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Harmful ingredients to avoid in misleadingly healthy foods

As owner of Sands Communications, Vanessa Sands provides writing, editing, copyediting, proofreading and web design services for a wide variety of businesses in the U.S. and abroad. She has a bachelor of arts degree in English/communicat...

Dangerous stuff in "healthy" foods

Do you know what you're eating? The kitchens of many well meaning, informed people are stocked with foods that contain potentially harmful ingredients. The problem: Overly processed, chemically enhanced foods masquerading as healthy choices. Even so-called health foods contain food substances, fillers and chemicals we all should avoid. Here's a look at three common items from the typical family's fridge and pantry -- and what's wrong with them.

Fruit juice

Cereal and juiceThe typical bottled fruit juice label lists a whole lot more than just, say, "orange juice." Instead you'll find a laundry list of additives, preservatives, colorants and chemicals. Among the most offensive: high-fructose corn syrup.

Sweeter and cheaper than sugar, HFCS prolongs shelf life and is quite nearly ubiquitous in processed foods. It has a more pronounced effect on blood sugar levels than table sugar and is very high in calories -- in fact, some experts blame its use in juices, sodas and other common foods for the obesity epidemic in developed countries.

Even if you opt for 100 percent unsweetened natural juice, you're still taking in the natural sugar and caloric equivalent of several pounds of fruit -- minus the fiber, flavonoids and other goodies contained in rinds, seeds, pulp, etc. In fact, a 12-ounce serving of your average fruit juice (sweetened or not) has between eight and 15 teaspoons of sugar, while that of most colas have about 10. Plus, the fruit juice actually packs more calories! If it's sweetened, they likely come from corn syrup; if not, the sugar and calories are the contribution of fructose (natural fruit sugar).

A better alternative? Don't drink your fruit: Eat it, and let your body benefit from the fiber, vitamins, minerals and other natural substances lost in processing juice.

Yogurt

Real yogurt is not complicated. It's milk that has fermented due to an interaction with beneficial bacteria. That's it.

But when we checked out the label on a popular low-fat strawberry-flavored yogurt, we found no less than 14 ingredients (among them, high-fructose corn syrup). Some ingredients give color and texture to the product using additives such as modified corn starch, while others extend shelf life.

When you consider that the typical "artificial strawberry flavoring" in turn contains 30 or so chemical ingredients, the idea of plain and simple food takes on a whole new appeal.

Cereal

Manufacturers are cutting back on the use of partially hydrogenated oils, which contain heart-harming trans fats. Still, you should check labels for this dangerous substance -- some cold cereals still list it among their ingredients.

Highly processed and refined grains are another detrimental ingredient, not so much for their makeup but for the lack of whole grains and other natural, high-fiber ingredients they replace. So when shopping for cereal, look for low-sugar, trans-fat-free varieties made from whole grains.

Read those labels

These are just a few examples. Become an avid label reader and be a conscious consumer! 

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