Labels Matter: Demystifiying 3 Major Food Additives

Posted on 10/17/2015 by Left Coast

By: Hannah Kess, Left Coast Naturals Demo Coordinator and Nutrition Studies Student

Here at Left Coast Naturals we believe in natural, sustainable foods.  As the demo coordinator I am out talking directly with people about what they look at when reading labels in the store. We live in an age of informed consumers who care about what is going into their bodies which is great! But what are all those weird ingredients anyways? Which are ok and which ones should be avoided? More importantly, why are whole foods, low in additives so important?

Here are 3 food additives you should steer clear of:

Food Additive #1: Artificial and Zero-Calorie Sweeteners

What it is: Basically any and all zero calorie sweeteners are to some extent artificial. Some of the more common ones include; acesulfame-k, aspartame, saccharin and sucralose.

Why they use it: We live in a world terrified of sugar and consumers are well educated on the health risks associated with high-fructose corn syrup and other refined sugars. On top of this food label buzz words like “Sugar-Free” or “Zero Calories” are popular and grab people’s attention. Whether you’re cutting down on sweets for health or medical reason these zero calorie, no-sugar options aren’t necessarily the “healthy” alternative you are looking for.

Why it shouldn’t be in your cart: Many studies link these artificial sweeteners to cancer and show a positive correlation to long term weight gain. The sweet taste they provide tended to enhance overall appetites. Not to mention these are highly processed ingredients. According to Food Matters they are known to “erode intelligence and affect short-term memory…lead to a wide variety of ailments including brain tumor, diseases like lymphoma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue, emotional disorders like depression and anxiety attacks, dizziness, headaches, nausea, mental confusion, migraines and seizures.” Scary!

What to look for instead: If you are trying to avoid sugar, swap out all “sweet” foods and foods that contain refined sugars. Instead of grabbing a “sugar-free” soda or candy go for a more whole food option like fruit, or avoid sugar altogether and go for protein (curbs sugar cravings) or some almond butter.  Or try things sweetened with fruit juice, honey or even small amounts of cane sugar instead.


Food Additive #2: BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)

What it is: BHA and BHT are closely related synthetic antioxidants.

Why they use it: BHA and BHT are used to prevent foods from turning colour and oils from going rancid. They are widely used in the food industry as well as in cosmetics. Some common food products you can see these culprits in are potato chips, preserved meats and chewing gums.

Why it shouldn’t be in your cart: Although the research is mixed about the risk benefits of these antioxidants, according to, BHA has been listed by The International Agency for Research on Cancer as a potential human carcinogen and it has been listed as a Category 1 priority substance by The European Commission on Endocrine Disruption because of the interference it has with hormones. Even consumer groups like Centre for Science in the Public Interest have listed it as a product to be cautious about.

What to look for instead: At this point in time it is thought to be ‘relatively’ safe but when there are options out there without them why wouldn’t you choose them? Choose chips that don’t contain BHA and BHT or  look for better, more natural alternatives like Hippie Garden Chips or some Neal Brothers Kettle Chips.


Food Additive #3: Hydrogenated Fats or Trans Fats

What it is: Labelled as hydrogenated, partially-hydrogenated oils or trans-fatty acids, these are polyunsaturated fats which hydrogen has been chemically added to. Common polyunsaturated fats that are hydrogenated in food products include cottonseed oil, palm oils and soy and corn oils.

Why they use it: These fats are solid at room temperature and used to extend the shelf life of products. They are also a cheaper option than other fats and don’t go rancid. One of the functions of fats is to give flavour and texture, and trans fats do not disappoint. These fats can be found in many packaged items like cookies and crackers as well as baked goods and fried foods. Small amounts of naturally occurring trans fats can be found in animal products like meat and dairy.

Why it shouldn’t be in your cart: These chemically altered fats raise your LDL or “bad” cholesterol and lower your HDL or “good” cholesterol. The FDA preliminarily determined in November 2013 that they are no longer considered Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).

What to look for instead: Look for foods that contain zero trans fat and are free from any label that has hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils on them.

Being a conscious shopper is by no means easy! But looking at the fine print and dissecting food labels is important for your health and the health of your family. Choose whole foods options whenever possible and always read your labels. When you don’t know exactly what an ingredient is or there is an ingredient you can’t easily pronounce look into it more before putting it on your plate!

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