These days it seems like there are so many food ingredients to avoid: sugar, carbs, gluten, GMOs, fats, the list goes on. But do you really need to avoid all of those foods? Dietary journalist Michael Pollan has quipped that “you shouldn’t eat anything that your grandmother wouldn’t recognize as food,” and that’s a good enough place to start.
“Trans-fats,” also known as “partially hydrogenated oils,” are one of the worst things in the average diet, and in the average diet, they are everywhere. In nature, fats are either liquid or solid at room temperature, but trans-fats are artificially modified fats that are used primarily to change the texture and preserve the shelf-life of food. The altered quality of these foods makes them less useful to the body, as well as more prone to accumulate in the body leading to increased body mass and heart problems.
While trans-fats are the worst kind of fat, try to stay away from saturated fat as much as you can as well. Saturated fat, found in red meat, also tends to build up in the body leading to health problems. Oils, fats that are liquid at room temperature, are considerably healthier, especially from sources like nuts, olives, and fish.
A lot of people try to avoid carbohydrates to lose weight, but the body needs carbs for energy. There’s nothing wrong with carbs as long as you are burning them through exercise. What is more important than avoiding carbs is to make sure that those carbs are coming in along with other important nutrients. That is why it is good to avoid things that have a lot of processed sugar and corn syrup. Just like there is nothing wrong with carbs, there is nothing wrong with sugar. After all, sugar is what makes bananas and apples sweet, but bananas and apples also contain vitamins and minerals.
Those natural sugars are fine, but most of the time when you’re eating something with a lot of added sugars, you’re eating things that don’t have a lot of other nutrients, and those added sugars are processed sugars, not fruit sugars. This is especially true of sodas, dessert foods, and some breakfast cereals.
Going back to the ‘70s, many researchers have believed that artificial colors and preservatives in foods may lead to behavioral problems, especially in young children. Some of these studies found that these ingredients only yielded these effects, or yielded them most dramatically, when in combination with other foods, including wheat, dairy, and chocolate.
While many people steer clear of artificial colors and preservatives in any foods, these conclusions should make us look particularly closely at processed sweats like pre-made snack-cakes, and make us think twice about what colors we use in our bakery at home.
The good news about these and other food ingredients to avoid is that as more people start to avoid them, foods that don’t include them are being more clearly marked. Labels on foods that don’t contain added sugars, trans-fats, artificial colors or preservatives, and other potentially unsavory ingredients promise to help us make better and better choices all the time.