Like the nutrition tables, getting in the habit of checking the ingredients can be very eye-opening. More often than not you will find lots of things added to the food (if it is actually “food”!) that you wouldn’t think are in there.
Here is an example.
Here you can see the foods, though fairly highly processed. Then you might see added sugar to make it sweeter and added minerals because during the food refining process a lot of the naturally occurring vitamins and minerals are lost, so they have to add often synthetic ones back in afterwards. After this, you often see all the other added ingredients that I will label “additives” as a group description. Here you might see preservatives, which stop the food going off, then perhaps some emulsifiers and stabilisers which help keep the food one consistency, then you might see various natural or artificial thickeners, colours or flavour enhancers.
Often these additives are represented by numbers. Colourings are often in the 100s, like tartrazine 102, allura red 129 etc. These two, in particular, have been linked to hyperactivity in children between the ages of 3-8. Preservatives are in the 200s, like sodium nitrate 250 and 251, which have been classified as ‘probably cancer-causing to humans’ by the International Agency for Research of Cancer. Flavour enhancers are often numbers 600, like MSH which is 621 which may cause symptoms in certain people. Though it would be untrue to suggest that all additives have been linked to problems, many are considered safe in small quantities, it still helps to be cautious.
There is mounting evidence that some of these ingredients that are artificially added to food are not great for our health. For example, the emulsifiers in food can affect the natural mucous layers in our gut which protect us from the effects of our own bacteria in our guts. Whilst these bacteria, called the microbiome are usually very good for us and help us in a lot of ways, when we eat emulsifiers and this mucous is disrupted the bacteria can cause inflammation in our guts, which can lead to multiple health conditions, including possibly obesity related conditions.
So the moral of this story is – eat real food. If it comes in a package or a box, or a wrapping, it probably is not simple real and unprocessed food. When we do need to eat packaged food, choose ones that have the most real ingredients in it and no added emulsifiers or artificial sweeteners, flavours, additives of colours.