Mystery Food Ingredients Revealed

By Carly Pollack, C.C.N, M.S., HLC II, Founder of Nutritional Wisdom – September 1, 2016

With the unfortunate prevalence of food technology, more and more mystery ingredients pop up in our everyday munchies. Foods that were once simplistic in nature are now loaded with stuff we can’t even pronounce. Almond milk, for example, can be made with three ingredients: almonds, water and salt. Take a look at your store-bought nut milk and find other mystery items such as soy lecithin, carrageenan, gellan gum and plenty others. On the other hand, there are some hard-to-pronounce ingredients that are completely harmless. Let’s navigate the world of mystery ingredients and find out what’s safe!

1. Citric Acid 

At first sight on a food label, you are probably thinking this means orange, lemon or lime juice. However, citric acid is actually made by fermenting glucose. It’s used to add flavor to foods as well as to increase shelf life. 

Carly’s Advice: Citric acid can cause damage to the mucosal membrane of the stomach. It’s a hard ingredient to avoid, but you should try whenever possible.  

2. Soy Lecithin

Soy is one of the most prevalent and heavily genetically modified organisms available for consumption. Soy lecithin is made by extracting the oil from a raw soybean using a chemical solvent, mixed with water and then bleached using hydrogen peroxide. 

Carly’s Advice: Avoid all Genetically Modified Foods (GMOs) when possible. Due to the role soy plays in hormone imbalance, avoiding soy is especially important for women. 

3. Potassium Bromate

Bromide is created through a series of chemical reactions, and then added to foods containing flour. It is especially dangerous because it disrupts your endocrine system. 

Carly’s advice: Many studies have suggested that potassium bromate may be a contributing factor to thyroid problems, kidney and nervous tissue damage, as well as being a potential carcinogen. Any food containing potassium bromate should be avoided completely. 

4. Sodium Nitrate

Made in a laboratory, this synthetic additive is used as a colorant and preservative in processed meats such as hot dogs, sausage and bacon. 

Carly’s advice: Consuming too much sodium nitrate in your diet can be dangerous. It can form nitrosamines which may lead to many forms of cancer. 

5. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

You can find HFCS in everything from baked goods, canned fruits, dairy products and countless sweetened drinks. You will hear diabetes most commonly mentioned with HFCS, but it will wreak havoc on every organ system in your body.  

Carly’s advice: Consuming HFCS in any amount is dangerous! Made sure to read all of your food labels (especially condiments) carefully to avoid this. 

6. Acacia Gum

This food additive comes from the sap of acacia trees. It’s used as an emulsifier to help bind foods together and make them more stable. It may not sound like it, but it’s also a natural source of soluble fiber. Despite being commonly found in foods that you should avoid such as candies, processed baked goods and sodas, it’s actually not terrible for you.   

Carly’s advice: It’s ok to be consumed in moderation. Some studies have actually suggested that Acacia Gum is a prebiotic and good source of soluble fiber.

7. Maltodextrin

This artificial sugar is created from corn and wheat. The production process typically removes the protein from the wheat, so be careful. This can sneak into products that are labeled “gluten free.” 

Carly’s advice: Regular maltodextrin has a high glycemic index rating so this should be consumed in very small amounts. It should be completely avoided for anyone who has blood sugar imbalances.   

8. Guar Gum

While this ingredient doesn’t sound appetizing or healthy for you, it’s actually derived from the guar bean that is grown in the Middle East. It’s considered to be a decent source of soluble fiber. Guar gum is better than Xanthan Gum because it doesn’t come from corn. 

Carly’s advice: Whenever you are buying something with guar gum on the label, make sure it’s certified organic because these beans tend to be highly sprayed. Other than that, it’s a clean additive.

9. Aspartic Acid

At first glance, this ingredient might sound harmful. However, aspartic acid is actually an amino acid that can help give your cells the energy they need. It also aids in other bodily functions like glucose synthesis and hormone regulation.  

Carly’s advice: Your cells already produce Aspartic Acid so you don’t need to worry about adding it into your diet. If you see this on a food label, don’t worry! 

10. MSG

There are over 40 forms of this nasty additive out there and it can be hidden on ingredient labels through different names like maltodextrin, autolyzed yeast and monosodium glutamine (just to name a few). MSG is considered to be a neurotoxin because of the harmful effect it has on your nerve cells. 

Carly’s advice: MSG has been considered to be worse for your health than alcohol and nicotine. I recommend always avoiding this. 

Additives are everywhere and you can run but you can’t hide. The only way to avoid these frankenfoods is to eat whole, fresh foods in their natural form. As for additives and everything else in life, moderation is key.

Craving more ingredients? Check out our other articles on Food LabelsSupplementsSmoothiesTeaMeat, and Chocolate


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