The Nasty Chemicals In 6 Of Your Beloved Snack Foods
I don’t think a single one of you reading this right now needs me to tell you that processed food is bad for you.
But what if you don’t know what you’re eating is bad for you? If you’re not aware of nutrition in depth, you may be eating snack foods that contain nasty, harmful chemicals.
Macronutrients and calories are not all that determine the health level of your food. A HUGE part of it – especially in the US – is determined by the chemicals present.
As a chemical engineer, I have an extensive knowledge of chemicals (duh). I love to turn over junk food and read the ingredients list. This is especially amusing (yet depressing) when the packaging claims that its contents are somewhere on the health spectrum.
What I find never fails to amaze me. Chemicals that screw with your hormones. Ones that have been linked to causing cancer. Some even deplete your immunity.
So why do we keep eating junk food? Why would any of us intentionally sabotage our health and therefore happiness? I’ll tell you why.
It’s easy to come by, it’s all around us, it tastes great, we think it’s not that bad, and we are addicted to it.
In this article, I’ve divulged the truth about some of the most popular snack foods, and also included some substitute snack recommendations.
A general rule is to not eat something with a lengthy list of chemicals that you cannot pronounce. 1 or 2, it’s probably fine, but 5+, and you’re putting your body in harm’s way. Ready to learn? Let’s dive in.
I love almond butter & apple slices. Comment below your favorite healthy snack – others need your creative ideas!
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1 – Microwave Popcorn | Diacetyl
I hear from friends sometimes that popcorn is healthy – and let me tell you, they’re not wrong. Plain popcorn comes in at only 30 calories per cup. It’s a low calorie snack to help to fill you up when you’ve got the munchies.
What’s the difference then? The butter is not actually butter.
The irresistible smell that emanates from your microwave is the butter flavoring chemicals like diacetyl and pentanedione. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) studies in a microwave popcorn plant documented a relationship between exposure to diacetyl vapor and having abnormal lung function. No bueno.
What to eat instead: I’m obsessed with rice cakes. These are my favorite – just 2 ingredients: whole grain brown rice and salt! They come in at 35 calories per serving, and they’re gluten free.
2 – McDonald’s Chicken Nuggets | Dimethylpolysiloaxane
If you’re in a crunch and need food fast, let me tell you, avoiding restaurants like McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s, etc., at all costs is a must.
I used to think – back in my meat eating days – that chicken nuggets were the least harmful item on the fast food menu. I was so, so wrong. McNuggets are actually the most problematical because of how many chemicals they have.
On the top of the long nasty chemical list are dimethylpolysiloxane – an anti-foaming agent used yoga mats – and propylene glycol – an antifreeze ingredient. In your nuggets? Unfortunately, yes.
What’s more is the disgusting, inhumane conditions that the chickens who turn into nuggets live in. Read more about that here.
What to eat instead: Go to Chipotle instead. The price point will not be that different. Chipotle has won high marks for its commitment to organics, hormone – and antibiotic-free meats, and produce sourced from local suppliers.
3 – Soft Drinks | Orthophosphoric Acid + Acesulfame Potassium
The name itself seems so unharmful. Below are 2 of the most harmful chemicals in soft drinks:
Orthophosphoric Acid – This causes skin and eye irritation, and can interfere with your body’s ability to absorb calcium, causing osteoporosis.
Acesulfame Potassium, and it aggravates the heart, vascular system, and nervous system. It is especially bad for children and pregnant women.
And did I mention the copious amounts of sugar? Sugar is an incredibly addictive substance – a leading cause of obesity, amongst other diseases, in the US.
Diet soda is not any better, as it contains aspartame – a chemical so foul, I wrote an entire post about it.
What to eat instead: I love to mix unfiltered juice with La Croix – fewer calories, no nasty chemicals.
4 – Lunch Meats | Sodium Nitrite
If you eat a high protein, paleo, or keto diet, then you have probably snacked on some lunch meats before. Quick, easy protein – what could be wrong with that?
Sodium nitrite, a preservative found in bacon, ham, pastrami, salami, hot dogs, and sausages, inhibits bacteria while lengthening shelf life. It also imparts the pleasing taste and color that add to these foods’ appeal.
However, during the process of cooking, nitrites combine with other chemicals to form carcinogens which many health organizations warn against. In case you didn’t know, carcinogen means cancer causing. Yikes.
What to eat instead: Try these nitrate-free, grass-fed beef jerky sticks! All the protein without the literal cancer.
5 – Yogurt | High Fructose Corn Syrup
Most low-fat and fat-free yogurts – that you think are healthy because of those deceiving titles – have high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS). Some studies have shown that HFCS inhibits leptin—the hormone responsible for telling your brain that you’re full.
That is a really great way to eat more than you actually need or originally wanted.
Many flavored yogurts on the market rich in protein and calcium – and ridiculously high in sugar. Most have at least 30 grams of sugar, while some even surpass the 50 gram mark.
Some have as much sugar as a candy bar, and others use artificial sweeteners, which may spike your insulin.
Gogurt is a no go.
What to eat instead: Plain, non-fat Greek yogurt is a much healthier alternative. In fact, 1 cup has 0 grams of fat, and 23 grams of protein. If it’s too bitter for you, adding honey or stevia will do the trick!
6 – Potato Chips | Monosodium Glutamate
Over the years, the FDA has received many anecdotal reports of adverse reactions to foods containing MSG. These reactions — known as MSG symptom complex — include:
Facial pressure or tightness
Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) sneakily goes by many names: monosodium glutamate, maltodextrin, sodium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, autolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, yeast extract… the list goes on and on.
What to eat instead: Organic potato chips – if you must have them! I ultimately recommend eating dehydrated vegetables if you need a salty, crunchy snack.