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I really love the conversation that has sparked with readers about nutrition. After sharing this post about sugar and what it really means, so many have reached out wanting more tips! Feel free to join our daily tips on Snapchat (username alexisroch) or Instagram!
So today’s chemistry hacks for health post is all about what’s REALLY in healthy snacks?
Obviously, this is a very lengthy subject because there are thousands of items on the market today. We lived in a packaged, quick world compared to 50 or 60 years ago. Even items you think are healthy, probably contain chemicals that are hindering your health.
The coolest thing about being a chemist, is learning, researching, and understanding chemicals especially those found in food.
I really got deep into this subject in college when I studied biochemistry. The intricacies of the body and our nutritional needs were fascinating.
Since my husband and I both suffer from auto-immune diseases, researching chemicals in food has been a big part of my life for 10 years.
I am not a nutritionist, but I am a chemist, so all these tips are about what chemicals to watch out for and how to determine what’s in your healthy snacks.
What’s really in my healthy snacks?
Most packaged foods have a combination of a binder (milk products or gums), a sweetener, a flour, a preservative, and anything else added for flavor.
Many of these ingredients are highly processed or completely fake.
If you are eating a packaged snack with more than 5-6 ingredients listed, odds are many are unnecessary and processed.
Chemist tips on health snacks:
So, you might be wondering how you can possibly know what is good to eat? Again, there are thousands of terms, products, and ingredients that can be added to your snacks.
Since it can be overwhelming, let’s start with the basics. Our Chemistry Hacks series is all about the easiest way to understand and take action, so these are things you can start avoiding today. We will have another post on this subject soon that will have even more things to avoid.
Here are some things to avoid now!
This is going to primarily be in lunch meats, bacon, and other meats, but it can also be found in other packaged foods. It is a preservative which does a good job at keeping things from going bad, but it can be a carcinogen in your body. As a chemist, it is something I try to avoid at all costs.
I studied nitrates in depth in college. On its own, nitrate isn’t necessarily bad, but once ingested in the body it can form nitrosamines which is a potential cancer risk. However, things like spinach and celery also contain nitrates, but these are naturally occurring, so they are totally safe in the body. It’s the added nitrates/nitrites that are bad news.
These chemicals are added to meats to prolong their life and give it a better color, so you will most likely see these chemicals on meat packages or anything heavily salted.
BHA and BHT
Scientifically known as, Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT). These are also used as preservatives. If you check labels to certain packaged foods like, chips, cereals, candy and even gum, you may see these two chemicals listed. They are added to foods to keep them fresh and deter any color changing.
Chemistry wise, these are pretty powerful chemicals that allow food to stay safe and fresh from spoiling. Again, due to their chemical structure, they may contribute to carcinogenicity (cancer risk). The picture below is from a box of corn flakes!
Additives and Binders
I still don’t understand why packaged foods need dye? It is so unnecessary, and all just for a little color.
Many food dyes have already been banned by the FDA, but not all of them. When I studied biochemistry (chemistry of the body), I read a case study on food dyes. I was blown away by how complex the chemical structure was since it was completely synthetic.
Food dyes show up on labels like Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, Yellow 6, and so on. These chemicals are added to heavily processed foods like canned cherries, cereals and even pet food!
Remember this post I did on soy sauce? Soy is a very popular ingredient for dairy-free eating. Like I mentioned in the post, soy has been researched for a long time, and it has been known to disrupt hormone health. Many “healthy” snacks contain soy protein, soy binders, and other soy products. It can even say it is organic.
I personally avoid soy whenever possible.
This is a big one in breads. It is used to increase the volume of things like rolls, loaves of bread or anything containing white flour. Many countries have actually outlawed this chemical, but always check your bread labels!
Other Packaging Tips
You might check your labels and not see any of the above items listed, but there could be numerous other additives.
- Remember to check the sugar source. We have a detailed post about sugar you can read here. There are many hidden sugar sources that make their way into packaged foods.
- Try to go with labels that say organic AND non-gmo. Non-gmo is important food packaged foods because it will contain no genetically modified organisms.
- Choose things with a very small ingredient list. The smaller the list, the possibility of added chemicals.
Coming up next, we will have a part two of this post about reading labels and determining what chemicals are actually in your food!