Let me start by saying that I’m writing this post as much for myself as for you.
We probably eat healthier than the “average” American, but not by much, and I know we still have a long way to go in embracing a more natural, whole foods diet for our family.
Changing your diet is never easy, and for someone who doesn’t enjoy cooking (or cleaning up the disaster she leaves in her wake when she does cook) and isn’t really very good at it, it’s even harder.
That said, I’ve found that it’s actually pretty easy to begin eliminating questionable ingredients as long as I focus on one at a time.
Here are 9 ingredients we have either eliminated or are working to eliminate from our diets:
High Fructose Corn Syrup
The use of high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as an additive has been linked to the rise in obesity, heart disease, diabetes and fatty liver disease. This is one ingredient that we avoid almost completely, even though it’s found in a ton of products. We opt for real sugar in products such as cereal bars and fruit yogurt, which is thankfully easier now than it was even a year ago. (We’ll talk more about sugar consumption in another post!)
MSG, or monosodium glutamate, is a flavor enhancer typically added to East Asian cuisine and dry soup such as Ramen Noodles. There are no scientific studies conclusively linking MSG to health concerns, but anecdotal evidence continues to suggest that it may be linked to obesity, migraines, food allergies and hyperactivity.
Bleached and Enriched White Flour
Most white breads, crackers and baked goods are made primarily from bleached and enriched white flour. This flour has been processed to make it softer and whiter, literally through a chemical bleaching process that removes all of the nutrients. Four of the original fifteen vitamins are then artifically added back in. White flour has been linked to obesity and constipation and is associated with an unhealthy rise and fall of blood sugar levels that keeps many people on a binge-eating rollercoaster.
Eliminating white flour is not easy, especially for people with pickier palates who dislike the texture of wheat flour, but we’ve been able to start making changes in this area by slowly replacing the white flour in our recipes with portions of whole wheat flour. Amy from Progressive Pioneer shared her tips for increasing whole wheat flour in your diet recently at the Plan to Eat blog.
Trans fats are created when oil is partially hydrogenated, and these are often found in fast food, baked goods, snack foods and some margarines. Because trans fats both lower your good cholesterol and raise your bad cholesterol, most people agree that they should be avoided. Fortunately, like HFCS, more and more food manufactures are moving away from the use of trans fats in their products.
With growing concern that food dyes are contributing to hyperactivity, other behavioral issues in children and cancer, the FDA has scheduled meetings for March to discuss these links. We haven’t yet taken steps to eliminate food dyes from our diet (other than reducing them simply by reducing the processed food that we eat), but I have wondered whether they might be contributing to some of our oldest’s behavior, so this is on my list to look into more. Read more about food dyes at the Feed Our Families blog.
Nitrites are used as preservatives in cured meats and hotdogs. These days, they’re mostly used to preserve the pinkish-red color of meats since the natural brown color is not appetizing to consumers. However, there are strong links indicating that the consumption of nitrites may lead to an increased risk of childhood cancer. Many stores now carry nitrite-free alternatives, although the flavor and color may be different from what your family is used to.
The use of artificial sweeteners has never really sat right with me. Maybe it was that I knew the saccharin in my grandfather’s beloved TaB soda had been linked to cancer at one time, or maybe it was that aspartame always gave my mom headaches or that Splenda is essentially made by replacing hydrogen-oxygen atoms in sugar with chlorine (chlorine!) atoms. Either way, our family has never consumed artificial sweeteners, and I’m not sure I could be convinced to add them. I am, however, currently researching natural alternatives to sugar, such as stevia, and I’ll share more about that in the coming months!
Although our family still has a ways to go in improving our diet and making healthier choices (said as I lick the last bit of my store-bought ice cream sandwich off my fingers), I do believe that ingredients listed above represent potential dangers, especially for our children and especially when consumed in high quantities.
I’m not sure we need to run right out and throw all of the food in our cabinets away and swear never to consume them again, but by identifying one ingredient at a time and focusing our efforts on reducing or limiting its presence in our food, we can take steps toward a healthier future.
What ingredients do you avoid? Are you surprised by any of the items on this list? Would you add any others?