Junk Ingredients 101: Food Additives

For something different today, the wonderful Melissa and I are swapping guest posts!  Head on over to her blog to check mine out – it’s a serious post but I’d love if you read it and shared your thoughts in the comments.  I’m pretty sure it’ll stir up a little discussion…


Hey! It’s Melissa from Freeing Imperfections. Danica & are I doing a guest post blog swap today. Catch her post on my blog over here.

Today I want to talk about basic “junk ingredients” that I’ve tried to completely eliminate from my diet. About a year or so ago, I did a whole pantry/fridge clean out in attempts to rid my kitchen of crap.

For those of you who are newer to the healthy eating scene or just need a refresher, here are some of the junk ingredients I try to stay away from & facts on why they’re terrible for us.

#1: Fake Sugars

What are they? Sugar substitutes that taste sweet but contain no real sugar and usually have little to no calories.

What are their names? There are many types of fake sugars, but some common ones are Aspartame (Equal/NutraSweet),  Saccharine, Sucralose (Splenda), Sorbitol, and Neotame (NutraSweet). There are many more, and some of these ones even have different names for the same thing on food labels (scary!).

fake sugars


Why are they bad? Anything fake can’t be good, right? Just because some of these have zero calories does not make them okay. In fact, this is the reason fake sugar is horrible to put in our bodies: we cannot effectively digest the sugar alcohols in fake sugars, which is why we do not process any calories from them.

Fake sugars have been linked to increased weight gain and more fat content (in studies in rats). Aspartame is known to break down into formaldehyde and store it in our brains (a known toxin, yet the FDA has approved its use anyway).

Where are they found? Diet soda, “diet” or sugar free foods, gum, candy, yogurt, and more.

Overall, fake sugars are widely disputed, but no one has the facts straight. There is no long-term study proving that any fake sugar is safe. Most studies consist of small test groups for short periods of time, so the long-term effects of eating fake sugar is unknown. Until they are proven safe (and odds are, they won’t be), I am staying away from these bad boys.

#2: High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

What is it? HFCS is a mixture of fructose and glucose made from corn. It is extra sweet, so food manufacturers can use less of it than real sugar to produce the desired taste (meaning, it’s cheaper for them).

Why is it bad? Many have said that HFCS is no different than table sugar, but some studies find that it actually tells our bodies to store more fat and gain weight, especially in your abdomen.

Where is it found? In everything. HFCS is pumped into everything – from cereal to drinks, snack bars, and salad dressing – because it is an easy way to fill and sweeten foods without much cost.

high fructose corn syrup


Sadly, when I go shopping, I see this as the first ingredient in many items. Food companies have found a cheap way to up the sweetness in everything – and the truth is, we’re buying it.

Here is an interesting article on how HFCS can contribute to weight gain: http://www.princeton.edu/main/news/archive/S26/91/22K07/

#3: Food Preservatives

What are they? Chemical compounds that preserve the shelf life of processed foods.

What are their names? There are also many different types of preservatives, but some common ones are BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) , sodium benzoate/benzoic acid, potassium bromate, and sodium nitrate/nitrite.

Why are they bad? The basic premise behind all of these additives is that they prevent molding, caking, and keep foods looking and tasting fresher for longer than they ever could naturally. Weird? Yes. Unsafe? Yes.

These preservatives have been found to increase hyperactivity, are linked to MS and cancer, and are known carcinogens. Sounds like a bundle of fun, right? Not so much. These additives are just one of many examples of how the food industry is only concerned about themselves (and their food lasting for a year+ on shelves) and not about human health.

Where are they found? Can you guess? Yes, they’re found in all processed foods. BHT is among the worst preservative and it is in everything from crackers, cereal, butter, nuts, meats, and fruit.



Really scary fact: BHT has a zillion different names. According to Jillian Michaels’ Master Your Metabolism, BHT is called anisole, butylated hydroxyl, antioxyne B, antracine 12, butylhydroxyanisole, tert-butyl hydroxyanisole, embanox, nepantiox 1-F, phenol, and five other names that you can’t pronounce!

Basically, if you can’t pronounce it, it’s a chemical; and if it’s a chemical, you probably shouldn’t eat it.

MSG (monosodium glutamate): This guy is not exactly a preservative but a “flavor enhancer.” It is commonly found in Chinese or Asian food, Doritos, and a lot of other processed foods. MSG can make foods more addicting to eat. It acts like a drug, making foods taste ridiculously good to our brain, making us crave them more. I’ll pass!

#4: Hydrogenated Oils (aka Trans fats)

What are they? In basic terms, hydrogenated oils are fats that used to be liquid at room temperature but have hydrogen pumped into them to stay solid at room temperature. Once again, this is a food industry trick to use less of a food additive by altering it. It is also a cheap option, which is why it’s made its way into so many foods.

What are their names? Anything that has “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in front of it, as in “hydrogenated vegetable oil.” Monoglycerides and diglycerides are also trans fats.

Why are they bad? Trans fats are known to decrease good cholesterol (HDL) and increase bad cholesterol (LDL). They act as super fats and almost like poison. It is linked to diabetes, heart disease, weight gain, plaque build-up in arteries, and many more health problems.

Where are they found? Peanut butter is a big culprit. Any peanut butter that is solid at room temperature and has no oil at the top has been hydrogenated (usually). As with all of these additives, it can be found in almost anything, though.

Bottom line

Although this list is a little daunting, the best way to stay away from all these crazy additives is to eat less processed foods and eat more whole foods. So in layman’s terms: less Oreos and mac n cheese, and more broccoli and fresh fruits.

It may seem like you are trying to work in a system that is totally against you – at least that’s how I feel when I see all these horrible things in our food. However, it really comes down to reading the labels of everything you buy. Once I start getting in the habit, it’s second nature for me to read the label – the whole label – of any item before it gets a ride in my cart at the grocery store. Once you know what to look for, it’s pretty easy to steer clear of the junk.

This is obviously not a complete list of all the bad things found in food. I wish it were! There is more to look out for, but this is a good starting point.

If you haven’t read food labels before, don’t be surprised when you find these in many of your favorite items. It’s sad to say goodbye to cheetos, Doritos, and fritos, but once you part your ways, your body will thank you – I guarantee it.

Stay healthy!

Questions for You:

  • Will you still buy your favorite treat if it has junkie ingredients or do you find an alternative?
  • Does it make you angry that the American food system is made to help itself instead of help us eat healthy?


  1. I never knew Doritos had MSG in them…I don’t eat very much of Doritos anyways, but you can bet I’m steering clear of them from now on!

    I won’t buy my favorite treat if it has junkie ingredients. I’ll either come up with my own recipe or find an alternative without those ingredients.

    It makes me SO MAD that the food industry is the way it is. I’m in the middle of reading Salt Sugar Fat: How the Food Giants Hooked Us and it’s so disgusting. The unfortunate thing is that most American consumers don’t realize that the food industry is as messed up as it is!
    Beth @ Mangoes and Miles recently posted…Chocolate Banana Berry Overnight OatsMy Profile

    • I’ve just finished reading that book actually and it is terrifying. It’s all about how to make money fast. We as consumers just need to step up and not eat the rubbish anymore. That’s the only way it’ll stop.

    • That book is on my to-read list…and yes, this topic makes me all fired up too – it’s outrageous that so many of these things even pass as “food”…Our society is severely lacking in education about truly nutritious foods and what that even means…I guess all we can do is support those who are reaching out and educating people and do our best to personally help others learn.

    • It is really scary, isn’t it? I wrote this article shortly after I saw the documentary Food, Inc. It’s just amazing what most consumers don’t know about how the food industry is fooling us.
      Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections recently posted…New England Road Trip: Days 3 & 4My Profile

  2. I love all of these tips! I knew some of them, but not all of them. I definitely try to stay away from these bad ingredients. It does make me mad that the food industry puts all of these ingredients in our food when they know how bad it is for us!

  3. I love Doritos, but never knew they had MSG in them. I try to stay away from processed food as much as I can, but I am sure I still eat food with bad ingredients. I have only used Stevia for sweeteners, but don’t even use it that much! Thanks for all of this awesome information, though!
    Heather @fitncookies recently posted…Being ThankfulMy Profile

    • I try my best to stay away from processed stuff too…sometimes it feels slightly unavoidable, but there are good options out there, I just have to read the labels closely :)

    • I randomly knew that Doritos has MSG in them because one of my friends is deathly allergic to MSG. And she always complains that she can’t have Doritos, among other things.

      I feel like Stevia is okay, but I honestly haven’t looked it up enough to know?
      Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections recently posted…New England Road Trip: Days 3 & 4My Profile

  4. Melissa, thank you SO much for this!! I love it! I try my best to keep processed out of my diet, it makes me feel SO much better!
    Marissa @Barefoot Colorado recently posted…Vanilla Almond Protein PancakesMy Profile

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