An artificial sweetener found in “diet” or “sugar-free” products such as diet soda, sugar-free gum, sugar-free desserts, chewable vitamins, cough syrup, toothpaste, and even cereal. Aspartame, along with other artificial sweeteners, has been associated with health problems such as obesity, headaches, and some types of cancer. Mounting research also suggests artificial sweeteners can lead to an unhealthy balance of bad to good bacteria in our guts, throwing off the gut biome’s role in everything from metabolism to mood.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
A sweetener found in processed foods such as breads, candy, yogurts, salad dressings, canned vegetables, and cereals. This processed version of fructose is toxic to the liver, and too much promotes insulin resistance, a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
A flavor enhancer found in some Chinese food, potato chips, snacks, cookies, seasonings, canned soup, frozen meals, and lunchmeats. The additive is a common migraine trigger and goes hand in hand with high amounts of sodium—it’s 21% sodium itself.
Lab-produced fats found in processed foods such as margarine, chips, crackers, baked items, and fast foods, these are used to extend shelf life and improve texture of foods. They have been strongly linked to heart disease and diabetes. Luckily, the FDA recently ruled that added trans fat will be phased out of most packaged and restaurant foods by 2018.
Food Dyes: Blue #1 and #2, Red #3 and #40, Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) and #6
Artificial colors found in fruit cocktail, maraschino cherries, ice cream, candy, baked goods, American cheese, macaroni and cheese, and more. Several of these petroleum-based dyes have been linked to hyperactivity in children and cancer in lab animals.
A widely used food coloring found in sodas, beer, brown bread, chocolate, cookies, donuts, ice cream, and pickles. Some caramel color is processed with ammonia, which results in the production of the potentially carcinogenic compound 4-methylimidazole.
Preservatives and flavor enhancers found naturally in wine and beer and added to soft drinks, juice, dried fruit, condiments, and potato products. The FDA estimates that about 10% of the population is sensitive to these sulfur-based compounds, with symptoms ranging from mild hay fever to life-threatening anaphylaxis.
A synthetic preservative found in processed meats like hot dogs, lunchmeats, bacon, and smoked fish. Some animal research suggests that it morphs into carcinogenic compounds in the body, but that’s still up for debate. Natural sodium nitrates in the form of celery powder, found in many “uncured” meat products, may be safer.
BHA and BHT
Preservatives found in potato chips, gum, cereal, frozen sausages, enriched rice, lard, shortening, candy, and Jell-O. These are manufactured from petroleum, and the National Institutes of Health reports that, based on animal studies, BHA is a likely human carcinogen; BHT has been linked to cancer to a lesser degree.
A flour-bulking agent found in breads and rolls, bagel chips, wraps, and bread crumbs. An oxidizing agent, it’s used to strengthen dough and shorten baking time, but it may cause kidney or nervous system disorders and gastrointestinal discomfort.