With the phrase “all natural” regularly being thrown on food labels, deciphering between foods that are actually healthy or just being promoted as healthy, can be difficult. If you’re doing your best to make healthy choices, here’s a crash course in hidden junk foods that you’ll want to stay away from, and a few healthy alternatives!
1. Canned Tomatoes
Many canned foods contain BPA, a toxic chemical that has been linked to a list of health issues, including reproductive abnormalities, neurological problems, and heightened risk of breast and prostate cancers, diabetes and heart disease. It’s believed that just a few servings of canned food can exceed the safety limits for daily BPA exposure for children. The high acidity in tomatoes allows BPA from the can to leach into the food.
Alternative: Avoid canned foods entirely and choose fresh fruits and vegetables, or buy a brand that uses glass containers instead.
While margarine may be lower in fat than conventional butter, it has plenty of its own health risks. The trans fats found in margarine contribute to heart disease, cancer, bone problems and hormonal imbalance, among other problems. Processing vegetable oils releases free radicals, which contribute to cell damage, and the numerous additives that are added to margarine can have toxic effects on the body.
Alternative: Use butter from grass-fed cows. It’s rich in a substance known as CLA, which has been linked to long-term weight management and optimal health.
3. Processed Meats
Processed deli meats such as salami, ham and roast beef typically come from animals that were raised in confined animal feeding operations, which means they were given growth hormones, antibiotics and other drugs, and they were raised in conditions that promote disease. These meats are likely filled with preservatives, chemical flavorings and artificial food dyes, and most processed deli meats also contain cancer-promoting chemicals that are created during cooking.
Alternative: Processed meats should always be avoided. Ditch the deli meat and opt for fresh, organic, grass-fed meats.
4. Microwave Popcorn
Microwave popcorn bags are lined with chemicals that are used to keep grease from leaking through. While eating microwave popcorn, you are ingesting chemicals that are known to disrupt the endocrine system. The EPA has also ruled these chemicals, known as PFCs, as “likely carcinogens.” Researchers have linked PFCs to infertility, thyroid disease, immune system problems and even cancer.
Alternative: Avoid any product containing PFCs, including non-stick cookware and fast food. If you’re really craving popcorn, make your own at home!
5. Vegetable Oils
Vegetable oils are highly processed, and when consumed in large amounts, as they are by many Americans, they can cause an imbalance of essential fatty acids in the body. Vegetable oils can convert good cholesterol into bad cholesterol by oxidizing it. When you cook with polyunsaturated vegetable oils such as canola, corn and soy oils, oxidized cholesterol is introduced into your system.
Alternative: Coconut oil is the best choice for cooking, as it’s less susceptible to heat damage.
6. Table Salt
The body needs salt, but not the kind found in table salt or in processed foods. Processed salt is 98% sodium chloride, and the remaining 2% is often made up of iodine, iron, or other supplements, as well as anti-caking agents.
Alternative: Switch to a pure, unrefined salt, such as all-natural pink Himalayan sea salt.
7. Soy Protein Isolate
While soy is commonly marketed as a healthy product, the truth is that 90-95% of soybeans grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. These soybeans are used to create soy protein isolate, and they’re grown with lethal doses of an herbicide called Roundup. The active ingredient in Roundup has been found to disrupt the hormonal balance of the female reproductive cycle, causing serious problems with fertility and pregnancy. Studies have linked unfermented soy to digestive distress, immune system problems, thyroid dysfunction, reproductive disorders, infertility, cancer and heart disease.
Alternative: Always choose organic soy that has been properly fermented.
8. Artificial Sweeteners
While many people believe they are making a healthy choice when using artificial sweeteners, studies have found that they can stimulate appetite, increase carbohydrate cravings and stimulate fat storage and weight gain. Artificial sweeteners trick the body into thinking it’s receiving sugar, setting off a chain of events linked to several health problems.
Alternative: Skip the artificial sweeteners and sugar altogether. To sweeten up your coffee or tea, use some organic raw honey.
Making healthy choices can be tough, especially when companies market their food products as products a health-conscious consumer would buy.