Controversial Ingredients to Avoid

Controversial Ingredients to Avoid

Controversial ingredients can be found in almost all processed foods on market shelves today. This is because quick and portable foods are now the norm in modern society. Whether it’s a toaster pastry, a tube of yogurt, a can of cola, or an individually-wrapped slice of cheese – chances are that the product is heavily processed and contains various additives and chemicals to preserve its shelf life.

Did you know that these convenient foods – which commonly come with unpronounceable controversial ingredients – may come at a dangerous price and destroy your immune system? There are so many side effects to all of these additives and chemicals, and their side effects are broad. They can range from problems like nausea and headaches to more serious conditions such as cancer, Alzheimer’s and multiple sclerosis[1]. Be sure to read ingredient labels carefully, and consume more whole foods (foods that are not packaged and can be eaten in their whole form).

Below is a list of the 12 most pervasive and detrimental additives and substances commonly found in processed foods. Avoid these additives by avoiding processed foods altogether.

Artificial Sweeteners:

This is first because so many people think that artificial sweeteners are better than consuming sugar. Little to they know that they are far worse! Artificial sweeteners are a combination of chemicals that exist to make our foods sweeter without the calories of sugar. These controversial ingredients have been exposed in the media and contain a long list of related side effects, such as headaches, nausea, anxiety, depression, dementia, skin rashes and more.[2] If you experience any of these symptoms, try removing anything from your diet that contains artificial sweeteners. Remember, they are chemical sweeteners, not natural. Steer clear of these, especially those found in soda, fake juices and Jell-O products. You might consider a plant-based sweetener such as stevia.

Refined Sugar:

People in the US consume 130 to 160 pounds of sugar per year.[3] In other words, we are consuming a minimum of a half a cup of added sugar a day and most of us aren’t even aware of it. High consumption of sugar causes elevated insulin levels, which then can cause diabetes, weight gain, bloating, fatigue, arthritis, migraines, lowered immune function, obesity, cavities and cardiovascular disease. It can also disrupt absorption of nutrients, possibly leading to osteoporosis, depression, PMS symptoms and stress.[4] But as you learned above, replacing sugar with an artificial sweetener is not the answer. The great news is that once you start reducing your intake of sugar, your body will naturally adjust and you will crave it less!

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG):

MSG is a common food additive used to enhance flavor in a variety of foods. Canned vegetables, frozen entrées, fast foods and soups are just a few products that contain MSG. Many people have experienced a variety of side effects which range from headaches, itchy skin and dizziness – to respiratory, digestive, circulatory and coronary issues.[5] This has been a controversial ingredient for decades now and fortunately, less manufacturers are using it.

Artificial colorings can cause allergic reactions and problems for those who struggle with ADD and anxiety.

Artificial Colors:

The blues, reds, yellows and greens you commonly see in yogurts, cereals and juices don’t normally come from natural sources. In fact, these controversial food colorings are usually synthetic chemicals produced by scientists to color foods and increase a product’s visual appeal. Many colorings are derived from coal tar, so can contain up to 10 parts per million of lead and arsenic and still be generally recognized as safe by the FDA![6] This is so sad, because artificial colors can cause allergic reactions and increase hyperactivity in children with ADD.[7]

Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT):

BHA and BHT are two food additives commonly used in the food industry to prevent oils from going rancid. Studies have shown that BHA has caused stomach-focused carcinogens in trials involving mice, hamsters and rats. The US Department of Health and Human Services has deemed BHA “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” BHT is slightly less harmful than BHA, but should still be replaced with safer alternatives.[8] Either way, controversial ingredients such as these should be avoided.

Sodium Nitrate and Nitrite:

Sodium nitrate and nitrite are preservatives that are added to processed meat products to enhance red color and flavor. These controversial compounds transform into cancer-causing agents called nitrosamines in the stomach. Noticeable side effects include headaches, nausea, vomiting and dizziness.8

A cup of coffee every now and then is far better for you than drinking many cups every day.


Caffeine is an addictive stimulant found in soft drinks, gum, diet pills and pain relievers; it naturally occurs in coffee, cocoa and tea. Caffeine causes calcium to be excreted from the bones, which can lead to osteoporosis and increased infertility.[9]

Olestra (Olean):

Olestra is a synthetic fat, created by Proctor & Gamble, that does not get absorbed in the digestive tract. So side-effects commonly caused by olestra include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea and vomiting. Olestra inhibits the absorption of some vitamins and minerals as well.8

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO):

Brominated vegetable oil is used to keep flavor oils in soft drinks in suspension. It is a controversial ingredient because when consumed, it is stored in fat and over time can it accumulate because it has no where to go. This additive can lead to reproductive interference and birth defects. It has been banned in 100 countries because of its dangers. This additive is less used in modern food applications today, however, so this is a good thing.8 But realize that when you shop for poor quality products from other countries, it may be used.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils:

Partially hydrogenated oils are made by reacting different varieties of oil with hydrogen. So, when this occurs, the level of polyunsaturated oils (good fat) is reduced and trans-fats are created. Because these oils can be made cheaply from corn and soy, they can be added to many products to enhance appearance and prevent spoiling. Partially hydrogenated oils are associated with heart disease, breast and colon cancer, atherosclerosis and elevated cholesterol.[10]


Every year more than two billion pounds of pesticides are added to our food supply. That’s about 10 pounds per person per year. Many of the pesticides used throughout the world are carcinogenic. Pesticide consumption has been linked to birth defects, nerve damage, cancer, and other effects that might occur over a long period of time.[11]

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs):

GMOs are plants or animals that have had their DNA modified. In the US, the majority of the corn, soybean, cotton and canola crops are now genetically modified, and one or more of these can be found in nearly every processed food. GMOs have not been proven safe and some studies show GMO’s may decrease immunity to diseases in plants as well as humans. They may also cause resistance to antibiotics and could have a negative impact on genetic function. Plants that are genetically modified to be resistant to disease, pesticides, and insecticides could diminish the need to use these strong chemicals. Conversely, they may build up a resistance and therefore require even larger amounts of chemicals than before.[12]

[1] Kent, Linda. “Livestrong.” Food Additive Side Effects. N.p., 23 Mar 2010. Web. 15 Dec 2011.
[2] Brassard, Susan. “Side Effects of Artificial Sweeteners.” N.p., 29 Jul 2011. Web. 15 Dec 2011.
[3] “Cut back, way back, on sugar, says heart group.” MSNBC. N.p., 24 Aug 2009. Web. 22 Dec 2011.
[4] Kam, Katherine. “The Truth About Sugar.” WebMD. N.p., n.d. Web.
[5] Zeratsky, Katherine. “Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): Is it Harmful?.” WebMD. N.p., n.d. Web
[6] Arnell, Neev. “The Dangers of Artificial Food Colors.” Natural News. N.p., 25 Mar 2011. Web. 6 Feb 2012.
7] Franco, Virginia. “Effects of Artificial Colors in Children with ADD.” Livestrong. N.p., 25 Mar 2011. Web.
[8] “Food Additives.” Center for Science in the Public Interest. N.p., n.d. Web.
[9] Lingohr-Smith, Melissa. “The Effects of Caffeine on Osteoporosis.” Livestrong. N.p., 13 Dec 2010. Web.
[10] Bruen, Jude. “Partially Hydrogenated Oil vs. Hydrogenated Oil.” Livestrong. N.p., 29 Nov 2009. Web.
[11] Environmental Protection Agency. Health Problems Pesticides May Pose. 2011. Print.
[12] “GMO Facts.” The Non-GMO Project. N.p., n.d. Web.

Cathy is a certified Wellness Educator and Coach with a strong passion to help her clients in their journey to improve their overall health and vitality by searching for the sources of their illness and imbalance.  As a Healthy Lifestyle Planner, Cathy shares all of the practical ways people can reduce stress, recover their lost energy, restore their immune system function and manage and maintain their health goals over the years.  She empowers people to hit the pause button in life and become more in tune with their bodies by using evidence-based lifestyle interventions to prevent lifestyle related diseases. This type of approach empowers individuals with the knowledge and life skills to make effective behavioral changes that address the underlying causes of their condition.  

Cathy is also the creator and director of the Holistic Wellness Academy; an online training platform. The site offers clients and practitioners step-by-step courses that are short and actionable.  Each course is loaded with scientifically-backed information, ideas and practical, time-saving tips that empower and motivate people to successfully navigate through all the distractions life throws at us. Participants can also converse with fellow students for extra encouragement. She is finalizing her newest program, “RESTORE Your Immune System.”  This program explains why people are struggling to stay healthy and the steps they can take to balance and restore the body back to its natural homeostasis. Today it is so important for people to take back control of their health in order to reverse dis-ease.

Used with permission – Institute for Integrative Nutrition (IIN)

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