Perfluorooctanoic acid. Diacetyl. Butylated Hydroxytoluene. Azodicarbonamide. Propylene glycol alginate.
The first person to correctly pronounce these wins! The first person to eat any one of these food additives loses. (Unfortunately, most of us are losers.) A good rule of thumb? If you can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it. Sounds easy, right? Not so much. Real food is being replaced by processed imitations at an alarming rate. If it comes in a box, a can, or a jar, chances are it’s chock-full of chemicals. Here’s a look at some of the top five foods we most often eat and why they need to be replaced.
Most bacon, sausage, hot dogs, and deli meats (like bologna and ham) contain nitrates. This preservative messes with the body’s ability to process sugar, increasing the risk of diabetes. Added chemicals, fats, and high sodium can increase the risk of cancer, heart disease, stroke, and high blood pressure. It’s so bad the World Health Organization recently categorized processed meat as a carcinogenic. If you want to eat these foods, look for meats that are nitrate-free. Buy lunch meats at the deli instead of pre-cut. Boar’s Head and Applegate Natural are just two companies that offer meat and organic bacon without harmful chemicals.
Bread and Pre-Packaged Baked Goods
Nearly all breads and pre-packaged baked goods are processed with chemicals, many of them harmful. For instance, azodicarbonamide is used to whiten flour and improve the texture of dough. It’s also used to make rubber and synthetic leather. One report found it in nearly 500 foods, including most commercial breads, buns, cakes, and other treats. It’s linked to respiratory, skin, and immune problems — not to mention one of the breakdown products causes cancer.
What’s the alternative? Very careful shopping! Ezekiel Bread (found in the frozen foods section), Alvarado Street Bakery breads, Udi’s bread and bagels, and Rudi’s Organic Bakery are a few loaves that do not contain harmful chemicals. They cost a bit more, but are worth every cent. If you’re on a budget, invest in a bread maker and make your own — it’ll quickly pay for itself.
Fortified cereal is mostly made of chemicals that get a spray of vitamins at the end of processing. Those vitamins wash off as soon as milk is poured on top. Besides the loads of sugar, most contain food colorings believed to cause cancer. These dyes are banned in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and much of Europe.
Reading labels is essential in the cereal aisle. Look for cereal with little sugar, whole grains, and little to no dyes. Plain oatmeal with a bit of honey or peanut butter is a great alternative, as is Greek yogurt.
Popcorn is a low-calorie, high-fiber, whole-grain snack — so why the warning? Many brands line their bags with the same chemical used in Teflon, which is linked it to infertility, weight gain, and impaired learning. Butter-flavored popcorn almost always comes with a chemical that breaks down the layer of cells protecting your brain.
The fix? Pop your own. Use an air popper or put kernels in a small paper lunch bag. Fold down the top of the bag and microwave until done. Quinn Popcorn is the only microwavable popcorn free of chemicals.
It’s not just the food itself, but what you put on it that can add harmful chemicals to your body. Most condiments come with large amounts of unhealthy ingredients, especially salad dressing. Luckily, making your own condiments (especially salad dressing) is easy. Everyone from Reader’s Digest to Saveur offers dozens of recipes.
The key to health: real foods, plain and simple.