The two biggest ingredients I avoid on food labels (or try and minimize) are sugar and refined grains, such as white flour. Those are the most unhealthy. After that, I avoid artificial food dyes and preservatives BHA and BHT.
The question about organic vs. non organic produce is a good one. No doubt organic is more expensive. When I buy produce, I buy organic when I will be eating the skin -- like grapes, tomatoes, strawberries -- b/c if there are pesticide residues you will be eating them also! If you are looking to save money, buy conventional banana, mangoes and others where you don't eat the skin.
Debby, those 10,000 are allowed. It is a lot to be sure they are safe. FDA has no idea how many are actually used. Plus they may be used to make food and removed or only in packaging. 2700 are flavor chemicals alone. FDA still considers things like styrene and pyridine to be safe flavors. FDA is overwhelmed with too little resources and held back by a law that was adopted when Eisenhower was president.
There is evidence that our diet is historically off kilter in regards to the omega 6/3 ratio. Throughout most of human history it's been 2 or 3:1. And now it's far higher. More like 8:1. Research is ongoing about the health effects of this. Fats are an extremely important component in our diets and the type we eat matter.
Great question Nathan. In many cases, consumers have really become the watchdogs, through change.org petitions and class action lawsuits to get chemicals they don't want out of foods. FDA is charged with making sure foods are safe, but they really step in after problems are found. It took them about 10 years to get trans fats out of processed foods.
With system so opaque as food ingredients, we really don’t know. I say that after five years of trying. In many ways, it comes down to the retailer and the food manufacturers you trust.
JPMCKitrick - Bottom line from a dietitian mom, the majority of kids and adults in the US just don't eat enough of any kind of produce, organically grown or conventionally grown. The nutrients in vegetables and fruits are protective against disease and build health immunities. Benefits far outweigh any risk. And as in all nutrition, variety is key to get a multitude of nutrients and to spread out any potential risk. Eat lots of different kinds of produce.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has long been working on the issue and rating additives. Great Watchdog to track and support!
Nitrites and nitrates are added to processed meats to preserve them and keep them looking good. There is some evidence that they are harmful and they might be the reason processed meats are linked with higher cancer rates. I think these are ingredients to minimize in food. Better to eat fresh, non processed meat and consume bacon in moderation!
Butterfly, don’t hold your breath waiting for Congress to fix it. Some on the Hill are interested but it will take time. The best thing you can do is demand more of your grocer and the maker of the brands you use.
Brenda. Good question! Yup, it seems when they cut fat, as in the fat free craze of the 90's, sometimes recipes for packaged foods got their flavor from more sugar or more salt. The good news is that today food company test kitchens are adding flavor with ingredients such as herbs and spices and seeking out more flavorful sea salts so they don't have to use as much. And I like how there's a move to add a line to Nutrition Facts labels for added sugars!
Hi Leslie--phosphates are especially bad for people with kidney problems, and there's some evidence they might contribute to heart disease s in healthy people as well. I think the big issue right now is that it's hard to know how much is in food since it's not part of the nutrition facts on food.
If you’re eating a lot of packaged and processed foods, it’s easy to be consuming a lot of phosphate, something our bodies only need in small quantities. If you’re kidneys ate working optimally this may be OK for you. Personally I try to avoid foods that are going to make my body work harder to assimilate them. If you’re looking to minimize phosphates, look in the ingredient list for phosphate based ingredients.
grannyt Some animal studies suggest that these compounds may be carcinogenic in humans, and cancer prevention guidelines recommend limiting processed meat even though the key factor linking processed meat and cancer is unclear.
Meanwhile, there is emerging evidence that conversion of dietary nitrate and nitrite to nitric oxide has beneficial effects in cardiovascular disease and lowers blood pressure. On average, meats contribute 5 to 20 percent of dietary nitrate and nitrite intake, with drinking water providing up to 25 percent. Vegetables, as a source of ingested nitrates, account for approximately 80 percent of dietary intake in the average population.
So unless one regularly eats copious amounts of bacon, choosing a nitrate- and nitrite-free product would have little effect on overall consumption.
Annette, I believe it can be called a natural flavor. It does not have to be named as an ingredient.
Debby, It's true that some fresh fruits and veggies--especially the cut ones-- are treated with preservatives to extend their shelf life. Joanna Blythman has written about a product called NatureSeal that extends the shelf life of cut fruits and veggies for up to three weeks. These things don't have to be listed on food labels because they're classified as processing aids. That was an eye opener for me. If I cut fruit in my kitchen it spoils within a day or two. As to what they're doing to our health, we don't know.
Debby Make sure to pay special attention to expiration dates on pre-packaged fresh cut produce. I find they spoil more quickly than produce you cut and prep on your own. They're convenient and help folks eat more salads etc but food safety is still a concern.
Butterfly98, for years, EDF has been working with retailers and manufacturers to move to safer chemicals in cleaning and personal care products. We are now expanding that work to address food additives.
There are so many types of soy products and my feeling is that the most healthful ones to consume are those that are fermented or made from whole soybeans– tempeh, tofu, soy sauce and miso. Fermentation breaks down the phytic acid in soy and also creates helpful bacteria.
Thanks to WedMD for hosting this live chat and for the July article on the Dirty Secrets behind Clean Labels. I have been working on this issue for years, I learned something new. Great work and keep it up!
Barbdee good question! I like to call freezing "nature's pause button". Freezing fruits and veggies often requires NO additives…organic or conventional. I say stick with the plain Janes and avoid the frozen fruits/veggies with added sugars, cheese sauces etc.
Hi, this isn't a question but thought love this from Patricia.