Grocery store isles are filled with foods that advertise them as missing whatever is currently being demonized. A trip down almost any aisle will uncover foods that are "gluten-free," "low in trans fat," "contains no high fructose corn syrup," or "low in sodium." It's no wonder these four ingredients have developed a bad reputation. While some deserve this reputation, others don't. What is the truth about these commonly despised parts of your food?
Read on to find out.
A protein found in grains like wheat, rye, barley, and triticale (a mix of wheat and rye), gluten shows up in countless foods from bread to snack food to salad dressing to candy. There is no reason to avoid this grain protein unless you have celiac disease. Individuals with this rare disease cannot eat gluten since their immune system attacks it as a foreign invader, harming the small intestine and causing digestion problems that inhibit the absorption of valuable nutrients. Therefore, foods advertised as "gluten-free" should only appeal to people with celiac disease.
Unfortunately, a gluten-free diet can be difficult to maintain, as so many foods contain this protein. It takes creativity and patience to get the nutrition you need without the foods that contain gluten. Thankfully, the increasing amount of specially marked "gluten-free" foods are making it easier for those living with celiac disease to get the nutrition they need.
Trans fats, on the other hand, should be avoided by anyone and everyone. A common ingredient in many baked and fried foods, trans fat is not a natural fat, but one that is man-made from processed vegetable oil. While this fat may make foods taste better and last longer, it comes with a number of health risks. Trans fats raise your LDL or "bad" cholesterol level and therefore increase your risk of developing heart disease. But that's not all. Trans fat also works against your HDL or "good" cholesterol level, which further increases your risk for heart disease.
Health experts recommend limiting your daily amount of trans fat to a meager 2 grams. But beware of food labeled as "trans-fat-free" or containing "0 grams-trans-fat." This label means there is less than .5 grams in each serving. Eat a few servings of these foods and you're over the limit in no time.
One of the most common culprits is microwave popcorn. You read right. Microwave popcorn can be bad for you, as it can contain up to 6 grams of trans fat per serving. Prefer frozen beef pot pie? You'll get your total daily allotment of trans fat in one serving.
The most common sweetener in beverages and processed foods, high fructose corn syrup has developed a bad reputation. However, research has shown mixed results concerning the possible negative health effects of this refined sweetener. Though chemically similar to regular table sugar, the fact that high fructose corn syrup is processed is what raises concern for health professionals. It is known that added sugars and sweeteners, such as high fructose corn syrup, are to blame for health problems such as obesity, dental cavities, high triglyceride levels, and poor nutrition.
What seems in the air is whether high fructose corn syrup is more likely to lead to these health issues to sugar. Regardless, keep your sweet tooth under control, whether you go for high fructose corn syrup or good old sugar.
A forth ingredient with a bad rap is salt or sodium. While your body needs a certain amount of sodium for daily functioning, most people easily consume twice as much as they need. The end result? High blood pressure and an increased risk for cardiovascular disease. Since excess salt intake is more likely to have negative health consequences for individuals with high blood pressure, over the age of 40, and African-Americans, these folks should be particularly careful to limit their sodium intake.
And avoiding using the saltshaker probably isn't enough to make a difference since most of your sodium comes from restaurants and processed foods. The best way to reduce your salt intake is to prepare your meals at home while steering clear of certain ingredients that contain high levels of salt.