Everyone from dietitians to health food fanatics to school children can tell you that sugary sodas, diet or regular, are not a wise decision from a nutrition standpoint. The war on the carbonated concoctions has successfully sounded its message across America, and to prove their point, health experts point to the chemicals you find on the back of the bottle. But the soda industry isn’t the only one to blame for loading products full of sugar and chemicals: A lot of processed (and some unprocessed) foods pose health concerns on par with the fizzing beverages.
One surefire way to get rid of chemicals is to give up processed foods entirely. Unprocessed October was started four years ago, when food blogger Andrew Wilder decided to go an entire month without eating processed foods. It was an experiment Wilder embarked on to remove unnecessary sugars, fats, and preservatives from his diet. Check out the following seven chemically charged offenders to see what unwanted additives might be lurking in your diet.
1. Processed Meats: Chicken Nuggets
The outrage of non-chicken chicken McNuggets is as ubiquitous as the dangers of soda, but if you think avoiding McDonald’s has you off the hook, think again. A study conducted by the National Journal of Medicine concluded that randomly sampled chicken from two national chains was mostly composed of chicken fat, along with “epithelium, bone, nerve, and connective tissue.” Even worse, that chicken can now be processed in China, without Food and Drug Administration regulation of the processing plant. In August, Congress ended the Bush-era ban keeping processed chickens from flying the Chinese coop to the U.S. market. Even if you manage to avoid that, Dana Angelo White, a registered dietitian, says that even whole breast-meat options contain oils and preservatives.
2. Microwave Popcorn
A longtime movie staple, the problem here doesn’t originate with the popcorn but with the bag. Chemicals embedded in the lining, like perfluorooctanoic acid, which is linked to infertility, latch on to the popcorn and then you. Environmental Working Group senior scientist Olga Naidenko said that this chemical and other compounds ”stay in your body for years and accumulate there.”
The chemicals have been known to cause liver, testicular, and pancreatic cancer in lab animals, and researchers fear high levels of consumption by humans may yield the same result.
3. Stick Margarine
Stick margarine differs from tub margarine because it normally has more trans fat. Mayo Clinic nutritionist Jennifer K. Nelson says this is a problem because it increases the risk of heart disease, raises blood cholesterol levels, and manages to lower good cholesterol, too. Registered dietitian Kari Hartel adds a greater risk of stroke and Type 2 diabetes to the list of health problems associated with margarine.
4. Canned Tomatoes
Again, the issue experts raise with this isn’t the content but the container. University of Missouri-Columbia professor Dr. Frederick vom Saal told MSN that the cans themselves contain bisphenol-A, or BPA. BPA has been linked to heart disease, diabetes, and obesity. ”You can get 50 micrograms of BPA per liter out of a tomato can,” Saal said, “and that’s a level that is going to impact people, particularly the young,”
5. Salad Dressing
Both fat-free and regular salad dressings can irk those in the food industry. White , the dietitian, avoids them because of unnecessarily added sugars and preservatives, especially since dressings can be made at home, rather than purchased. Dressings — especially the low-fat kind — will often also contain high-fructose corn syrup, the same ingredient decried in sodas.
In 2010, researchers at Princeton found that consuming high fructose corn syrup may cause weight gain at a higher rate than table sugar and that it increases the amount of fat bodies will store.
6. Energy, Protein, or Granola Bars
Register dietitian Sari Greaves says most products in this market ”are nothing more than glorified candy bars”; they “can be packed with enriched white flour, high fructose corn syrup, and other sweeteners.” Plus, since people often eat them in addition to a meal instead of a replacement, these bars can pack several hundred additional calories onto a person’s diet per day, in addition to a host of unusual chemicals.
7. Non-organic apples
Apples are not processed in the same way the foods above are, but they still contain plenty of chemicals to make you think twice about this fruit — or perhaps want to take a power washer to it. Apples consistently top the Environmental Working Group’s Dirty Dozen list, meaning they test the highest for rates of residual pesticides like Paraquat, used under the brand names Gramoxone by Syngenta. It is one of the most commonly used herbicides in the world, even though Paraquat poisoning poses serious health risks — whether ingested or inhaled — including liver, kidney, and heart failure, according to the Centers for Disease Control.