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It’s called “junk food” for a reason.

And yes, you know it’s bad for you, and you have likely had a nibble fairly recently. But there’s something to be said for a yearly reminder, because even though we know, we often don’t act. 

“Cheat days” can turn into “cheat weeks” or “cheat months” before you even realize you’re doing it, and while it is super-human to indulge and treat yourself, it doesn’t hurt to be a little smarter about what you’re eating.

No, we’re not going to advise you to snack on a celery stalk seven days a week. But there are seven major red flags when buying processed foods, and it’s a good time as any to brush up on them:

Cola

Glucose-Fructose

Glucose-Fructose is used in so many things, but it’s most commonly consumed in sugary drinks. That’s because it’s a cheap sugar substitute, and there’s a bounty of it because it’s made from corn. And where does that Glucose-Fructose go when you ingest it? Directly to your liver, where it becomes fat. Hello, potential heart disease, obesity, diabetes and more! (Seriously, you’re going to want to aim to remove this from your diet entirely this year.)

Artificial Flavours

Artificial Flavours

This means so much, but says so little. “Artificial flavours” is a catchall for a bunch of different chemicals (more than 100, to be exact) that go into your food. If it’s a chemical, it should be named, right? Well, according to the book Label Lessonsthese additives contribute to allergies and have been linked to behavioural changes. So, yes, they should be named (but also, just not used.)

preservatives

Preservatives

Look for THBQ, Polysorbates (60, 65 and 80), BHT/BHA, Nitrates/Nitrites, Sodium Benzoate and Sulfites. Consuming these preservatives might give way to a wide range of potential side-effects: nausea, vomiting, infertility, liver and kidney problems, and cancer.

Artificial Colours

Artificial Colours

There is a history of documentation that makes a connection between ADHD/ADD and artificial colours. In addition to worsening symptoms associated with attention deficit-vulnerable people, these colours have also been linked to allergies and hyperactivity in children. Some examples of these unnatural hues include Blue No. 1 (Brilliant Blue FCF), Blue No. 2 (Indigotine), Green No. 3 (Fast Green FCF), Red No. 3 (Erythrosine), Red No. 40 (Allura Red AC), Yellow No. 5 (Tantrazine) and Yellow No. 6 (Sunset Yellow FCF).

sweetener

Artificial Sweeteners

Aspartame, Sucralose, Neotame, Saccharin and Acesulfame Potassium are all part of this sweet family. Aspartame is known to induce headaches, convulsions and memory loss, while Acesulfame Potassium has caused cancer in animal subjects. There’s also corn syrup, hydrogenated starch hydrosylate, neohesperidine dihydrochalcone and sugar alcohols like erythritol, glucitol/sorbitol, lactitol, maltitol, isomalt and glycerol/glycerin. Basically, there are a lot of different ways to replace sugar, and barely enough information out there to assess their benefits in the long-term. Maybe try natural honey?

msg

MSG

MSG is pegged as a “flavour enhancher,” but it’s also best avoided. According to research by the Mayo Clinic, the following symptoms are the most oft-cited by those who consume MSG:

  • Headache
  • Flushing
  • Sweating
  • Facial pressure or tightness
  • Numbness, tingling or burning in the face, neck and other areas
  • Rapid, fluttering heartbeats (heart palpitations)
  • Chest pain
  • Nausea
  • Weakness
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Trans Fats

If you don’t already know, trans fats are not good for you. They’re labelled as “shortening,” “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated” in any list of ingredients. They’re on the no-good list because of their likelihood to cause cancer, most fatal diseases and Type-2 diabetes.