Processed Foods and The Four No-No Ingredients

Food Label Processed FoodLast week I asked you to go through your house and conduct a Pantry Raid to identify the ultra-processed foods in your home. I wanted to take a moment to explain why I chose these ingredients and what it means for the rest of processed food. The four key ingredients we are looking for are:

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS), Artificial Colors, Artificial Flavors, and Artificial Sweeteners.

High Fructose Corn Syrup. It should look just like that on the label.

Artificial Colors may be labeled FD&C Red 40, Yellow 5 or 6, Blue 1 or 2, Caramel Color

Artificial Flavors usually state just that: Artificial Flavors. Also, Vanillin (an artificial vanilla flavor)

Artificial Sweeteners. There are several and I don’t recommend any. Keep your eye out especially for Saccharin, Aspartame, and packages that state “Sugar Free”. This includes all of the little yellow, red, and blue packets of sugar substitutes.

Why Focus on Just Four Ingredients

My whole purpose with the Road to Real Food project was to make it easier for anyone to begin to cut out processed food. It is intended to target people that are overwhelmed with the thought of revamping their diet, and hopes to make the process smoother, simpler, and at the pace that you need it.

As I looked back on my own food journey, one of the first ingredients that I cut out was High Fructose Corn Syrup when I was pregnant with my first son. It was shocking to find out how many of my breakfast cereals included this ingredient, pasta sauces, and more. It got me reading labels, and it got me to start questioning the food industry and my food supply.

A couple of years later, I removed food dyes and again was shocked at the foods that I was finding food dye in. My Life cereal had yellow dye in it? And the frozen waffles, too? White marshmallows have blue dye. Are you kidding me? My husband’s favorite strawberry yogurt was not actually bright red from strawberries. And the real shocker for me has always been wasabi. Most wasabi is not actually from the wasabi root, but is a combo of horseradish and mustard that has been painted green.

My food journey brought me on a gradual process of reading labels and eliminating ingredients. I believe it is a great way to ease into educating yourself and making changes to your diet.

Why These Ingredients?

I believe that these ingredients are key indicators in what I am calling “ultra-processed foods.” High Fructose Corn Syrup and Artificial Colors and Flavors are the cheap way out in terms of food manufacturing. When you see these ingredients, they are usually on an ingredient list that makes you just cringe. None of these ingredients have nutritional value, and many would argue (including myself), that they are actually quite harmful. This is where the Artificial Sweeteners comes in. I consider them the scariest ingredients of all.

Plus, I find these ingredients more or less easy to remember and easy to identify on a food label.

Are These The Only Ingredients I Should Avoid?

No. It’s just the easiest way to start. There are lots of other ingredients that give me the heebie jeebies (MSG, preservatives, GMOs), but we have to start somewhere.

I love the way that Lisa Leake of 100 Days of Real Food puts it. If you can’t pronounce it, if you have no idea what it is, or it’s an ingredient that you wouldn’t likely find in your home, it’s best that you avoid it. The fact is, when you buy food, you should have almost entirely fresh ingredients in your cart. This is the ultimate goal.

But if you are just getting started and this concept overwhelms you, don’t worry. You will get there, or your own version of “there”. What we are working now is taking the first steps.

Thanks for reading. Please leave your comments and questions below!

Photo credit: Flickr, julia.lamb.fear

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