By Jenny Everett, SELF magazine
Over the last couple of years, food additives such as high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats have received a major public health smackdown. Studies have recently indicated that cancer cells feed on HFCS and some states and counties have banned trans fats (Amen!).
But with all of the non-perishable faux foods (from veggie burgers to frozen yogurt to trans fat-free crackers) still lining store shelves, it's clear that sketchy chemical-laden ingredients are constantly sneaking into our shopping cart and, ultimately, our bodies.
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"I think that you always have to be on guard against the 'health halo' effect, where the fact that something is gluten-free, or low-fat, or organic, or whatever the manufacturer has put in capital letters on the front of the package, blinds you to the fact that it's high in sodium, or sugar, or calories, or undesirable ingredients," says Monica Reinagel, M.S., a nutritionist, chef, and blogger for our new sister site, Nutrition Data.
Skeptical consumers that we are, we asked Reinagel what new ingredient we should consider the next "high-fructose corn syrup" or "trans fat"--and avoid as though it's "The Situation" at a bar.
Her immediate nomination: Interesterified fat.
Interesterified fat is a new ingredient that more manufacturers and restaurants may be using as they move away from hydrogenated oils. This way they can say "Zero trans fats" and people think great, it's healthy. Not so much.
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"Interesterification is a chemical process which converts liquid oils to solid fats by artificially rearranging the molecules," Reinagel explained on her Nutrition Diva podcast (check them out: great stuff!). "Haven't we been here before? In fact we have. Interesterified fats appear to have the same doubly negative effect on cholesterol levels as trans fats. To add insult to injury, they may also increase blood sugar levels."
So, how do you avoid this new food foe? Foods that used to contain hydrogenated oils are the prime suspects, according to Reinagel--things that now boast that they're "Trans fat free!" on the front of the box. Think: Shortening, margarine, baked goods, cookies, crackers, frozen convenience foods and so on.
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While there aren't strict labeling requirements, they may be listed as interesterified oils or as"high stearate" or "stearic rich" oils. We'll be on the lookout!
How carefully do you read labels on food items that are advertised as being "healthy"? Do additives creep you out?
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Photo Credit: Condé Nast Digital Studio