Food Additive No-no’s: Trans Fats, Artificial Sweeteners, and MSG

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We are Becca and Jess, otherwise known as the Healthy Duo. We are two ladies who are interested in eating nutritious, wholesome food. In this blog, you can expect to find the do’s and don’ts of healthy eating, as well as our personal experiences with changing our own eating habits. Between the two of us, we have experimented with a variety of food movements, including but not limited to: vegetarianism, organic eating, green smoothies, eating raw, gluten-free, and more.

You can read more about each of us on our author pages.

We are excited to share our passion for health and wellness and look forward to reading about your experiences too, so make sure to leave us comments!

-The Healthy Duo

Food Additive No-no’s: Trans Fats, Artificial Sweeteners, and MSG

The Healthy Duo thought it would be appropriate to begin our blog with the basics – food additives! Those who are interested in healthy eating should first learn what to avoid. Before long, you will be navigating the grocery store like a pro and reading labels will become second nature to you. These days, it takes me just a minute to skim over the ingredients’ list for my top three no-no’s. Avoiding the following three categories are the most important steps to healthy eating for me. Sure, I prefer to buy organic or free range whenever possible, but sometimes I don’t have the option. In those moments, I have to decide whether it is an item that is acceptable (meaning it doesn’t contain any of the “bad” stuff) or unacceptable (meaning it has any of the following three categories of food additives).

1. Trans Fats: Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oils

You’ve heard of trans fats, right? Hydrogenated oils = trans fats! Trans fats have been linked to a myriad of health problems, including heart disease and neurological damage. Hydrogenated oils are often used to help prolong the shelf-life of an item, so they are most commonly found in processed foods. You will find hydrogenated oils in many everyday products, such as butter alternatives, like margarine. Even Smart Balance, who advertises they have no trans fats, still contains a small amount. FDA guidelines state that companies do not have to report using trans fats as long as the product contains no more than half a gram per serving. There are no alternatives to hydrogenated oils – these are unnecessary, ridiculously unhealthy additions that shouldn’t even be in our food.

2. Artificial Sweeteners

Above all, avoid aspartame! I can’t stress this enough. Aspartame is 200 times sweeter than sugar and has a long, controversial history with the FDA. Scientific studies have linked aspartame consumption to brain tumors, although the FDA claims there is not substantial evidence to make that claim. However, the FDA has acknowledged that aspartame can cause adverse reactions in some people, including but not limited to: dizziness, blurred vision, fatigue, depression, headaches, seizures and diarrhea.

Aspartame can be found in gum (sugar AND sugar free varieties), diet soda, yogurt, Flintstones vitamins and more. I have been avoiding aspartame for long enough now that I can recognize its distinct flavor in foods. You might know the flavor too – it’s that strange aftertaste you get after drinking a diet beverage or eating something labeled as diet or low calorie. Next time you get that strange taste in your mouth, check the label.

High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is everywhere in the processed food market, used both as an inexpensive sweetener and preservative. It’s in juice, cereal, baby food, candy, bread, frozen food, soda, ketchup and many other products. You may have seen TV and print ads in just the past year discussing how HFCS really isn’t that bad for you because it’s made from corn, which is natural. The truth is, HFCS confuses your body because it is NOT natural! It has been shown to alter blood sugar and appetite. Most foods that contain HFCS are high in calories and low in nutritional value.

If you need a sweetener, then I have two recommendations for you – stevia and agave nectar. Stevia is made from the leaves of the stevia plant and is 300 times sweeter than sugar. You can buy stevia in a liquid or powder form and can use it anywhere you would use regular sugar. The other natural option is agave nectar, which also comes from a plant and does not have an effect on blood sugar. Agave nectar is viscous, like honey. I love using agave nectar to sweeten my coffee! Stevia has a bit of an aftertaste in my opinion, but I not agave nectar. Your best bet would be to give them both a try and see what works best for you.

3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate (MSG) has a flavor that’s tough to replicate. It’s been around for years, used as a flavor enhancer, and some recipes still call for the addition of MSG, which can be sprinkled on food like salt or pepper. The truth is, MSG is an excitotoxin, and easily the worst additive on this list. (An is a toxic molecule that stimulates nerve cells so much that they are damaged or killed.) If you are interested in learning more about excitotoxins, I highly recommend the book by Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon. That book changed my life and the way I look at food. You will never look at a bag of Doritos the same way again.

MSG is tricky because companies use many alternative names on their labels, and it can be found in ingredients that might otherwise seem passable, including: autolyzed yeast extract, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract, glutamic acid, modified food starch, carrageenan and natural flavoring. Pick up any can or box of processed food, including soup, chicken stock, chips or salad dressing, and you are likely to find some form of MSG.

How do you feel about your food choices now? This post is just a brief overview of some of the evil that lurks in our everyday foods and is by no means a comprehensive list of all that is wrong with our food supply. Once you start reading labels, you might find that even this amount of information is overwhelming for you. However, you don’t have to change your eating habits overnight. The important thing is to educate yourself as best you can and find solutions that work for you and your family.

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