If you ask nutritionists what ingredients you should avoid at all costs, most of them would give the same answer.
Despite the general opinion in the science of healthy eating, processed products are not necessarily unhealthy. Of course, we should avoid excessive amount of salt and sugar, but in general, eating some kind of processed product occasionally is not a crime against health.
There are, however, some hidden ingredients in many processed foods that cannot be categorized easily. If you carefully read the nutritional label of a product and realize that you can only identify a quarter of the endless list of ingredients, you probably should think twice before buying the product.
Some ingredients have names that sound like chemicals, but they are, in fact, harmless. If you asked nutritionists about the most dangerous ones, most of them would indicate two enemies you should avoid: fructose-rich corn syrup and artificial sweeteners.
Why nutritionists recommend to avoid these ingredients
Several studies have shown that fructose-rich corn syrup and artificial sweeteners can have a negative impact on health, says nutritionist Kelly Jones, who avoids these additives and recommends customers do the same.
“I am not a fan of things that contain high fructose corn syrup or that contain artificial sugars and will not buy things that contain them,” says nutritionist Maggie Michalczyk.
Unlike other ingredients that have unfairly gained a negative reputation over the years (cough pills or soy, for example), fructose-rich corn syrup is a sweetener that has proven harmful effects on health.
“It has been shown to promote insulin resistance, which then reduces the body’s ability to adequately control blood sugar,” says Gabrielle McGrath, a dietitian working with the online platform Baze.
According to Baze, fructose-rich corn syrup is a type of added sugar that causes obesity and diabetes.
In the opinion of health experts, other artificial sweeteners such as saccharin, aspartame and sucralose should also be avoided.
“While more research is warranted, preliminary studies have shown artificial sweetener consumption may disrupt the gut microbiome, which is critical for regulating immune health, normal metabolic function, mental health and more,” says Kelly Jones.
“Aspartame in particular has been under fire in recent years as human research has suggested the popular sweetener in diet beverages may disrupt antioxidant function, induce oxidative stress, and damage cell membrane integrity, which could lead to inflammation and pose a health risk,” says Jones.
According to Well+Good, some scientific data suggest that aspartame increases the level of the stress hormone cortisol, and inhibits the effects of insulin.
Gabrielle McGrath believes that artificial sweeteners can also affect the sense of taste. “The main reason I encourage people to try to limit the consumption of sweeteners as much as possible is that they add an unnatural level of sugar to their diet, which they would not otherwise have,” she says.
Michalczyk confirms: “These types of sugars have no nutritive value and can even end up altering the way we perceive sweet stuff by changing our perception of sweet. Such a small amount of these artificial sweeteners produces a sweet taste comparable to that of sugar, to the point where fruit is less sweet and the taste of vegetables is super bitter—though an extreme example.”
According to Michalczyk, artificial sweeteners may cause digestive problems, so people with a sensitive stomach should be very careful about them.
How to avoid these ingredients
Although artificial sweeteners are very commonly used, even in healthy products, it is not impossible to avoid them.
“When I am picking packaged items I look for things that are low in sugar and especially not sweetened with high fructose corn syrup or artificial sugars like saccharin, acesulfame, aspartame, neotame, and sucralose,” says Michalczyk.
Fructose-rich corn syrup is found in carbonated soft drinks, canned food, flavored yogurts, jams and jellies, processed peanut butter, bread, fruit juices and salad dressings, says Gabrielle McGrath.
Other products that contain these additives are sweetened alcoholic or non-alcoholic beverages, candies and desserts.