Ready for a challenge? Your goal for this week is to sort through those sauces, dressings and syrups in your fridge and the cereal, cracker, and cookie boxes in your pantry. The aim is to look for the key ingredients below and then toss any products that contain them.
I don’t typically like to use fear mongering to provoke nutrition-related change with my clients. However, I feel particularly passionate about the issue of food quality, meaning I like to focus on the quality of the ingredients that are in the food we consume.
So let’s start with my top 4 food “ingredients” you should avoid for a healthy 2016:
Glucose-Fructose (high fructose corn syrup)
Most of you are probably looking at this right now and thinking “oh yeah, I’ve seen this one before – but isn’t it just sugar?” High fructose corn syrup is one of the first ingredients I look for on the ingredient list when I am making a judgment on a food product.
Using a very basic explanation, high fructose corn syrup is exactly what it sounds like – corn syrup that has higher amounts of fructose than glucose. If we are looking at regular table sugar, it is made up of equal parts glucose and fructose whereas the most commonly used high fructose corn syrup is 55% fructose and 45% glucose. Our bodies use glucose for energy and fructose goes to our liver to be processed and stored for use at a later time. The only issue is that, for most of us, we don’t dig to deeply into those stores because food is always available.
So what does this mean? It means that the fructose can accumulate and build a fatty layer over our liver, making it difficult for our liver to do its job. A good way to know if you have fatty liver is to get blood work done regularly to see whether or not your liver enzymes are elevated. If you already have elevated liver enzymes there is good news, with a change in diet and lifestyle you can regulate these numbers!
Why do we use high fructose corn syrup then, if it is worse than sugar? We use it because it is cheaper than real cane sugar. High fructose corn syrup became popular in the late 1970’s when the price of corn was lower than the price of real sugar due to government subsidies. High fructose corn syrup comes from a corn crop that is genetically modified (we will talk more about this hot topic in a later post) which allows us to produce more of the crop and the price decreases as a result.
Take home: The best product would have no high fructose corn syrup or processed sugar in it at all. However, if you have to choose between high fructose corn syrup and cane sugar – I would suggest going with the cane sugar.
Artificial colours are used to enhance the appearance of a food and to create consistency between products when there is naturally some variation between foods. There are two different types of artificial colours that are added to food products. These two colours are referred to as lakes and dyes. The major difference between lakes and dyes is that lakes are not soluble in water and dyes are water-soluble. We often find these artificial colours in candies, crackers, cereals and even pharmaceutical drugs.
Below is a list of the most commonly used artificial food colours:
Citrus Red #2
Although the FDA says that these artificial colours are safe, there is a significant amount of research that suggests that these artificial colours can increase rates for Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children. Obviously we cannot do a randomized double blind placebo controlled study (the gold standard for scientific studies) on children fed food dyes and compare them to ones that are not because this is extremely unethical. So how are we ever going to know for sure if a causation relationship between food dyes and ADHD exist?
Did you know that “Kraft Dinner” in Canada and the United States differed for a long time between the “Kraft Dinner” sold in European countries? We used artificial food colouring in ours to give it that signature bright yellow colour and they used beta carotene and turmeric (natural colour additives) in Europe.
Take home: Artificial food colours are unnatural and we can easily avoid them by reading the ingredient list and choosing different products – why put ourselves and our children at risk.
Low-fat and fat-free products
Finally we are getting away from the low-fat diet craze. Have you ever compared the sugar content of a fat-free yogurt versus a full-fat yogurt? When we take away that satiating and flavourful fat we must replace it with sugar in order to keep it palatable. As we’ve discussed above, sugar is definitely not something we want to increase our intake of willingly. Plus, consuming a diet with adequate amounts of fat means that we are more likely to get beneficial amounts of fat-soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) every day.
The only thing to watch for here is the quality of the fat – look for products that have fat coming from butter, olive oil, coconut oil, milk fat, red plam oil (not palm kernel oil), bacon fat, or avocado oil and not from canola oil, vegetable oil or soybean oil (we will discuss this in a later post).
Take home: When deciding between low-fat, fat-free or full-fat products ask yourself two questions: First, when companies took the fat out of this product, did they increase the sugar or add artificial sweeteners? And second, what is the type of fat used in this product? If the type of fat comes from one of the fat sources I’ve outlined above – go full fat all of the way!
There are so many different artificial sweeteners on the market today. Some of the most common ones you’re likely to see in food products are sucralose (Splenda), asulfame-potassium and aspartame. This is another example of a situation where we don’t have randomized double blind placebo controlled studies to prove that artificial sweeteners cause cancer or neurological diseases due to the unethical nature of a study like this. I can cite many rodent studies here that found that feeding mice large amounts of artificial sweetener caused brain, prostate, bladder and other types of cancer, but I think you get the point – there are conflicting studies out there and none of which use the gold standard method for scientific research.
The only artificial sweetener that I recommend as a sugar substitute is stevia, which is prepared from a stevia leaf that is soaked in alcohol to extract the sweetness. No, this does not include that uniform white powder labeled “stevia” at the grocery store. These products are overly processed and often contain more than just stevia if you look at the ingredient list. I like this stevia – the ingredients are simply water, stevia leaf and alcohol. If you’ve seen other brands that are even better – I would love to hear from you!
Take home: Artificial sweeteners are exactly that, artificial. And if we can move away from artificial “foods” and consume a diet based on all real food, it is going to be beneficial to our health. If you want to use stevia sparingly, just make sure you take a look at the ingredient list before you purchase – or even better – make your own.
I hope this helps you to better evaluate food products on your own. Take a look through your pantry and fridge and kick-start 2016 with healthier food choices.
Yours in health,