The Top 4 Worst (And Most Common) Food Ingredients

It’s an undisputed fact that most Americans have a problem with their diet these days.

By Amy Mastrine3 min read

By the year 2030, over 60% of Americans will be obese. This is because the standard and accepted American diet is full of seed oils, sugar, additives, and super-processed ingredients. Americans are not too particular about their food, and it shows. 

So what ingredients are the main culprits in this issue? The problem is multi-faceted, but here, we focus on the four worst and most common food ingredients to watch out for.

1. Vegetable Oils

Like many, you might think vegetable oils are healthy due to the name. It’s just oils extracted from vegetables, right? Don’t be deceived. Vegetable oils contain high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are unstable and cause oxidation in the body. This makes cells susceptible to attacks by free radicals. When our cells oxidize, they age and die. This process creates inflammation and the mutation of cells. It’s now known that this process is responsible for cancer, heart disease, and endometriosis.

Canola oil, soybean oil, safflower oil, sesame oil, palm oil, and sunflower oil all fall under the category of vegetable oil. You’ll find these oils in almost all processed foods – basically anything that isn’t a whole food, which are found in the produce or the meat sections.

Vegetable oils were originally considered industrial waste.

Vegetable oils were originally considered industrial waste. To make them “fit” for human consumption, more chemical processing was done to cover their terrible smell. Upon their manufacturing,  a wide-scale marketing campaign was conducted to convince Americans to replace their butter and animal fat at home with the new industrially-produced vegetable oils (tactics included handing out donuts fried in vegetable oil on the street and giving women a free cookbook of recipes).

Vegetable oils are now found in everything due to their cheapness: cookies, bread, beverages, crackers, packaged meals, sodas, and breakfast cereals. Most restaurants use them in their cooking as frying oils due to their cheapness over olive oil, avocado oil, or animal fats, making them nearly impossible to avoid. 

Vegetable oils are very, very hard to avoid completely. To limit your intake, you have to check food ingredient labels every time you buy something. You’ll start to notice just how many “foods” have them as a top ingredient. Swap the vegetable oil products for olive oil, avocado oil, or real butter instead. 

2. Enriched Wheat Flour

The ingredient right next to the vegetable oil in many “foods” on our shelves is enriched wheat flour. It’s most commonly found in cereal, donuts, granola bars, bread, and cereal. It’s another product that has had all beneficial ingredients stripped out through chemical processing.

Enriched wheat flour comes from the wheat plant, which has three parts: the bran, the germ, and the endosperm. American corporate food manufacturers have removed the parts of the plant that have fiber, protein, and other ingredients your body needs (the bran and the germ), and have only kept the endosperm, which has no benefit to your body, yet lasts longer on store shelves. Enriched wheat flour doesn’t keep you full because all the fiber has been removed. 

Enriched wheat flour doesn’t keep you full because all the fiber and protein have been removed. 

When you eat enriched wheat flour, your digestive system quickly breaks it down and  absorbs it as if it were pure sugar. This causes your blood sugar to spike, which activates insulin, which then causes your blood sugar to drop. This process can lead to insulin resistance, weight gain, diabetes, or heart disease. 

To prevent blood sugar spikes, swap the enriched wheat flour for whole wheat or rye flour, or gluten-free options like almond flour, chickpea flour, coconut flour, or brown rice flour. 

3. High Fructose Corn Syrup

I recently met a woman at a graduation party who told me she had lost almost 45 lbs in a few months. When I asked her what she was doing differently, she said she stopped drinking soda. She said, “I used to drink five sodas a day. I had Dr. Pepper flowing in my veins. After I stopped drinking it, the weight just flew off me. I had no idea it was making me so fat!” 

A check of the nutrition labels shows that a can of Dr. Pepper has 40 grams of sugar and is almost entirely made of high fructose corn syrup. An average woman should only have 22 grams of sugar per day! It’s no wonder most Americans are overweight with products like this on the shelves and so readily available.

An average woman should only have 22 grams of sugar per day.

Most people accept and admit that high fructose corn syrup is dangerous for your health, but people still consume it in high amounts. One-third of adults admit to having at least one sugary drink each day. 

High fructose corn syrup can increase blood pressure and cause diabetes and heart disease. It can also lead to leaky gut syndrome and cancer. 

Sodas are a primary source of high-fructose corn syrup, but it’s also found in seemingly innocuous things like cereal, cookies, ketchup, jellies, jams, and “fruit” snacks. I personally love Welch’s “Fruit” Snacks the best – their completely deceptive marketing tells you that the snacks are “natural” and made with “real” fruit, but the ingredient list shows that corn syrup sugar is the second ingredient behind fruit puree. Many such cases!

4. Sodium Nitrite and Nitrate

Sodium nitrites and nitrates are used to preserve meat and prevent it from browning. They fight harmful bacteria, but under certain conditions in the human body, nitrite can damage cells and also morph into molecules that cause cancer.

Food producers add nitrates and nitrites to processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages, hot dogs, and salami (my Italian self cries). This gives them their pinkish coloring and adds a salty flavor. 

Too many nitrites and nitrates can be toxic and harm your digestive tract.

A small amount of nitrites and nitrates is okay, but too many can be toxic and harm your digestive tract. When you cook meat that contains nitrites or nitrates on high heat, carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines can form.

Although it’s hard to avoid (and sometimes expensive to do so), if you can, buy meat that has a label that says there are no added sodium nitrites or nitrates.

Closing Thoughts

Navigating our supermarkets in a way that doesn’t harm your health requires diligence and saying “no” to things that just aren’t good for our bodies. When shopping, check labels and swap some of the ingredients above for alternatives that don’t harm your health.  

Love Evie? Let us know what you love and what else you want to see from us in the official Evie reader survey.