Reading the Ingredient Label: What to Look For
The ingredient list on package foods reveals some surprises.
Partially Hydrogenated Oils: Source of Trans Fats
Partially hydrogenated oils are the primary source of trans fats, which have
been shown to be potentially more harmful to arteries than saturated fat.
Foods can call themselves "trans-fat free" even if they contain up
to half a gram of trans fats per serving. Look on the ingredients list. If a
food contains partially hydrogenated oils, it contains trans fats.
"If that's an item you only eat now and then, you don't need to
worry," says Rosenbloom. "But if it's something you eat every day, it's
worth looking for a brand that doesn't have partially hydrogenated oils."
Be sure to look for balance. It doesn't help your health to choose foods loaded
with saturated fat in order to avoid a tiny amount of trans fat. The American
Heart Association recommends choosing vegetable oils and margarines with liquid
vegetable oil as the first ingredient and no more than 2 grams of
saturated fat per tablespoon, such as tub margarines, canola, corn, safflower,
soybean, sunflower, and olive oils.
Artificial Sweeteners, as in Sucralose, Saccharin, Aspartame, Acesulfame
In moderation, these ingredients can cut down on calories in foods like
yogurt and beverages. But the Center for Science in the Public Interest warns
that some artificial sweeteners can be dangerous in large quantities. Many
nutritionists say it's best to consume artificial sweeteners in moderation.
"If you drink six cans of sugar-free soda a day, it might be wise to
switch to sparkling water flavored with lemon and lime, for example," says
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate in Food
Used as a preservative in meats, these chemicals may pose a cancer risk,
although the evidence remains controversial. One recent study raised fears that
nitrites and nitrates could interact with medications to damage DNA and
increase the risk of cancer. The Center for Science in the Public Interest
recommends limiting the amount you consume by choosing nitrite-free products
Artificial Colorings in Food
These additives don't add nutrient value, and some research suggests that
some colorings may pose health dangers, according to the Center for Science in
the Public Interest. The risk is admittedly small, however, and the evidence
Artificial colorings are often found in cereals, candies, sodas, and snack
foods, especially those marketed to children. They will be noted on the
ingredients list by their color name, such as Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 40, Red
3, Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, and Orange B.