Clearing the Confusion Around Food Ingredients
A Closer Look at What’s in Our Food
Reading food labels can often be confusing. We hear one study that says to avoid one ingredient and another that says that same ingredient is safe. I decided to take a closer look to see if I could demystify some of the confusing food ingredients we commonly see in our food.
#1 — Soy
There is a lot of controversy around this product. There are studies showing it is good for you, studies showing it is bad for you and studies in the middle.
In my opinion, the bad outweighs the good and I lean on the side of caution with soy. I prefer not to eat soy at all or on rare occasions ingesting limited quantities. If I do eat soybean products, I look for organic and Non GMO certified. Here are the main reasons:
🚫Omega-6 fatty acids — Soybean oil is found in a lot of processed food. However, it really isn’t a healthy oil because it is high in Omega-6 fatty acids. Eating too much Omega-6 can lead to inflammation and other health problems.
🚫Endocrine disruptors — Soy contains a lot of isoflavones. These isoflavones function as phytoestrogens. These phytoestrogens can activate estrogen receptors in the body. Because they interfere with the normal function of hormones in the body, they are considered endocrine disruptors. This can lead to increased estrogen activity or decreased estrogen activity because the isoflavones are blocking the stronger estrogen from binding.
🚫Breast cell activity — Studies have shown that the same isoflavones can increase epithelial cells in the breast. These are the cells that can turn into cancer cells. Studies have also shown that soy causes breast cancer in animals.
#2 — Cooking Oil
Purchasing an oil to cook with can get very confusing. Not only do you have to wade through all the types of oil and what temperatures each is best for each oil, but you also have to determine what kind of processing is best. Some oils are listed as “cold pressed” others say “expeller pressed” and still other say nothing at all.
Expeller pressed oils are extracted by using a heavy pressure. An expeller is basically a big screw. Depending on the hardness of the nut or seed, high heats can generate due to the pressure of the screw. This heat can change the flavor profile of the oil. It can also degrade the healthy benefits of an oil that is more delicate, like olive oil.
On the other hand cold pressed simply means that steps are taken to keep the temperature of the pressing below a certain range. In Europe, this is 80–90 degrees F; however, in the US it could be any temp less than 400 degrees F as there isn’t a regulation on this. So, those processed in the US can call it cold pressed even if it truly isn’t. The only truly way to tell if an oil has been cold pressed is by taste. Just like with expeller pressing, the flavor will be altered by heat during cold pressing.
The main thing to remember is that oil that isn’t expeller pressed or cold pressed is likely extracted by using a solvent called hexane. Hexane is a poisonous chemical, so I recommend that you avoid these oils.
#3 — Natural
Let’s look at the word “natural”. We see it often on food packaging and listed in the ingredients, but what does it really mean?
First, “natural flavors”. Natural flavors are chemicals that were originally found in a naturally occurring source that are used for flavoring food. “Originally occurring” makes me simply shake my head. If it was originally occurring tells me that it is now something else! Basically, it’s a plant or animal product that has been processed so much it can’t be listed in its original state. There is some small regulation here about where the chemical comes from; however, there is no regulation on how it ends up. Something to note, a natural flavor in a vegan product may actually come from an animal rather than a plant.
Another term is “all natural” on product labels. When we see “all natural” on a product label, our minds automatically think oh wow, this is healthy. We tend to think that the product is not genetically modified and that it is a better choice for us. We also think there are no artificial ingredients in the product.
But the sad truth of the matter is that it means nothing. There currently aren’t standards to back this labeling. Natural foods can actually contain genetically modified ingredients, cellulose (fiber from wood, cotton or bamboo), artificial chemicals, artificial coloring and so much more!
My advice to you is to steer clear of natural flavorings as well as products sold with natural in the description. A good rule of thumb is to make the product yourself if you can. If you can’t put on your detective hat and start reading those labels.
#4 — Yeast Extract
Another popular food ingredient that is super confusing is yeast extract. This can also be called hydrolyzed or autolyzed yeast. It is a food additive that adds flavor to foods.
Let’s start at the beginning. Shall we? :)
There is an amino acid that is naturally occurring in the body as well as in many foods. This amino acid is called L-glutamate. Foods that are high in glutamates trigger our brain and make us enjoy our food. Aged cheese, cured meats, bone broth and fermented foods are all examples of food with high amounts of glutamates.
The food industry sought a way to make cheaper food taste better and MSG was born. MSG is 100% synthetic and it’s HIGHLY concentrated (meaning huge doses of gluatamate). That leads to intense negative reactions in some people, like headaches or migraines. MSG has also been proven to kill brain cells in the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus has a significant role to play in metabolism as well as the endocrine system. If these are out of whack, then obesity is possible.
Yeast extract on the other hand is completely natural. It is not the same as MSG, but it could still cause issues. Yeast extract is generally used in highly processed foods. Those types of foods are the ones we find the easiest to eat too much of and that could lead to too much glutamate in the system.
My advice is to avoid MSG at all costs. If you are a person who is sensitive to processing glutamates, then I’d suggest you limit your exposure to yeast extract as well.
#5 — Various words
😵Our food packaging can often have words that make us think we are eating something healthier for us, but that may not necessarily be true.
❓Low Fat — Even though this fad has died a slow, painful death there are still packages that tout reduced fat, low fat or less fat. Back in the day, these were the words I was looking for. However, research has shown that eating one of these foods is not better for us. In the majority of cases, the manufacturer removed fat and replaced it with something else. They want the food to still taste good, so they add in some extra sugar or salt to make up the difference.
❓Zero trans fat — Trans fat act like saturated fats in the body. If you see this on the label, it means that the food has less than .5 grams of trans fat per serving. You may be getting some trans fat AND if you eat more than a serving you may be getting a lot more than you think.
❓Light — Generally when you see light on a package, it is referring to the fact that it has 50% fewer calories from fat or 1/3 less calories over all in comparison to the regular version. This does not mean that it is healthy for you. Just like low fat, these products may have added other ingredients to make the taste better.
❓No sugar added — This is another tricky one. We see this and automatically think it doesn’t have sugar so we can eat it. But in reality it doesn’t mean there is no sugar or even no additional sugar added. Take juice for example. Often juices are labeled with no sugar added, but if you look at the label, it lists juice concentrate. Juice concentrate is high in sugar, but because the manufacturer didn’t add straight sugar, they can label it no sugar added.
Clearly, this article is too short to address all the confusion. Have I missed any confusing food ingredients that leave you scratching your head? If so, comment below and let me know!
Sherry Parks is a Wellness Coach who helps career women escape feeling trapped and out of control in their work life, so that they are happy on their own terms and have joy and excitement for their life. Grab her Free PDF, Top Tips for Successful Food Cleansing, here.
To connect with Sherry, join her women-only Facebook group Lives in Balance.