Deciphering ingredient labels can often leave us scratching our heads in confusion and bewilderment.
As the rule of thumb goes, if you can’t spell it or pronounce it easily, you probably shouldn’t eat it. Although this is sage advice, it’s also important to do some checking to figure out what these foods we’re eating are actually made of, as well as which common ingredients to avoid altogether. And while you are checking the labels on foods be sure to check ingredients to avoid in personal care products as well.
1. Citric acid
Sounds pretty natural, doesn’t it? Obviously, this is a citrus-based additive that supplies us with a healthy dose of vitamin C, right? Not necessarily. Although citric acid can be derived from natural sources, such as lemons, the citric acid found in most ingredient labels is actually artificially produced.
An overabundance of this acid can bring about a host of unpleasant health conditions. Some of those conditions are digestive issues (including heartburn and stomach lining damage), teeth erosion, and skin problems. Why do manufacturers opt to produce citric acid artificially, rather than extracting it from real citrus fruits? Time and money. It’s far more cost-effective to produce this popular preservative by artificial means, in mass amounts. Another concern is that some of these acids are made with corn, which increases the likelihood of GMOs.
Unfortunately, this little flavor enhancer is very hard to avoid. Check out any ingredients label and you are likely to find it listed as a preservative or flavor additive (usually near the bottom of the list). Even organic items aren’t void of citric acid, though it may be found in more natural states depending on food quality. Be sure to go as natural and fresh as possible.
2. Ascorbic Acid
Although ascorbic acid is sometimes confused with citric acid, there are some major differences. Both can be found in citrus fruits, but ascorbic acid is, essentially, vitamin C – albeit a synthetic version of it. Like it’s citric counterpart, this acid is often derived from GMO corn.
Since many of us don’t get enough vitamin C in our diets, we turn toward supplements. Supplements can be harmful in and of themselves , and are often loaded with fillers, unnecessary flavorings, and dyes. Although we are taught that vitamin C is good for the body, excessive amounts can wreak havoc on the system. Those who consume high levels of ascorbic acid may experience thickening arteries, a stronger likelihood of cancer, hormonal imbalance, and other worrisome conditions.
We are led to believe that reaching for a vitamin C tablet at the onset of a cold will help stop it in its tracks. Unfortunately, we are often getting far more than we bargained for; namely, a GMO “enhanced” substitute that ends up either being flushed out of the body unused, or doing more harm than good.
Instead of opting for a synthetic version of nature’s healing vitamins, go straight to the source. A healthy dose of vitamin C can be absorbed by upping your intake of rich whole foods, including raw milk, brussel sprouts, broccoli, kale, and of course, the tried-and-true standby – oranges.
According to the FDA, maltodextrin is a “safe” food additive that can be consumed in moderate amounts. However, due to the fact that it’s derived from corn, wheat, and potato starch and is process to death, it’s safe to say that this filler is anything but safe. Any substance that’s derived from corn or rice is likely to be a GMO hazard.
So, why is it used? Maltodextrin is often used as a thickening agent to bulk up food (think dressings, pastries, chips, etc.). When we introduce the substance to our bodies, we can experience major spikes in blood sugar levels, since the glycemic index for maltodextrin is off the charts. Those with Crohn’s disease, IBS, or other digestive issues beware! Maltodextrin can greatly affect stomach bacteria and the natural flora of the gut.
It’s odd to think that some of the things we put into our bodies hold no nutritional value, but it’s a sad truth. This dangerous filler brings many health issues to the table and offers no redeeming qualities to speak of. The number one way to avoid maltodextrin is to opt for the most natural, least processed foods you can get your hands on. Some substitutes include pectin (found in fruits and veggies), and stevia (derived from the leaves of plants). Always aim for the highest quality of organic choices, of course.
4. Natural Flavors
“Natural” is always good, and there’s nothing wrong with a little flavor, so why should we be wary of the “natural flavors” claim that gets slapped onto 90% of grocery items? In a word or two, misleading advertising. Shady manufacturers often put the best qualities and half-true claims on the front of the package, easing our minds and lessening the chance of checking the back for more info.
“Natural flavors” is actually an umbrella term that can include many harmful substances. Did you know that manufacturers are only required to fess up to the contents of their natural products only if they contain known allergens? There’s a reason for that – if many of us knew what “natural flavors” lists included, we’d pause before taking the bait.
Flavors that are manufactured by chemists fall under the natural category so long as the base contains some sort of plant or animal bases, even if they’re created with the help of synthetic ingredients. The term natural has yet to receive a clear, official definition. It’s anyone’s guess what we’re getting when consuming food products labeled as natural. Make sure that you know these common ingredients to avoid; and that you’re not relying on a bright, shiny package with some bright, shiny claims to take the place of common sense and the power of information.
Opting for a diet that’s rich in whole foods and absent of processed foods is the best way to avoid ingredient surprises. Be smart, do your research, and use a healthy amount of discernment when grocery shopping.