 

WHY IT'S BAD: Nearly all corn syrup is made from genetically modified corn. It is the number-one source of calories in the United States, and has been shown to contribute to weight gain and the development of diabetes. Fructose is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, insulin resistance, and elevated triglycerides and LDL. In 2009, the Environmental Health Journal reported that a study conducted by theInstitute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found mercury in 9 of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The HFCS came from 3 different manufacturers including recognizable brands such as Quaker, Hunts, Kraft, Yoplait, Nutri-Grain, and Smuckers. Mercury is a heavy metal and is considered a potent brain toxin. The use ofmercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common.

AKA: Corn Sugar, glucose-fructose syrup, glucose/fructose, high-fructose maize syrup

IT'S FOUND IN: soda, salad dressings, breads, cereals, yogurt, soups, lunch meats, pizza sauce and condiments. On average, Americans consume 12 teaspoons a day.


WHAT IT IS: a highly processed sweetener that is derived from the desert agave plant. Most agave sold in the United States comes from Mexico.

WHY IT'S BAD:  Agave nectar contains the highest amount of fructose (55-97 percent) among all the commercial sweeteners, including HFCS. By way of example, HFCS averages 55 percent fructose. Fructose has been shown to increase insulin resistance. It is mainly broken down in the liver and then converted to fat. Excessive fructose, when consumed in quantities greater than 25 grams a day, has been shown to elevate uric acid levels, which causes chronic, low level inflammation. Excessive fructose can also lead to weight gain, elevated blood sugar, triglycerides and blood pressure.

AKA:  Agave Syrup

 ice cream, to energy bars and cereals, ketchup and other sauces. Agave is also sold as a stand-alone sweetener.



 If your food isn't naturally colorful, these additives tint them much like dyes color clothing.

 Artificial food dyes were synthesized originally from coal tar and now petroleum. They have long been controversial, and are one of the most widely used additives. Many dyes have been banned because of their adverse effects on laboratory animals. Studies have confirmed that nine currently approved dyes raise health concerns.

  According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest's (CSPI) study on food dyes, "The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens.  Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet it is still in the food supply." CPSI further revealed that nine of the food dyes currently approved for use in the United States are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions.

  A large-scale British government study (published in the UK medical journal the Lancet in 2007) found that a variety of common food dyes and the preservative sodium benzoate increased hyperactivity and decreased the attention spans of children. These additives were shown to affect not only children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) but also children with no prior history of behavior problems.

The European Union has put labeling regulations in place to inform consumers of the health risks, but the United States has failed to follow suit.

AKA: To name a few: Caramel color, FD&C Blue #1, Brilliant Blue FCF, Bright blue, Blue # 2, Ingtotine, Royal Blue, Red Number 3, Erythrosine, FD&C Red No.40, Allura Red AC, Yellow 5 and 6, FD&C Green Number 3, Fast Green, Sea Green.

IT'S FOUND IN: beverages, candy, baked goods, cereal, energy bars, puddings, jams, bread, macaroni and cheese, deli meat,  frostings, condiments, fast food, ice cream, sherbet, sorbet…even meat and fish. And that's just for starters.

In our next post, we'll share ingredient villains 6-10, as well as ways to sidestep these substances and buy (or make) healthful, satisfying alternatives. Until then, stay healthy!


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