6-Step Checklist to Avoid the Worst Ingredients

November 4, 2017
worst ingredients - dr. axe

Exercise and keeping an eye on calories goes a long way in keeping you healthy, but to truly protect your well-being, you need to start actively avoiding the worst ingredients hiding out in the food system. You must be aware of the dangerous additives and enhancers manufacturers pump into food to keep us hooked and addicted to their products.

Flavor enhancers, preservatives, sweeteners, synthetic colors and manmade fats and chemicals commonly hide out in the ultra-processed foods we eat. If you want to stay away from putting harmful chemicals on your table, it’s necessary to learn how to identify the worst ingredients and find healthier alternatives. Let’s take a look at how to get started.

Avoid the Worst Ingredients

1. ID (and avoid) seriously dangerous additives

It’s not easy to remember all of the worst ingredients to steer clear of, but learning to avoid the most toxic ones commonly found in the food supply can drastically improve your health. A common food additive is monosodium glutamate (MSG) that is very dangerous and affects human body in a variety of ways. Headache, nausea, vomiting, pain in the back of the neck, numbness and heart palpitations are common side-effects of consuming MSG. Monosodium glutamate is an excitotoxin that overexcites the cells in your body to the extent where they are so heavily damaged that they die. MSG also leads to a range of neurological diseases on prolonged exposure. (1, 2)

It’s not easy to find processed foods that are completely free of MSG. Other food ingredients often mask the presence of MSG, including:

  • autolyzed yeast
  • hydrolyzed protein
  • hydrolyzed vegetable protein
  • sodium caseinate
  • yeast nutrient or yeast extract
  • Torulo yeast
  • natural flavoring
  • glutamic acid

Soy sauce, seasonings, powdered milk, stock, malt, maltodextrin, pectin and anything protein often contain MSG.

2. Avoid the toxic heart attack ingredient

Trans fats are very harmful. These artificial trans fatty acids lower the level of good cholesterol (HDL) and increase the level of bad cholesterol (LDL) in your body. Primarily used in processed foods, trans fats are formed when food manufacturers add hydrogen to liquid oil to solidify it. (They do this to increase shelf life.) Unfortunately, trans fats have been blamed for up to 50,000 premature heart attack deaths a year. (3)

In the hydrogenation process, oil is heated to an extremely high temperature of about 500 to 1000 degree Celsius. Hydrogenated oil is a fabulous preservative because all the natural enzymes are destroyed by the high heat, rendering the end product as an unhealthy sludge. If you see terms like hydrogenated oil, partially hydrogenated oil or fractionated oil on food label, do not buy the products.

3. Steer clear of metabolism-sinking sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners may seem like a good choice if you’re watching your calories, but science shows us it’s really one of the worst ingredients when it comes to your metabolic health. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener that leads to weight gain, heart complications and obesity.

Some artificial sweeteners result in headaches and mood swings as well. Aspartame, saccharin and sucralose are widely used artificial sweeteners and can exert a bigger load on your metabolic system than plain old sugar. They also trick your brain into feeling less full, prompting you to eat more, which in turn can lead to weight gain. So monitor your intake of artificial sweeteners to stay fit.

4. Beware of these 3-letter cancer causers

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are processed food preservatives that have been found to have carcinogenic properties by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. BHA has been declared safe by FDA, but it is termed ‘reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen’ by U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (4, 5)

BHA has been shown to act as an endocrine disruptors, interfering with healthy hormone production, too. (6) BHA and BHT preservatives are commonly found in cereals, potato chips, chewing gum and cereal snack mixes. (Read your cosmetics labels, too. They often hide out in personal care products.)

5. Don’t assume soy is safer

Is soy bad for you? In the majority of cases, particularly as it pertains to soy as an ingredient in processed foods, it is unhealthy. While many of us think that soy and soy products as healthy and protein-rich, this is not always true. A majority of soy used in processed food products is genetically engineered. That means the crop has been tinkered with on a genetic level to receive applications of glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup weedkiller, without killing the plant. This has led to “excessive” levels of glyphosate turning up in the food we eat. (7) In 2015, the World Health Organization declared glyphosate “probably carcinogen to humans.” That makes conventional soy one of the worst ingredients.

Consuming GMO ingredients in considerable quantity over a long period of time is suspected to lead to infertility, gluten disorders, allergies and even cancer. Though the jury is still out on this controversial topic, with several studies showing that GMO ingredients are safe, I suggest practicing the precautionary principle, meaning it’s always best to consume processed foods that rely the least on GMO ingredients, staying as natural as possible. (8)

6. Tap modern technology while grocery shopping

Food testing kits are now available to help customers test the food they eat for a range of toxins, including mycotoxins, histamine and phycotoxins. Dipsticks are also helpful in testing foods for toxins and other harmful ingredients.

You can also make use of apps that help you know how pesticide-laden the food you buy is. What’s On My Food app links pesticide residue data with toxicology for each chemical. Barcode scanner apps like Environmental Working Group’s Food Scores helps you track the nutritional value of processed food products you buy.

Safe, untainted food is a basic human requirement. It keeps you healthy, glowing and fit. But most importantly, it also helps protect your from diseases and serious health problems. Cooking from scratch and sticking to whole and unprocessed foods as much as possible is the best way to avoid harmful food additives. Since this is not always possible, the next best thing to do is to stay educated, read food labels carefully and shop wisely. This will ensure that you prevent dangerous toxins and the worst ingredients from winding up on your dining table.

pratima makanji

Pratima Makanji is the founder of AIHT Education (American Institute of Healthcare & Technology), a U.S.-based healthcare training and educational institute. She started AIHT with the aim of providing the best education opportunities in the rapidly growing field of allied health. 

Read Next: The Ultimate Soy Sauce Replacement

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  1. curt cookson on

    your article says that hydrolyzed protein can contain msg. I bought your collagen protein and it works great but on the back it says hydrolyzed collagen. I am assuming it doesn’t but does your product contain msg?

    • Leah Zerbe on

      Hi Curt. Good question!

      Hydrolyzed collagen is the most bioavailable form– the molecular bonds are broken down using a combination of heat and naturally occurring enzyme. Hydrolyzed simply means soluble so it’s completely fine to consume and she can continue to take collagen.

  2. AmeriBev on

    First, singling out high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) as the culprit driving an array of conditions is neither accurate nor productive. Despite its name, HFCS it is not high in fructose. In fact, just like table sugar (or sucrose), HFCS is a combination of two simple sugars – glucose and fructose. These two ingredients are virtually identical in structure; so much so, in fact, the body processes them both the same. Moreover, attempts to pin the blame on this ingredient as a unique contributor to obesity have been directly debunked by the American Medical Association, which concluded this ingredient is not a unique risk factor.

    Second, science has repeatedly reaffirmed that low-calorie sweeteners are safe, and can help cut calories and promote weight loss. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition verifies this fact, as well as debunks the myth that diet beverages cause an increased preference for sweet foods and beverages: http://bit.ly/Ik4zjC.

    • Kaberle on

      What the AMA says and what the truth is are two different things entirely. The body does NOT metabolize fructose the same way as it does sugar. That has been disproven. (http://drhyman.com/blog/2011/05/13/5-reasons-high-fructose-corn-syrup-will-kill-you/)
      There is a huge difference and the rates of obesity and diabesity in this country and the world have proven that.
      The AJoCN is another government entity that is going to be paid off by Monsanto and the powers that be that head the huge companies that want YOU to believe their lies and keep eating their poisons.
      If you want to do that,be our guest. But before you swallow their lies and poisonous foods, why don’t you educate yourself about the TRUTH behind these frankenfoods.
      Education is the key here. Whole natural foods that don’t come in boxes or plastic is the way to eat clean and not eat these poisons.
      Sadly it isn’t just our bodies being poisoned by our minds as well, especially when you see someone come to the defense of HFCS. Geesh how sad.

    • Tara on

      HFCS is a leading contributor to fatty liver syndrome and should be avoided. Eat whole, organic foods and avoid processed foods and added sugar. Simple.

  3. SANDRA on

    This is interesting you might want to check that ap because I found a conflict possibly. It’s telling me that my favorite salad dressing is good in all ways except for the nutritional value because it’s too high and what I consider good fats. That’s contrary to what I believe (and you?) I think they need to update their app sounds like the same problem the kind bars had :-)

  4. Paul Morehouse on

    I ordered your Bone Broth and your green super shake, should they be consumed separately or can they be consumed together as I believe they both should be consumed every day

  5. Sandra on

    If I can only afford to take one product, which would be more beneficial, your new bone broth protein or your collegen protein. These two seem quite similar to me.

  6. Lisa Mair on

    Would be great if you gave soy a fair shake. Abundant research shows that non GMO, organic, whole food sources of soy are very beneficial and protective against breast cancer.

  7. Eric Brooks on

    The advice in the linked article about replacing soy sauce is not well thought out.

    Because of the Fukushima nuclear plant disaster’s ongoing dumping of radioactive contamination into the Pacific ocean, sea salt is no longer safe if it is from a Pacific source (and most sea salt and sea vegetables are from the Pacific).

    To avoid GMO soy in soy sauce and tamari, just buy organic.

  8. Ana on

    I live in Melbourne Australia I tend to sleep at night here because I’m on endep I suffer with pain.
    Especially in back and joints I’ve got a really bad case of bursitis in my shoulder.
    Will there be a chance for me to watch it another time.
    Much thanks

  9. Brigid on

    US must lead the way in unhealthy food as promoted by your powerful agribusiness companies that control virtually the whole food chain. Korea & China follow the US models.
    I’m glad to live in Europe where many of these additives and trans fats banned years ago. Partly thanks to our consumer. campaigns. Also lots of markets and small producers!!

    • Pamela on

      Brigid you are so right. Those of us who care about what we eat are 100% responsible for finding good food, we have to read every label and turn down foods with those questionable ingredients. Fortunately there are more and more organic products makers every day, and they will get my money, not big AG. I am envious of your laws there, not only for food but for cosmetics as well.

  10. Pat Franco on

    I already receive your emails every day, could they be received once weekly please? I would also like to know how to get “What’s on my food” on my smartphone! Thanks for any info about that.

  11. Rita Davis on

    Dr Axe,
    How does one find a doctor like you. I avoid mine like the plague. I fear to complain because it’s prescription after prescription. We never discuss, food exercise, supplements etc. when I refuse meds she grunts. We are always at odds. I have only had 2 doctors in my life that would discuss say.. trying some stretches after complaining of pain before a script for meds. I loved that.
    Any suggestions.
    I live in Sun City, Az.

    • Amy on

      Hi! Just wondering if you have received a response to your question? I feel the same way you do about my doc. I’m in Michigan and would love to have a holistic dr. I appreciate any info. Thanks!

  12. Jon on

    Excellent article. It was in print so did not take much time. Reading covers several times as much material as the same amount of time spent watching vidios.

  13. Robin Michetti on

    Hello Dr Axw, I am on a keto diet and started taking Collagen Peptides protein powder to help curb my cravings. But the problem is that it aggravates the problem I am trying to overcome and that is an asthmatic tightening in my lungs and coughing, which is due undoubtedly to inflammation. What could it be IN the protein powder that would cause these symptoms after ingestion…and inflammation?

  14. Barbara Carbone on

    I totally avoid all of these but recently of been thinking about soy as it pertains to tofu. What do you think about that. I mostly consume a vegan diet and tofu is a large part of vegan recipes. Please give me your input about tofu. Thank you.

  15. sandra segaux on

    HI Dr Axe,
    Is soy bad in hair products as well. I was researching a hair keratin treatment that is safe. I found one named Pravana. It is free of gluten and the common harmful ingredients most hair products use. Pravana uses soy and cottonseed protein instead. I was just wondering if these were bad as well.


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