Over the years I have turned to 'clean' eating. That means the fresher and the more close to the source the food you eat is, the healthier it is.
I try to minimize my intake of packaged, processed or any instant foods. The rate of diseases amongst the older and younger population today is astounding. Obesity, type 2 diabetes, heart and stroke disease, autoimmune diseases and various cancers are all on the rise.
I personally believe we are what we eat and we're not eating very well today. The occasional indulgence is fine but a continuous diet of chemicals and additives to your food supply can remain in your body for years -- - According to Melanie Warner, author of Pandora's Lunchbox, about 70 per cent of the food we consume is processed.
These additives enhance the appearance of the food and prolong shelf life. But are they safe?
Here are some of the ingredients often found in pre-packaged foods that you should stay clear of:
1. Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Even though it may say "0 g trans fat", beware. Packaged food allows products to claim they have zero grams of trans fats as long as they have less than 0.5 gm per serving. This small amount can add up, since 2 gm is your daily allowance. Avoid anything that says "partially hydrogenated oil." You'll find this in fried foods, chips and crackers, fast foods and margarine. They increase the bad cholesterol and increase the risk of heart disease diabetes type 2 and other health problems while decreasing the good cholesterol.
2. BHA and BHT
Both are used to prevent foods that contain certain oils from spoiling, changing colour or flavor. It has been shown to cause cancer in rodents and is considered a carcinogen. You'll find it in cereals, gum, chips, jello and vegetable oils.
3. Sodium nitrite
Both nitrites and nitrates that are used in deli meats such as hot dogs, salami and bacon to prevent botulism-causing bacteria, thereby maintaining the 'pink' color of these meats and increasing flavour. There have been different studies that have associated with consumption of cured meat and nitrates to a variety of cancers.
4. High fructose corn syrup
Also known as HFCS, this is a highly refined artificial sweetener which is being labelled as the number one cause of obesity today and can lead to type 2 diabetes. It also causes an increase in the bad cholesterol (LDL). It's found in processed foods such as salad dressings, sweetened yogourts, cereals, candy and most packaged foods.
5. Food dyes
Most flavored candies, sugary colorful cereals, juices, baked goods and jellos don't contain any fruit despite their bright colors. They rely on artificial food colors that have been linked to worsening hyperactivity in children, as well as linked to cancers and tumours.
My best advice for you is to try cooking from natural ingredients as often as possible and keep anything packaged, processed, canned and instant foods for an emergency.
It may seem tough to do with our daily demands, but it's well worth the health of ourselves and family.
LOOK: 10 of the unhealthiest ingredients found in common (tasty) foods:
There's a reason why most sugary treats give us a rush. Hidden artificial colours in foods can cause hyperactivity and headaches, says <a href="http://enlightenedlife.ca/">holistic nutritionist Danielle Felip</a>.
Found in most white breads, bleached white flour is usually stripped of nutrients and fibre and adds little value to our diets, Felip says.
This ingredient is found in most processed foods, including lunch meats, and has no nutritional value, Felip says. It has also been linked to increase risks of type 2 diabetes, and overconsumption can be damaging to our livers.
Artificial sweeteners give food that sugary taste that is also quite addictive. But Felip says that artificial sweeteners are usually chemically derived and have been linked to migraines and even cancer.
BHT or butylated hydroxytoluene is often added to most processed foods to preserve fats. Felip says overconsumption of this chemical can cause allergic reactions on the skin.
Partially hydrogenated oils (which are often found in cake mixes, peanut butter and baked goods) can decrease good cholesterol levels, are linked to heart disease and are hard for the body to dissolve, Felip says.
MSG (monosodium glutamate) is a food additive that is found in many foods, especially in fast food restaurants. Felip says MSGs often overexcite our nerve cells in the brain and can even (eaten in large amounts) cause brain cell death. On top of that, MSGs also can lead to exhaustion after a big meal.
Sodium nitrates and nitrites are <a href="http://culinaryarts.about.com/od/seasoningflavoring/a/nitrates.htm">chemical compounds commonly found in meat products like bacon and hot dogs</a>, according to about.com. Nitrates and nitrites can affect the way your body uses sugar and may increase the risk of diabetes and colorectal cancer, Felip says.
Sodium benzoate is a chemical preservative that is used to prevent the growth of bacteria in foods like jams, fruit pies and soft drinks. "It can also deprives our cells of oxygen and weakens the immune system," Felip says.
Sulphites are food additives used to preserve food colour and prolong shelf life in many food products including canned fruits, frozen fries and soy products. Felip says sulphites can cause allergic reactions and flushed faces and <a href="http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/securit/allerg/fa-aa/allergen_sulphites-sulfites-eng.php">swelling of the eyes, face, tongue among others.</a>
Follow Rose Reisman on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@rosereisman