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Top 10 Processed Foods to Avoid

Top Processed Foods to Avoid
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You’ve probably eaten at least one (if not all) of these foods as a a broke college student/recent grad, so we thought it was a good idea to inform you of the toxic ingredients in the processed foods that you may frequent. Good thing Healthy Way To Cook has you covered with this great list!


As much as we wish we could have homegrown, whole food meals each day, it’s just more practical to buy packaged versions of certain foods. There’s nothing wrong with purchasing groceries that have been minimally processed–as long as you know what’s going into them. Many factory-produced food items contain confusing, impossible-to-pronounce ingredients that are actually harmful to your health. Even things that claim to have “natural” flavorings can be deceiving, so make sure you keep an eye out for these potentially hazardous processed foods.

1. Boxed macaroni & cheese. 

Ever wonder what gives the “cheese” powder in boxed mac & cheese its neon orange color? That’s food dye Yellow #5 and #6. Guess what they’re made of? Oh, just a little bit of coal tar. Homemade cheese sauce for your pasta is always your best option, but if you’re in a pinch and want the boxed kind, go for an organic brand like Annie’s.

2. Sports drinks. 

Like mac & cheese, those sugar-packed sports drinks you’re guzzling contain artificial coloring. While frequently used dyes Blue #1 and #2 might not be made of tar, they’re far from innocuous: these coloring agents have been linked to poor focus and cognitive function problems. Water is the best thirst quencher, but if you need to replace electrolytes, do it naturally by drinking milk or eating potassium/magnesium-rich fruits and veggies.

3. Fast food ground beef.

We won’t lie to you and pretend we’ve never gone on a late-night Taco Bell run, but you can bet we’ll never eat there again. Ground beef (if that’s even really beef) fast food items like tacos, burritos, and chili use silicon dioxide, often in the form of quartz or sand, as an anti-caking agent. It’s best to avoid those joints altogether, but if you find yourself at the drive thru, stick with grilled chicken.

4. Foods with berry flavorings.

This one is especially important for the vegans/vegetarians: did you know that castoreum, an extract from the glands of beavers, is used as an enhancer for “natural” berry flavorings? It might appear in berry candies, juices, sorbets or ice creams. Check out the ingredient list before you buy a product, or just make your own version with fresh or frozen berries that have no added sugar.

5. Citrus flavored soda.

Lemon-lime and orange sodas have brominated vegetable oil (BVO). Vegetable oil might not sound so bad, but the “brominated” part of that means it has bromine, an ingredient in the flame retardants used in furniture and plastics. It’s also been linked to reproductive issues and behavioral problems. Just one more reason to kick your soda habit.

6. Non-organic whole rotisserie chickens.

A supermarket rotisserie chicken is a great option for a quick and easy family dinner, right? Not if the chicken had arsenic in its feed. While this isn’t true for all conventionally raised birds, it’s best to make sure your chicken ate organic feed before it reached the grocery store.

7. Jellybeans and shiny coated candies. 

Coated candies get their shine from an ingredient called ‘confectioner’s glaze’. The good news is it’s not made from sugar. However, it is made from the secretions of the lac bug (its technical name is shellac, like the nail polish). Know where else you can find shellac?  Wax finishers and sealants. Yummy.

8. Shredded cheese.

We had no idea that cellulose (wood pulp) was in certain dairy products like shredded cheese until we were doing research for this article. It’s used to keep the cheese shreds from clumping together, and can also be found in other foods as a thickener. The extra time it takes to grate a block of cheese is definitely worth it to avoid eating wood pulp.

9. Highly processed breads.

This mainly applies to fast food sandwich breads and hamburger buns, but certain breads contain a whole slew of chemical compounds like ammonium sulfate (found in fertilizers and heavy-duty cleaners) and azodicarbonamide (used in plastics) to improve texture, color and shelf life. Some breads also use a “natural” dough conditioner called L-cysteine, an amino acid found in human hair and duck feathers. While we might not have time to bake our own bread from scratch, you can usually avoid these ingredients by purchasing whole grain breads.

10. Fat-free potato chips.

While the olestra in fat-free chips isn’t technically toxic, it does put your digestive system into overdrive and send you to the bathroom for a little bit longer than you’d like. If you need a crunchy chip fix, make them yourself by cutting potatoes with a mandolin slicer and baking them with a little bit of oil and salt.

For more processed foods to avoid, visit Shape and The Huffington Post.


Featured photo credit: grimace98 via photopin cc




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Nicole is a recent NYU graduate putting her Media, Culture & Communication major and Food Studies minor to good use by writing for Healthy Way to Cook. She loves all things healthy (and a few not-so-healthy things like cheesecake and Chipotle chicken burrito bowls) and spends an inordinate amount of her free time dancing, watching/appearing in musicals, and driving around her home state of New Jersey with her ridiculous and perfect best friends.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Nicole,
    Thanks for highlighting these. I just wish that the manufacturers would stop messing with food and trying to make it look perfect, but at the same time putting rubbish into them. It is always good to know what is in the food we eat. I for one will stop eating the things you have highlighted here

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