Your “healthy” diet may not be so virtuous if you’re consuming these vitamin- and mineral-sapping foods
Let’s get real: While you try your best to eat as much fresh, whole foods as possible, time, stress, money―life!―make it hard to not eat more-processed foods at least once in a while. No harm, right? Maybe not.
“Even if you're eating a well-balanced diet, you're likely consuming some packaged foods, such as cereal, yogurt, and frozen vegetables, that are going to make you deficient in at least one micronutrient,” says certified nutritionist Mira Calton, who co-authored the book Rich Food, Poor Food with husband Jayson Calton, Ph.D. “The fact is, Americans are overfed, but under-nourished.”
Luckily it’s not hard to rebalance your body’s nutrients. Just read the ingredients lists of any foods before you buy them and watch out for the following seven deal-breaker items. Ridding your diet of them will help you retain more micronutrients with every bite.
RELATED: While you're at it, check food labels for these nine ingredients nutritionists won't touch.
Aliases: Agave nectar, brown sugar, cane crystals, cane sugar, caramel, crystalline fructose, dextrose, evaporated cane juice, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, honey, invert sugar, lactose, maltose, malt syrup, molasses, raw sugar, sucrose, syrup
Found in: Sodas, dessert items, candies, frozen fruits and vegetables with sauces or marinades, sauces, soups
Robs Your Body of: Vitamin C, calcium, magnesium
“Vitamin C and glucose use the same transporters to get into cells, so they compete with one another,” Calton says. Our body wants to absorb a limited amount of fructose, adds Paul Jaminet, Ph.D., co-author of Perfect Health Diet, and "when we consume more than that, the intestine rejects it and feeds gut bacteria, leading to bacteria overgrowth." This extra bacteria tends to steal nutrients and damage intestinal cells, he says, inhibiting absorption of calcium and magnesium.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Weaker immune system and bones, poorer night's sleep, compromised cellular and nerve function, chronic inflammation
Aliases: Corn sweetener, corn syrup, corn sugar
Found in: Packaged foods, cookies, cakes, breakfast cereals, soda, frozen veggies, yogurt, juices, condiments
Robs Your Body of: Chromium, magnesium, zinc
The average American consumed 131 calories of high-fructose corn syrup daily in 2011, the most recent year that the USDA has data for. “Biologically this sweetener has the same effects on your health as sugar, including the formation of sintestinal bacterial overgrowth (SIBO),” Jaminet says. This is a common condition found in most people suffering from IBS, according to a 2010 report published the World Journal of Gastroenterol. Unlike sugar, however, HFCS doesn't trigger the “I'm full” hormone leptin in the brain, Calton adds, making it easier to overeat, which may lead to obesity.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Impaired immune function, hair loss, lowered blood sugar regulation, elevated triglycerides, discomfort, bloating, diarrhea, obesity
Found in: Jams, jellies, fruit juices, milk drinks, canned frosting, yogurt
Robs Your Body of: Beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein
Pectin may look and behave like good-for-you fiber, but it's not always working in your favor. “While this glue-like food moves through you, things get stuck to it, including essential nutrients, which inevitably leave the body with it,” Calton says. “You're simply not going to reap the full benefits of lycopene―or any of these antioxidants―if you're also consuming foods that contain added pectin.” So keep eating your apples and other foods that contain natural pectin, but skip it when it shows up on the label.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Eyesight conditions, decreased immune response, frequent viral infections
Alias Ethylenediaminetetraacetic Acid
Found in: Processed foods
Robs Your Body of: Vitamin C, magnesium, iron, calcium, zinc, potassium
Disodium EDTA excels at preserving the color and flavor of foods. “It grabs any free metals that would normally promote oxidation, therefore increasing shelf life,” Jaminet says. That’s also the reason prescribe it to people suffering from heavy metal poisoning: It clings to minerals in your digestive tract and pulls them out, leaving them to be disposed through your feces, Calton says. However, just as in relationships, clinginess is a bad thing for healthy people because when you eat foods with the preservative, it pulls out both bad and crucial minerals and disturbs gut bacteria.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Digestive issues, weaker immune system, compromised cellular and nerve function, anemia, cramps, kidney damage
Found in: Sodas, some flavored waters
Robs Your Body of: Calcium, magnesium
This chemical additive that's used to keep carbonated drinks from going flat packs a one-two punch for your bones. In addition to blocking the absorption of calcium and magnesium, it may also be dipping into your personal calcium supply in your bones. “Calcium and phosphorus like to be bonded,” Jaminet explains, “so when you take in phosphorus without calcium, it'll take whatever calcium is currently in your body. Because calcium comes hand-in-hand with magnesium, when you lose one, you lose the other.” A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition that women who drank an average of five colas a week had lower bone mass density than non-cola drinkers, possibly due to lower phosphorus-to-calcium ratios.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Poorer bone and teeth health, osteoporosis, cramping and spasms, increased food cravings
Found in: Beverages, soups, cottage cheese, some frozen desserts
Robs Your Body of: Beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein
“This fiber from guar beans, which functions as a thicker, feeds gut bacteria,” Jaminet says. And, just as with sugar, this causes an overproduction of bacteria, which compete for key nutrients. In fact, eating guar gum may reduce absorption of carotenoids by 22 percent, according to research out of the Technical University of Munich.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Eye diseases, such as macular degeneration
Aliases: Sodium sulfites, sulfer dioxide, sodium disulfite, calcium sulfites
Found in: Potatoes, white rice, shrimp, wine, beer, some medications
Robs Your Body of: Thiamine (vitamin B1)
Used to keep foods and drinks from browning or losing color and banned in fresh fruits and vegetables, “synthetic sulfites destroy thiamine, which plays a crucial role in mental clarity and heart health,” Calton says. Severe thiamine deficiency can lead to beriberi disease, a condition that's common among people who abuse alcohol but is rare in the general population. Sulfites may also potentially life-threatening food allergies in some people, especially asthmatics, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Increased Health Risks Due to Nutrient Depletion: Decreased energy levels, cataracts (Extreme conditions, such as beriberi disease, also increase the risk of complications involving the nervous system, brain, muscles, heart, and gastrointestinal system)
Want to food shop safely? Read Rich Food, Poor Food to learn how to navigate your grocery cart past more than 150 dangerous and nutrient-depleting ingredients.