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Clean Pantry

The Worst Offenders: Packaged Food Ingredients to Look Out For

At CE, when we turn to packaged foods and snacks, we always read the ingredients on the back. Check out the following 5 major ingredients list offenders that never make the cut.

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We’re huge ingredients nerds at Clean Eating (to no one’s surprise). We like to know exactly what we’re putting in our body – especially when it comes to packaged foods and drinks. Here are five of the most common major offenders in packaged foods ingredients we at CE like to avoid:

1. High fructose corn syrup

What is it?

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is an artificial sweetener processed from corn kernels. It entered the scene in the 60s and 70s, as a cheaper alternative to the rising costs of cane and beet sugars. While intake of HFCS has fallen in the new millennium, this refined sweetener remains popular in packaged foods today, such as Oreo cookies and some ketchups.

Why we avoid it:

HFCS-laden foods can wreak havoc on the body, according to countless studies. Many experts even cite HFCS as a major driver of the current obesity epidemic. HFCS-loaded foods introduce an unnaturally high amount of fructose into the body, and excessive fructose consumption has been linked to numerous health issues. Studies show that excessive fructose can contribute to liver fat and visceral fat accumulation, two conditions linked to diabetes.

2. Carrageenan

What is it?

Carrageenan is a thickener and emulsifier used as a preservative in food and beverages. At CE, we make a point of avoiding preservatives, and carrageenan is a particularly glaring offender. Carrageenan is extracted from red edible seaweed, so you may see foods containing carrageenan marketed as “natural.” However, natural doesn’t necessarily mean healthy.

Why we avoid it:

Carrageenan has been linked to harmful gastrointestinal effects such as high degrees of inflammation and toxicity in the digestive system. Scientists have even linked this emulsifier to potentially contributing to serious digestive disorders like colitis and inflammatory bowel disease. We’re big fans of our guts at CE, so we’re vigilant about products containing carrageenan and other emulsifiers that can cause damage to the entire GI system.

3. Xanthan Gum

What is it?

You may not be familiar with xanthan gum, but you’ve probably used it or eaten it. This super common emulsifier is used in everything from packaged snacks to paint! It’s created by fermenting sugar with Xanthomonas campestris, a bacteria often seen in cruciferous vegetables where they can cause diseases like black rot. The result is made into a solid and then ground into a powder that can be added to liquids as a thickener.

Why we avoid it:

The science on xanthan gum is inconclusive, ranging from classifying it as a healthful additive to a dangerous carcinogen. But there is one thing we know for sure. Xanthan gum can be disruptive to the digestive process. This manmade substance is a soluble fiber, a carb the body can’t properly break down. Instead, it turns jelly-like, slowing down your entire digestive process. Large volumes of xanthan gum can act like a diuretic, increasing bowel movement and causing softer stools and flatulence.

4. Dextrose

What is it?

Dextrose is a simple sugar derived from corn. But again, just because it’s natural doesn’t mean it’s healthful! Dextrose is chemically identical to blood sugar. Therefore, when consumed via food, it can raise blood sugar levels very quickly. Meanwhile, it has little to no nutritional value, making it a prime example of empty calories. Like other added simple sugars, we tend to avoid dextrose as much as possible at CE.

Why we avoid it:

At CE, we tend to avoid all added simple sugars, and dextrose is no exception. The trick with dextrose is that many who consume packaged foods containing this ingredient may not know that it is, in fact, a type of sugar. This can be dangerous for people trying to monitor and limit their sugar intake. Excessive simple sugar consumption has been linked to weight gain and associated issues like heart disease, diabetes, mood disorders, eating disorders and more.

5. Tapioca maltodextrin

What is it?

Tapioca maltodextrin is a highly processed thickening agent used to change the consistency and texture of packaged foods like meat substitutes, baked goods and salad dressings.

Why we avoid it:

Like all highly processed additives, we avoid maltodextrin in general. Tapioca is high in starches and nutrient-poor. Plus, this additive has a high glycemic index – even higher than table sugar. The glycemic index is a tool used to measure how much certain foods can spike blood sugar. The higher a food ranks, the more likely it’ll increase blood sugar levels. People with diabetes or insulin resistance should be particularly wary of maltodextrin.

 

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