What's in your food?

Updated: Sep 14


Ever wonder what certain ingredients are on your food labels? Below you will find some information about specific ingredients and what they actually mean. To create this blog, I used many articles (see the end for references). I am not a doctor, and am not offering health advice, merely helping to educate you on what's in your food.


General Terms Found on Packaging:

· “natural” - the FDA has yet to establish a definition for the term.

· “low sugar” - the FDA has yet to establish a definition for the term. Foods that have this on the packaging may be sweetened from other ingredients, such as high fructose corn syrup or artificial sweeteners.

· “fresh” - the FDA defines this as a product that has never been frozen or warmed, and does not contain preservatives.


Trans fats:

What Is It: There are two types - Natural (occur in some animal products) and Artificial (mainly partially hydrogenated oil and hydrogenated oil).

Effects: Artificial trans fats may increase your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. These fats can elevate your bad cholesterol (LDL) and decrease your good cholesterol (HDL).

Found In: Processed foods that contain hydrogenated ingredients.


Sulfites

What Is It: Sulfites are sulfur-based food additives that preserve freshness. These are useful as food preservatives because they prevent the growth of bacteria, improve the quality and texture of bread dough, ​and prevent the browning of vegetables and fruit.

Effects: In general, when sulfites are added to foods and drinks, they are safe for most people. 1% of the American population are sensitive to sulfites.

Found In: dried fruits, molasses, sauerkraut and pickled foods, pre-made gravies and sauces, canned vegetables, condiments, frozen shrimp, dehydrated potatoes, potato chips, jams, and trail mix. Sulfites also occur naturally in some fermented drinks, such as beer and wine.

Other common terms used for sulfites: potassium metabisulfite, potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite, sodium metabisulfite, sodium sulfite


Carrageenan

What Is It: an additive used to thicken, emulsify, and preserve foods and drinks. It is derived from red seaweed (also called Irish moss).

Effects/Allergies: Some evidence shows that carrageenan triggers inflammation, gastrointestinal ulcerations, IBS, colon cancer, and that it damages your digestive system. You can find more information in this article.

Found In: Vegetarian and vegan products, nut and soy milks, meat products, dairy, and yogurt.


Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

What Is It: A flavor enhancer. It is made by fermenting carb sources like sugar beet, sugar cane, and molasses.

Effects/Allergies: Some people report symptoms like: headache, flushing, sweating, face pressure or tightness, or chest pain. Researchers have found no clear proof of a link between MSG and these symptoms. Research shows that a small number of people may have short-term reactions to MSG. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has classified MSG as a food ingredient that's generally recognized as safe. But its use is still debated.

Found In: Meats, seafood, cured meats, cheese (Parmesan, Emmenthal, cheddar, Roquefort), sauces, dressings, condiments, canned soups, canned tuna, frozen meals, crackers, potato chips, flavored snacks, seasoning blends. Fast food chains use MSG to season fried chicken, chicken nuggets, and fries.


Guar Gum

What Is It: Guar gum is used as an additive. It dissolves easily and is able to absorb water, which makes a gel to thicken processed foods. It comes from the guar bean.

Effects/Allergies: Studies actually show that it could be beneficial for a few specific areas of health, including digestion, blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and weight maintenance. However, side effects can occur, such as gas, diarrhea, bloating, and cramps. It also may trigger an allergic reaction in some people. While guar gum may be generally safe in moderation for most, some people should limit their intake.

Found In: Ice cream, yogurt, salad dressing, gluten-free baked goods, gravies, sauces, kefir, breakfast cereals, vegetable juices, pudding, soup, cheese


Natural Flavors

What Are They: Complex mixtures created by specially trained food chemists. Natural flavors are created from substances extracted from these plant or animal sources: spices, fruit or fruit juice, vegetables or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herbs, bark, buds, root leaves, or plant material, dairy products, fermented products, meat, poultry, or seafood, eggs.

These flavors occur from heating or roasting the animal or plant material. Manufacturers also use enzymes to extract flavor compounds from plant sources.

Disclaimers: According to the Environmental Working Group, a nonprofit research organization, these mixtures can contain more than 100 different chemicals in addition to their original flavor source, including preservatives, solvents, and other substances.

Food manufacturers aren’t required to disclose whether the additional compounds come from natural or synthetic sources. As long as the original flavoring source comes from plant or animal material, it’s classified as a "natural flavor". Additionally, manufacturers are not required to disclose whether the base substance used came from an animal or a plant. Vegans and vegetarians could unknowingly be eating animals if they consume products that contain natural flavors.

Effects/Allergies: Because natural flavor mixtures often contain many different chemicals, some people may experience allergic reactions.

The Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association has been criticized for not disclosing information on the safety of natural flavors, but as of right now, the FDA considers most of these flavors "safe" when consumed in moderation.

Found In: Many processed and packaged foods.


Here are a few Natural Flavors that are commonly found in foods and beverages:

  • Amyl acetate - Distilled from bananas to provide banana-like flavor in baked goods.

  • Citral - Also known as geranial, citral is extracted from lemongrass, lemon, orange, and pimento. It is used in citrus-flavored beverages and sweets.

  • Benzaldehyde - This chemical is extracted from almonds, cinnamon oil, and other ingredients. Gives an almond flavor and aroma.

  • Castoreum - This slightly sweet substance is found in the anal secretions of beavers. It is sometimes used as a substitute for vanilla.


Artificial Flavors:

What Is It: Artificial food additives are synthetic. They are added to enhance appearance, texture, taste, shelf life, freshness, and nutrition. They’re found in many foods, such as breads, baked goods, yogurts, salad dressings, chips, candy, and beverages.

Effects/Allergies: Most artificial food additives have not been proved to be harmful to human health or digestion, and those that are have been banned or limited by the FDA. However, there has been an increase in gut disorders since the rise of highly processed foods, which may correlate. There isn't yet enough evidence to support or disprove this theory.

Some artificial food additives may be linked to certain types of cancer. For example, nitrites and nitrates, found in processed meats, can increase the risk for colorectal cancer.

Found In: Many processed and packaged foods.



References:

· https://www.diabetes.org/healthy-living/recipes-nutrition/reading-food-labels/making-sense-food-labels

· https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/nutrition-labels

· https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-food-labels-can-deceive-grocery-shoppers

· https://www.heart.org/en/healthy-living/healthy-eating/eat-smart/nutrition-basics/understanding-ingredients-on-food-labels

· https://www.verywellfit.com/sulfites-enhance-flavor-and-keep-foods-fresh-2506590

· https://www.healthline.com/health/food-nutrition/carrageenan

· https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/nutrition-and-healthy-eating/expert-answers/monosodium-glutamate/faq-20058196

· https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/msg-good-or-bad

· https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/guar-gum

· https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/artificial-food

· https://whole30.com/downloads/additives.pdf