“When it comes to your health, are artificial sweeteners worth their weight in saving calories? Eating healthy is more than counting calories – it’s knowing what’s in your food.”

–Rose Caiola

Additives are everywhere.  But which are helpful, and which are harmful?

Giving your body a break from heavy chemicals and irritants in many of the foods we eat and products we use, will help get you feeling vibrant and energetic again.

Whether you choose to do a detox program, water fast, juice diet, eat more vegetables or you just want to clean out the pantry – washing your produce thoroughly and limiting non-nutritious pre-packaged foods will help decrease your toxic load.

What foods should make me the most mindful?

Washing your produce helps to remove dirt and surface pesticides from your produce. It’s especially important to use more than just water on the fruits and veggies we like to call the dirty dozen.

When considering buying local, organic and seasonal produce, keep this list in mind. These produce have a higher percentage of pesticide residues; see the EWG listing for the top produce and pesticide residue data.

The Dirty Dozen

dirty dozen fruits and vegetables
Photo credit: ewg.org

The least offending foods, or Clean Fifteen, include:

  1. avocados
  2. sweet corn
  3. pineapples
  4. cabbage
  5. frozen sweet peas
  6. onions
  7. asparagus
  8. mangoes
  9. papayas
  10. kiwis
  11. eggplant
  12. grapefruit
  13. cantaloupe
  14. cauliflower
  15. sweet potatoes

It’s All In The Peel – Don’t cut it off

Even the cleanest produce should be washed thoroughly to limit residues from dirt, multiple handlings, preservatives, waxes and pesticides. Many of the nutrients in fruits and vegetables are in their skin, including vitamins and fiber. Don’t cut it off. Rather, start cleaning your vegetables properly.

You don’t need to spend money on ready made cleaners; you can easily do it yourself (DIY) with some simple recipes.

DIY Natural Produce Cleaning Products

1. Spray Bottle: For produce with a smooth skin surface, such as apples and  peppers:

  • 1 cup cold water
  • 1 tablespoon (T) lemon juice
  • 1 T baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon (tsp) grapefruit seed extract

Directions: Spray your produce thoroughly, and let sit for five minutes before washing off with clean water.

2. Soaking Solution: For produce with a high surface area, such as grapes and raspberries

  • 2 cups cold water
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp grapefruit seed extract

Directions: Put your produce in a bowl, and cover with the Soaking Solution. Let sit for 10-30 minutes before thoroughly rinsing off with clean water.

Five of the Most Feared Food and Product Additives

Additives can be hidden in many prepackaged food items and products. The top offending food choices and ingredients are often feared but not understood.

  1. Artificial sweeteners – such as aspartame, acesulfame-K and  saccharin
  2. High fructose corn syrup
  3. Trans fats
  4. Sodium chloride
  5. Parabens

1. Artificial Sweeteners

In addition to their widespread use in sodas, artificial sweeteners are added to nearly 6,000 other products sold in the United States, including baby foods, frozen dinners and even yogurts [59]. It has been suggested that the use of non-nutritive sweeteners can lead to body weight gain and an altered metabolic profile. Although most research is controversial and extrapolated from animal studies, new human studies are emerging.

Non-caloric and non-nutritive artificial sweeteners (NAS) have not shown to increase blood glucose levels – except slightly with acesulfame-K – [15]. However, recent studies show NAS alter gut microbial communities, leading to glucose intolerance, dysbiosis and metabolic disease in both mice and humans [9, 57].

Neurobehavioral tests show high-aspartame diets – more than 25 milograms (mg) per kilogram of body weight per day – lead to increased irritable mood, more depression and worse performance on spatial orientation tests [38].

NOTE: A 12-ounce can of Diet Coke contains 187mg of aspartame. To see the average amount of artificial sweeteners in the most common diet soda, refer to this PDF.

In general, soda pop is harmful, especially to children, because of its acidic nature that can decrease the amount of calcium absorption into healthy bone formation and growth [40]. It also increases the risk of calcium-based kidney stones [46] and dental cavities [30].

For healthier options when it comes to sweeteners, see HERE.

2. High Fructose Corn Syrup

Fructose makes up more than ten percent of the average Western daily caloric intake [1]. The average American consumes 50 grams of fructose per day [63]. High fructose corn syrups (HFCS) are one and a half times more sweet than sucrose and two times more than glucose [13]. They are also more soluble in water, making them ideal as a sweetener for drinks and canned fruit [25, 26]. Especially notable in the United States, fructose is added to more than 40 percent of Western foods and beverages [13].

High fructose corn syrup and sucrose are both comprised of glucose and fructose subunits. They have a similar effect on the body,  and evidence has linked HFCS to metabolic syndrome and associated comorbidities, implicating fructose as a potential factor in the obesity epidemic [31, 52]. Obesity is a predisposing factor in chronic disease and is associated with a loss in life expectancy. In Canada, having diabetes at 55 years old creates a loss of approximately five years in life expectancy [19].

3. Trans Fats

Most people know to avoid trans fats on packaged goods. It’s plastered all over bags of chips and crackers, but what does it really mean?

Trans fat stands for transaturated fats. There are several forms of fat, such as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. The saturation describes the chemical formation of the fat molecule with respect to the hydrogen (H)- bonds attached to a carbon backbone. A saturated fat has all it’s H-bonds, no double bonds and creates a linear molecule.

Trans double bonds are uncommon in nature. Most are synthetic forms of fats that undergo hydrogenation, which benefits the commercial food industry for its long shelf-life [14, 32]. It has been well researched that trans fats increase the risk of coronary heart disease, stroke and diabetes, due to their deleterious effect of raising low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and lowering protective levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol levels [14].

The FDA is trying to mandate labeling of trans fatty acids and is even contemplating banning it completely in all goods [32]. Learn more about healthy fat options and their cooking temperatures HERE.

4. Sodium Chloride

It is commonly believed that chronic excessive use of table salt – Sodium chloride (NaCl) – leads to high blood pressure and heart disease. It is now evident that this is specific to a population with salt-sensitive hypertension, which makes up two-thirds of essential hypertensive patients over 60 years old [7, 48].

However, chloride has actually been shown to have protective cardiovascular effects [21]. So, what’s so bad about salt?

Well, NaCl does cause a redistribution of fluid from within the cells to its extracellular matrix – an increase fluid volume and resistance in the blood – due to osmolarity. It also increases arterial constriction and peripheral vascular resistance [7]. So, someone currently exhibiting high blood pressure, arteriosclerosis, salt-sensitive hypertension or a deficiency in the ability to excrete sodium via the kidneys is at high risk of suffering a stroke and heart condition [7, 64]. In general, Western diets consist of excessive amounts of salt in our foods – especially processed foods – and should be used in moderation [24].

Also, renal calcium reabsorption – calcium being reabsorbed back into the body via the kidneys –  is directly proportional to sodium reabsorption. Which means that with an increase in NaCl consumption, there is less reabsorption of sodium, leading to a parallel reduction in calcium reabsorption [49]. Children and post-menopausal women are most affected by a decrease in calcium reabsorption for bone density health [49]. Along a similar pathway, people with calcium-based kidney stones will be exasperated with high sodium intake [21].

Finally, iodine from iodized salt is important to regulate the thyroid hormone levels. However, chronic iodine excess can lead to autoimmune thyroid conditions, such as hypothyroidism, thyroiditis and iodine-induced hyperthyroidism [16].

5. Parabens

Parabens are everywhere. Most commonly, they are used as antimicrobial preservatives – mainly in personal care products, pharmaceuticals and food [8, 34]. Processes of preserving confectioneries, foods rich in sugar and carbohydrates, and dried meat contain higher levels of parabens [8].

Parabens are found in deodorants, toothpastes, mouth washes, and shower gels; they are also common in consumer products, such as cleaning products, plastics and toys [34]. In addition, paper sources are a major contributor for dermal absorption of parabens – paper currencies, tickets, business cards, food cartons, flyers and newspapers; but the most notable amounts were from sanitary napkins [36].

A Swedish study finds parabens are higher among the children in urban areas compared to rural, and are associated with use of cosmetics and personal care products [34].

Parabens are easily absorbed orally, and to a lesser extent dermally, through the skin [34]. After absorption, parabens can be hydrolyzed, conjugated and excreted within hours [34]. Despite their short half-life, spot urine samples can indicate paraben exposure over several months [34].

Parabens are weak xenoestrogen, and scientific reports are concerned with the potential endocrine – or hormone – disrupting effects and link with breast cancer [8, 33]. More studies are still needed to find the long-term effects of frequent paraben exposure.

If you learned something new about additives, how will it change your behavior? Are you more mindful of risky foods, and how will you manage them differently? Let us know in the comments!

This article originally appeared on DrAlisonChen.com and is republished here with permission.



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