4 Sneaky Ingredients in Your Food

Medically Reviewed by Kathleen M. Zelman, MPH, RD, LD on June 15, 2020

You already know that if “sugar” or “salt” is listed first on a nutrition label, you’ll want to rethink your food choice. However, sugar and salt are known by many other names -- and they aren’t the only things to avoid when you’re watching your blood pressure. Find out which sneaky ingredients to steer clear of with this quick guide.

1. The Culprit: Sugar in Disguise

Why It’s Sneaky: Sugar, in general, will add calories with little to no nutritional value. But the white stuff is also known by several other names, like agave, sucrose, high fructose corn syrup, honey, molasses, brown sugar, turbinado, raw sugar, maple syrup, date sugar, malt syrup, pancake syrup, fruit juice concentrates and dextrose.

The Smart Solution: Do the math. Remember that 4 to 5 grams of sugar is equal to a teaspoon. The American Heart Association recommends most adult women don’t go over 6 teaspoons (20 grams) a day, and adult men 9 teaspoons, or 36 grams. For comparison, a can of soda can have up to 40 grams, or about 10 teaspoons of sugar.

2. The Culprit: Nitrates

Why It’s Sneaky: Sodium nitrate is most commonly used as a preservative for salty, processed meats like bacon and deli selections. Studies have shown that too much of these ingredients can increase your risk of heart disease and cancer. 

The Smart Solution: Choose lean, fresh meats and seafood over processed as much as possible.

3. The Culprit: Salt

Why It’s Sneaky: Maybe you’ve quit adding salt from the shaker every day. But salt creeps up in foods where you might least expect it, under names like sodium phosphate, monosodium glutamate (MSG), and trisodium phosphate.

The Smart Solution: Cut back on frozen dinners -- some can have a day’s worth of salt in just one entree -- canned soups, and processed foods. Go easy on condiments, premade marinades, and sauces, which can all be high in sodium.

4. The Culprit: Partially Hydrogenated Oil (Trans Fat)

Why It’s Sneaky:Trans fats sound innocent enough, but they are associated with heart disease and insulin resistance. Studies have shown that of all dietary fats, trans fats are the most dangerous, particularly if you’re overweight.

The Smart Solution: If you see foods that say ""partially hydrogenated oil," you’ve found trans fat. Don’t eat them. Even food labeled “0 trans fats” can have up to half a gram. So it’s best to know where they lurk, and avoid them. The worst offenders are no surprise: processed snacks like crackers, chips, and cookies are full of them, as are fried foods and other foods using vegetable shortenings and margarine.

WebMD Medical Reference



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