While you may be more familiar with the main ingredient categories listed below, have you ever noticed their aliases on food labels? Often disguised under alternative names, it takes practice to get familiar with identifying these hidden additives, Use this reference on how to identify hidden additives, next time you hit the grocery aisles and aim to avoid the most common refined derivatives, or synthesized versions of these foods for a truly clean cupboard.
Made from chlorinated sucrose (sugar) molecules, sucralose is an artificial sweetener with no caloric value (because your body can’t digest it). Sucralose is 600 times sweeter than table sugar (three times sweeter than aspartame).
An artificial sweetener comprised of methanol and several amino acids such as phenylalanine (methanol breaks down into formaldehyde), aspartame has been surrounded by controversy and conflicting studies for the nearly 40 years it’s been used in food products.
Approximately 300 times sweeter than sugar, this artificial sweetener has been linked to bladder cancer (in rats).
Xylitol, mannitol, sorbitol, maltitol, erythritol are sugar alcohols used as lower-calorie sweeteners. Sugar alcohols have been found to aggravate bowel sensitivities (such as IBS) in some people.
Though it can be derived from any starch, this popular sweetener is most commonly made from corn in North America (in Europe, it’s usually made from wheat starch). Absorbed rapidly as glucose, maltodextrin is often the main ingredient in ready-to-drink sport beverages.
HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
A cheap sugar replacement ubiquitous in processed food and beverages, high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener derived from heavily processed corn starch (often from genetically modified (GMO) corn).
SODIUM CHLORIDE/IODIZED SALT
Used as a flavoring agent and preservative, salt is an important electrolyte with a bad rap earned from extreme over-use in processed foods. Essential for athletes in small, appropriate amounts, sodium overconsumption is linked with high blood pressure and heart disease.
Because the lion’s share of sodium in North American diets comes from processed food, if you’re following the principles of nutrient rich diet and eating mostly whole, plant-based foods, you’re less likely to struggle with limiting your daily sodium intake. If and when you choose processed foods, look for those with no more than 140mg/serving, or no more than 1 mg of sodium per calorie. This guideline does not apply if you’re replenishing electrolytes post-workout, however
MONO SODIUM GLUTAMATE (MSG)
A flavor enhancer comprised of sodium and the amino acid glutamate, MSG may also be listed as “natural flavoring”, hydrolyzed yeast, or hydrolyzed vegetable protein. Those sensitive to MSG may experience neuro-toxic effects such as headaches, mood changes, or nausea.
Synthesized, imitation flavors are made from a string of unpronounceable chemical compounds, often so concentrated a single teaspoon could flavor a swimming pool.
Sensitivity-Aggravating Ingredients: Wheat, Dairy, Soy or Corn-Based
HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN
This common flavor enhancer can be soy, wheat or corn based. Often containing 10 – 30 per cent MSG, (which imitates the savory flavor (referred to as “umami”)often found in meat products), hydrolyzed vegetable protein is commonly found in heavily processed meat substitutes.
MODIFIED FOOD STARCH
An emulsifier, stabilizer and thickener, modified food starch is made from chemically treated corn, wheat, potato, rice or tapioca, and is used to protect packaged foods from heat and pH changes during storage.
MODIFIED MILK INGREDIENTS
Isolated from components of whole milk, modified milk ingredients include whey, casein, caseinates, and milk protein concentrate, but can also refer to cultured milk products (like buttermilk, yogurt, or sour cream).
CORN SYRUP SOLIDS
Often used to help maintain moisture content in a food item, corn syrup solids are also used for added sweetness. Corn syrup solids usually contain a large amount of dextrose (see maltodextrin, above).
And of course, the infamous macaroni and cheese!
Commonly found in empty-calorie processed foods like candies or pastries, artificial colors help make these items visually appealing (though why an electric blue raspberry is considered enticing to eat remains a mystery). Some artificial colors have been linked to hyperactivity and attention disorders.
Common artificial food colors allowed for use in food in the US include:
FD&C Yellow No. 5 (sometimes listed as tartrazine), and Yellow No. 6
FD&C Red No.3 and Red No. 40 (red no. 2 is delisted for use in food)
FD&C Green No. 3
FD&C Blue No. 1 and Blue No. 2
Found most commonly in dried fruits (and some wine), sulfites are a recognized allergen. Sulfites (spelled in Canada and Europe with the ph) are linked to digestive and respiratory complaints. Usually used in compounds with sodium, potassium, or calcium, look for sulfites identified with terms ending in: sulfite/sulphite, bisulfate, metabisulfite, or hydrogen sulfite, or as sulfur dioxide.
Found most commonly in meat-based products, nitrites and nitrates are used as a preservative that inhibits microbial growth of food spoiling bacteria. However, nitrates are also found in plant-based foods because of fertilizer use.
HYDROGENATED AND PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS
A chemical process that reconfigures carbon bonds to convert liquid fats and oils to a solid form (like margarine and vegetable shortening) hydrogentated fats (along with trans fats) have been connected to increased risk of heart disease.
A common preservative often found in prepared salad dressings, juices, carbonated beverages and condiments, sodium benzoate has been studied in conjunction with articifial colors for possible links to attention disorders.
MONO AND DIGLYCERIDES
Often found in processed foods, monoglycerides and diglycerides may be derived from plant or animal oils, or may be synthesized. Monoglycerides and Diglycerides are used as emulsifiers to help keep ingredients (such as oil and water) blended that otherwise don’t blend well. These are also used also to improve consistency in ice creams, and volume in baked goods. On a nutrition facts panel, fat contributed by either of these is not counted in the total fat, saturated fat, or trans fat values.