In the pursuit of eating a cleaner and healthier diet, you may be one of the people who tend to stay away from food items that have ‘numbers’ or long ‘chemical-sounding’ names (and if you can pronounce them hats off to you as they often leave us stumped) on the ingredient lists.
Still, did you know even without the long names many companies have ‘nasties’ hiding in plain sight... 👀
How can you tell if these ingredients any good for you? 🤔
What ingredients should you be wary of? 🧐
We’ve unpacked some of the common ingredients we keep reading on the back of packets atm; some are often found in ‘healthier’ snacks and can have potential side effects.
What Exactly Are You Eating? 6 Ingredients to Potentially Avoid
These days you need a PhD to read the ingredient list on some products, often in the health food aisle and sadly it seems, especially if they claim to be ‘better for you’ - you may see strange names such as silicon dioxide (sand), arsenic, gelatin and rennet. While not all additives are necessarily harmful, especially as Australia’s food standards stipulate safety regulations regarding what ingredients should be included, we believe it is best to be informed about what you are eating.
If you’re a vegan, a health-conscious eater, or heck just an ordinary joe blow that wants to understand what they are eating, it pays to do a little research to make it easier to pick items that align with your diet preferences.
1. Confectioner’s Glaze (E904)
Natural colouring can include a glazing agent (E904) which is Shellac, a secretion from the lac bug. After fertilisation, the female lac bug takes up residence in a tree and secretes a layer of Shellac over her body. Fascinating, right? But do you want to be consuming bugs with your health balls?
Here are some quick facts to help you decide:
- Shellac is primarily used as a wood sealer and finisher.
- Shellac is an animal product so isn’t suitable for vegans.
- Pure Shellac is halal but if it’s mixed with alcohol to dissolve it, it becomes haram.
It’s not unusual to find maltodextrin listed on most food labels food manufacturers generally use Maltodextrin as a cheap thickener or filler. In small quantities, maltodextrin is safe but because it’s a heavily processed carbohydrate it has a high glycaemic index which can cause your blood sugar to spike (think dry mouth, needing to pee frequently, blurred vision)
Other disadvantages of eating foods that contain maltodextrin include:
- Poor gut health: Maltodextrin consumption reduces the growth of probiotics.
- Increases allergies: Some people experience allergic reactions such as skin rashes, unpleasant cramping or bloating when eating this ingredient.
- Zero nutrients: It adds no nutritional value to food products.
A 2012 study published in PLoS ONE suggests that consumption of maltodextrin can alter gut bacteria composition making you more susceptible to disease. It can suppress the growth of probiotics in your digestive system, which are important for immune system function.
Erythritol has been marketed as a healthy, low-calorie sweetener since the early 1990s. Found naturally in many food items (hurrah! That means it’s good for you right?). It has no effect on insulin or glucose levels, making it an attractive alternative for diabetics looking for a sugar substitute.
Sadly, it’s not all rainbows and unicorns when it comes to Erythritol; consuming too much can lead to gas, nausea and bloating and it has a laxative effect if taken in large quantities. Furthermore, have shown that elevated levels of this substance increased the risk of cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes.
4. Xylitol and Stevia
Xylitol is a sugar alcohol found in plants. Consumers looking for a healthier alternative to sugar often turn to xylitol as a sweetener. The same applies to stevia which can be found on supermarket shelves and in various food items.
Natural sweeteners such as xylitol and stevia aren’t the golden goose either, they don’t break down easily in the small intestine, instead bacteria in the colon break down xylitol and stevia; and if consumed in large quantities can cause stomach aches, nausea, bloating, flatulence and halitosis. People who are sensitive to these ingredients or who have gut insensitivities should avoid them altogether.
There are many sources of Glycerin, with animal fat or tallow being one of the most common types. Glycerin contains slightly more calories than sugar and is only about 60% as sweet. Manufacturers often add more Glycerin to food products for extra sweetness without having to put ‘sugar’ on their ingredient list! However, consuming too much of this ingredient results in a laxative effect.
Consuming Glycerin doesn’t reduce calories as believed by dieters avoiding sugar! It’s also not nutritious, adding little value to your healthy eating plan. Rather stick to whole food and avoid sweeteners that have been processed anyway!
Fun fact: Glycerin is the magic liquid that helps TV Soap actors cry on cue. Just a small drop of this sweet, colourless liquid when applied to the eyes is an instant tearjerker... 😭
Choose a healthier sweet alternative from our range of goodies!
Knowing and understanding what you’re eating gives you better control over your health and makes it easier to shop wisely. While avoiding “numbers” on the ingredient list is a good place to start, looking out for strange names and understanding them is equally important.