If you saw "poison ivy" listed as an ingredient in your favorite salad mix, would you eat it? Probably not. But poison ivy is natural, right? Who cares if it gives you a heinous rash and makes you miserable? The food industry might as well apply the same logic to all the other so-called "natural" ingredients it tries to sneak into processed foods. Ingredients made from seaweed, palm trees, and fruit juice may have a healthy halo, but they actually come with more health risks than benefits--no matter how natural they sound.Behind the label: You may not have any idea what this weird-sounding ingredient is at first glance, but it's derived from seaweed and used in dozens of so-called "natural," and even some organic, foods to keep ingredients from separating. The problem is, it's been pegged to inflammation, which itself can lead to chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease, rheumatoid arthritis, and arteriosclerosis. Carrageenan.
Behind the label: The caramel candies you ate as a kid got their coloring from caramelized sugar, which turns brown as its heated. The caramel coloring you find in your soda--not so much. It's created when sugar is heated with ammonium compounds, and the process creates a cancer-causing byproduct called 4-MI, which exists as a contaminant in caramel food coloring at varying levels. Coca-Cola recently switched to a lower-MI formulation of its caramel coloring, but tests from the Center for Science in the Public Interest recently found sodas sold across the country with widely varying, and dangerous, levels.
Your move: Do you really need that soda? After all, cancer-causing contaminants are just one of many disturbing side-effects of soda, which include kidney problems and liver fat.
Behind the label: There's little redeeming nutritional value to HFCS, the ubiquitous sweetener added to everything from bread to salad dressing. It provides empty calories, which promote obesity, it's been linked to heart disease, and the manufacturing process has the potential to contaminate it with brain-damaging mercury. Yet HFCS still shows up in so-called "natural" foods. Back in 2008, the FDA decided that, due to the highly industrialized process used to create HFCS, using the sweetener in products labeled "natural" was deceptive and misleading. But after backlash from the Corn Refiners Association, the agency reversed that decision two months later.
Your move: Few nutritionists out there would agree with the Corn Refiners Association's assertion that HFCS is "natural," but since they don't make the rules, it's up to you to read labels. HFCS is very common in "low-fat" foods, so read ingredient lists.