Trade foods with scary ingredients linked to serious health risks for tasty, additive-free products.
Mac and Cheese
Banned Ingredients: Coloring agents yellow 5 and yellow 6
The "cheesy" neon-orange color in most store-bought mac and cheese is a result of dangerous dyes made from coal tar, which is also used to seal-coat and preserve products like shiny industrial floors as well as to kill bugs in lice shampoo. Studies have linked artificial food coloring to allergies, ADHD, and cancer in animals, according to the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
Eat instead: Pick an organic brand, which means no added artificial colors, no dairy from cows treated with synthetic hormones, and no genetically modified ingredients. Even better, look for one that’s gluten- and wheat-free, such as Annie’s Homegrown Gluten-Free Rice Pasta Shells and White Cheddar, since ditching these may save you from experiencing insulin level spikes and overeating an extra 400 calories per day.
Banned Ingredients: Coloring agents blue 1 and blue 2
Similar to yellow 5 and 6, these unnatural highlighter hues offer a rainbow of health risks, including messing with the cognitive function of hyperactive kids, who performed poorly on tests that measured their ability to recall images, according to a U.S. study published in the journal Science.
Eat instead: Water is your best friend during short workouts. For longer activities, you may want to supplement your H2O intake with the new performance drink darling: natural coconut water. It's a good source of electrolytes such as potassium and magnesium. We like Vita Coco Pure Coconut Water and Harmless Harvest 100% Raw Coconut Water.
It was the potato chip industry's answer to their high-fat problem. Too bad making a light chip created a bigger problem: spending too much time in the bathroom. To top that off, these fat-free snacks may also make you fat. In a 2011 Purdue University study, rats fed foods containing Olean ate more overall and gained more weight than those fed a high-fat diet including regular, full-fat chips.
Eat instead: Snack on organic chips (non-organic spuds often carry a ton of pesticide residue) that have been cooked in coconut oil instead of GMO vegetable oils such as corn or soybean, a source of inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids, such as Jackson's Honest Potato Chips.
This food additive, which works as an emulsifier in beverages, features bromine, the same ingredient used with some flame retardants in furniture and plastics. Sounds gross, but what's worse is the harm: In addition to the health risks mentioned in our list of 13 banned foods still allowed in the U.S., BVO may also cause build-up in fatty tissues and create reproductive and behavioral problems.
Eat instead: If you're looking to kick your cola habit, reach for sparkling water and add a lime or lemon wedge. When only soda will do, buy one sweetened with all-natural stevia that doesn’t contain phosphoric acid, an ingredient usually added to keep bubbles fresh but that has been shown to block calcium absorption. The new Honest Fizz line quenches thirst without the bitter aftertaste that some stevia-sweetened drinks have.
A key bulking ingredient, potassium bromate speeds up the bread-making process and cuts costs for manufacturers—and may be linked to kidney and nervous system disorders and gastrointestinal discomfort.
Eat instead: Organic lettuce leaves are the new wrap stars, as this salmon lettuce wrap proves. They're just as convenient for grab-and-go sandwiches and a helluva lot lower-cal than bread.
Boxed Pasta Mixes
Banned Ingredient: Azodicarbonamide
This hard-to-pronounce chemical has been linked to asthma and is banned in Singapore, Australia, the UK, and most European countries. If American food producers exercised a little more patience and just waited one week for wheat to whiten naturally on its own instead of adding this to fast-track flour’s bleaching process, we’d have no worries.
Eat instead: Gluten-free and wheat-free is the way to go, then add your own pasta sauce (basic tomato doesn't take that much time!). Tinkyada Organic Brown Rice Pasta is Kosher-certified, to boot.
Cereal Snack Mixes
Banned Ingredients: BHA and BHT
Both of these preservatives have been found to increase the risk of cancer in animals, and BHA is “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. You're also getting heart-unfriendly trans-fats disguised under the new name "monoglycerides."
Eat instead: When it’s party time, an organic mix will protect you from BHA and BHT, and then check the ingredients list to be sure it’s free of trans fat and gluten. Guests will enjoy the crunch of Mary’s Gone Crackers Sticks & Twigs Pretzels Curry, which are also Kosher.
Non-organic yogurts generally come from dairy cows that have been given growth hormones rBGH and rBST to boost milk product. Unfortunately these also boost the level of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), which has been tied to breast, colon, and prostate cancers in some human studies. Many yogurts also contain artificial food colorings and sugar substitutes or high-fructose corn syrup and have little protein, making them less satisfying.
Eat instead: Organic Greek yogurts, such as Stonyfields Oikos (recently renamed Stonyfield Greek), mean no hormones plus more filling protein and less carbs than most non-organic yogurts. For natural added sweetness, top with fresh organic berries to avoid the dangerous pesticide residues or GMOs found in non-organic fruit.
Whole Conventional Grocery Store Chicken
Banned Ingredient: Arsenic (found in chicken feed)
In exchange for pinker, plumper poultry, which appears fresher, you get exposure to this cancer-causing toxin. Traces of an inactive ingredient used in Prozac may also be in some caged chickens' systems (a "solution" to helping them deal with poor living conditions), according to a 2012 Johns Hopkins University study that tested poultry from six states and China. But that is not the worst of it: Scientists also found a broad-spectrum class of antibiotics, which are used to reduce infections and boost bird growth. Unfortunately indirectly consuming these drugs can cause antibiotic-resistant infections in humans.
Eat instead: Pasture-raised, organic poultry saves you from arsenic and GMOs since these birds are fed a traditional chicken diet. If you can, add "air-chilled" to your list of must-haves: Chicken such as Bell & Evans' Air-Chilled Poultry aren't tossed into a community-style chlorine bath where they can pick up bacteria and absorb extra water, which dilutes flavor and changes the weight and, therefore, price per pound.
For more information on how to purchase high-quality rich foods in every aisle from dairy to desserts and to avoid more than 150 poor food ingredients, check out Rich Food, Poor Food.
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Although the FDA gives the green light on some frightening food additives, including these 13 banned foods still allowed in the U.S., that doesn't mean it's starve or move to Singapore, where apparently they take their food safety very seriously. Nutrition experts Mira and Jayson Calton, Ph.D., the authors of Rich Food, Poor Food, came up with this grocery list to help you avoid the toxic items and still enjoy your favorite foods. Bon appetit in good conscience and good health!
Check out the slideshow above to find out which foods may be have toxic ingredients.