Jasarevic: What to look for on food labels

Consumers are left little more enlightened than they were before mandatory labelling.

When was the last time you read and understood your food labels?

Buried in the small print, with abbreviations and chemical names only a Stephen Hawking would understand, consumers are left little more enlightened than they were before mandatory labelling.

To help unravel the gibberish, here are seven ingredients you should always leave behind:

1. Aspartame

If it says Equal or NutraSweet on the box, don’t put it in your cart. It’s a chemical sweetener loaded with phenylalanine, a known neurotoxin which many scientists believe can alter brain function, cause behavioural changes in adults and even mental retardation in growing fetuses when used by mothers-to-be. Side effects can also include headaches, seizures, menstrual problems and gastro-intestinal distress. Caution—it’s in virtually all chewing gum.

2. BHA and BHT

These two similar chemicals are used to prevent rancidity in oil-containing foods. This seemingly admirable use comes with some serious concerns—they’re known carcinogens, having caused cancer in lab rats, mice and hamsters.

3. Food Colouring

It has an ugly side—caramel colouring manufacturing involves the use of industrial solvents and carcinogens. Red dye number 3 is associated with tumour development. Red dye 40 and Yellow 6 are closely associated with aggressive behaviours and impulse control problems in children. I say, stay far away.

4. Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein

It’s a chemically created, flavour-enhancing protein substance similar to MSG but with a healthier-sounding name. The problem with HVP is that it contains hidden MSG, so you can still wind up sickening yourself with headaches, migraines, heart irregularities, etc. Autolyzed- or hydrolyzed yeast extract are also part of the MSG family and should be avoided.

5. Parabens

These are chemical preservatives most commonly found in cosmetics and beauty products and oddly enough, in many baked goods, like breads, cakes, pies, pastries, cereals and some processed meats. Designed to inhibit mold growth, there’s evidence to suggest that parabens in food contribute to hormone-related problems in women, such as breast cancer and reduced testosterone levels in men.

6. Partially Hydrogenated Oil and Trans fats

These are essentially one and the same. Most people don’t realize that a product can claim “0g trans fat” as long as there is less than 1/2 gram per serving, so if you see it on the label, don’t buy it. It clogs your arteries, raises bad cholesterol and lowers good cholesterol.

7. Nitrites

Left unadulterated, meat will start to spoil and look unappetizing quickly. Add a layer of nitrites and the shelf life lengthens significantly. But when humans ingest nitrites, headaches and allergic reactions can occur. Research indicates that a daily habit of nitrite-cured meats can increase risk of cancerous tumours.

While carefully reading labels can help you make somewhat better choices, try a simpler approach.

Stop buying foods with labels on them and make the switch to whole, natural, organic or local, grower-to-table foods. You’ll get exactly what your body needs and virtually none of the dangerous additives.

Naturopathic doctors can offer the time to guide you through this healthy lifestyle change.

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