When it comes to eating healthy, we all know to keep a careful eye on those saturated fats and refined sugars. Many people take a quick look at a food’s nutrition label, make sure there’s not too much fat or sugar in it, then toss it into their cart assuming they’ve made a healthy choice. While fat and sugar are certainly things to keep tabs on, there are a few other ingredients you might want to watch out for as well. These 3 ingredients might make your food cheaper, but they "cheap out" on your health in the process.
1. Partially Hydrogenated Oil (Trans-fat)
This stuff is bad news. Saturated fat (found in butter, for example) is bad for your health because it increases the amount of “bad” LDL cholesterol in the bloodstream. Unsaturated fat (olive oil, for example) is generally known as the “good” fat because it lowers the “bad” LDL cholesterol and raises the “good” HDL cholesterol. Trans-fat is manmade: it is unsaturated fat that is chemically altered to act like saturated fat, and as a result, raises “bad” cholesterol and lowers the good cholesterol.
The quickest way to know if a food contains trans-fat is to simply take look at the nutrition facts on the back of the package – it’ll tell you upfront. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that a food can claim to be “trans-fat-free” as long as it has less than .5g of the stuff. A few servings of a food with .4g trans-fat per serving can add up. To know if you’re completely safe, keep an eye out for the term “partially hydrogenated oil.” When liquid vegetable oil is fully hydrogenated, virtually no trans-fat remains. It is when the oil is only partially hydrogenated that we run into problems.
2. Enriched Flour
Imagine someone walks up to you, steals your wallet with $100 in it, then gives you $5 back and goes on his way. That was nice of him to give you $5 back, wasn’t it? In a sense, this is what manufacturers of enriched wheat flour are doing to you. They take whole grain flour, strip it of virtually all its nutrients, then add a few back in there to make you happy.
Not only does white flour provide little nutritional value, it actually hurts your body. Whole grain breaks down in our body slowly, providing a sort of stable, “time-release” form of energy throughout the day. Enriched white flour? Completely opposite. From a glycemic standpoint, white flour is about as bad for you as sugar.
The simple carbohydrates in enriched flour break down incredibly fast and create a spike in blood sugar, causing the body to produce more insulin. All of this leaves you tired and hungry - something I'm sure you'd love to feel all day. Over time, the sharp spikes and drops from these simple carbohydrates can even contribute to diabetes and obesity. Conclusion? Whenever possible, go for foods that list “whole wheat flour” or “whole grains” as one of the main ingredients.
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG, often used as a flavor-enhancer, basically tricks your tongue into thinking that what you are eating is high in protein and therefore nutritious. In addition to giving that bag of chips more flavor than you know how to deal with, MSG also stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin. The problem here lies in the fact that many foods that contain MSG do not contain the carbohydrates that the insulin is supposed to act on. As a result, your blood sugar drops, your serotonin levels are depleted, and you are left fatigued and hungry again after only a short time.
If you’re like me, the second you hear “MSG” you picture a Chinese restaurant. While Chinese food is notorious for using the stuff, it’s more common in day-to-day snacks than you might realize. Also, keep in mind that MSG can be found under other names such as gelatin, glutamate, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP) and glutamic acid, to name a few.
The next time you're at the grocery store or pick up a quick snack between meals, take a closer look at the ingredients and make sure you're treating your body right!