The more I study and write about food the more I realize that just watching calories and trans-fat is not enough. Understanding what we are eating and chemicals and ingredients that are in our food is just as important. Chemicals affect our bodies just like any medicine would, and our bodies respond in a similiar fashion.

Ingredients such as flavor-enhancing and lab-generated chemicals are pumped into foods to cut costs and keep us coming back for more. Why? Because these types of foods are cheaper than organic or “healthier” options, and they taste yummy. But just because it isn’t making us fat doesn’t mean it’s not destroying our insides. All those studies that we hear about in the media are not just researchers boredom–they are conducted because diseases are becoming more prevelant than in our historical years.

Every one of us has cancer cells in our bodies. We are all born with them, and while some have a higher risk than others of developing cancer due to genetics, researchers have noticed higher levels of cancer outbreak compared to that of just 70 or 80 years ago. This has a lot to do with chemically enhanced foods that we consume.

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So what should you be paying more attention to the next time you go to the supermarket?

PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OIL This nemesis of heart health is the primary source of trans fat. Manufacturers like it because it reduces costs, increases shelf life and stabilizes flavor, but it is no good for consumers. Trans fats are twice as difficult for the body to dissolve as saturated fats, and because they boost bad (LDL) cholesterol and have been shown to decrease good (HDL) cholesterol, they’re active agents of heart disease, diabetes, nutritional deficiencies and cellular deterioration. Pay special attention to product labels of partially hydrogenated oils that have less than 0.5g of trans fat per serving. The FDA allows them to carry a “trans-fat free” label. Avoid foods containing trans fats, including margarine, vegetable shortening, crackers, cookies, baked goods, salad dressings, breads and chips. Now that’s not to say you can’t eat these foods, but there are baked goods, dressings and breads that do not possess partially hodrogenated oils.

HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP  Though chemically similar to table sugar (sucrose), this cheaper alternative is a highly processed form of glucose that’s converted into fructose—the type of sugar ordinarily found in fruit. Some researchers argue that it inhibits leptin—the hormone responsible for telling your brain that you’re full, damages tissue, and can contain toxic levels of mercury. However, at this time these arguements are inconclusive, but sugar is sugar and too much sugar will harm bodily processes, including increasing risk for diabetes, obesity and other metabolic disorders.

BHA (BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE) and BHT (BUTYLATED HYDROXYTOLUENE) If you have no idea what these are, you are not alone. I didn’t either at first. BHA and BHT are antioxidant preservatives used in cereals, potato chips and chewing gum to keep them from going rancid. While in many cases antioxidants are good for you, these two types are not! The Department of Health and Human Services pegged them as known carcinogens, but, irritatingly, the FDA allows them. The additives negatively impact sleep and appetite, have been associated with liver and kidney damage, cancer, fetal abnormalities and growth retardation. Has your mouth hit the floor? Mine did. Watch out for these two ingredients.

SODIUM NITRATE AND SODIUM NITRITE Having recently drawn a lot of attention on the Today Show, these additives are potent and often consumed due to the foods they are in. Used as colorants and to preserve shelf life of meats like hot dogs, bacon and sausage, theyare  mixed with stomach acids to form nitrosamines which are potent cancer-causing cells associated with oral, stomach, brain, esophageal and bladder cancers. Noticeable side effects include dizziness, headaches, nausea and vomiting. Foods that may contain these additives are deli-meats, meats in casing, and red meats and chicken. Look for labels such as Natural Choice Hormel,organic, or additive-free. Most meats that are not chemically enduced will say “additive or nitrate free.

ENRICHED FLOURS  Many of us love our breads, but do you truly understand the ingredients in them? According to the Global Health Center, enriched flour has topped the list as one of the unhealthiest ingredients in foods. Enriched flour is flour in which most of the natural vitamins and minerals have been extracted. This is done in order to give bread a finer texture and increase shelf life of various products. When the bran and the germ are removed, your body absorbs wheat differently. Instead of being a slow process that gives you steady bursts of energy, your body breaks down enriched flour more quickly; typically raising blood sugar more quickly as well. This excess blood sugar has to be metabolized by the liver, and if there’s an excess of sugar, your body will store some of it as fat. According to the Global Health Center, most of the ingredients that are added back into the flour after the bran and germ are stripped are toxic. Many manufacturers try to seduce consumers by labeling products as “enriched wheat flour”, knowing that whole wheat is better for us. But guess what–enriched wheat flour is nothing more than white flour dyed and added with wheat like ingredients. Flour is  flour is nothing more than refined carbohydrates and can contribute to obesity.  Carbs should come from unrefined sources, like fresh organic fruits and vegetables. Not from processed, bleached, and treated foods with synthetic nutrients.Flour can also be linked to provoking cancer growth in cells (although research is still on-going). I recently learned that my favorite english muffins that I thought were a healthier option because they are labeled as “whole honey wheat” are nothing more than enriched wheat flour. Most breads too are labeled as such. Flour is in many of the foods we consume and it’s hard to get around eating it, but there are alternatives to enriched white/wheat flour. Try replacing enriched flour with whole wheat, oat flour, rye flour, almond meal, brown rice flour, or millet flour. Pasta and bread are the foods that most commonly contain regular white flour, but many processed and frozen foods contain enriched flour.

According to the Global Health Center, sprouted flours are best. Organic sprouted whole grain pastas and breads are becoming easier to obtain.

The reason our ancestors didn’t have the health problems we see today has a great deal to do with what they consumed for foods. Granted, they saw many other concerns that today have been eradicated, but when it comes to food and its ingredients, you are you’re own best advocate. Learn what’s in your food, read labels of the products you buy and do some research. You will quickly realize that you’re body will thank you for the subtle changes to your diet.

Eat well–Live well!

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Published by smtraphagen

SM Traphagen is a writer and novelist. Her works have appeared on Buffaloeats.org, Accounting Today Magazine, St. Reds Magazine, The Culture-ist Magazine, Buffalo Healthy Living Magazine, among others. With a fiction novel written, the hope is to expand the world of fiction in fun and creative ways. Her love of writing fiction and food have culminated in a website that blends the two, including Digestion Suggestion and Untold Shorties.

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