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The scary ingredients hiding in your junk food — and what they mean for you and your health

INSIDER logoINSIDER 8/7/2017 (Sarah Schmalbruch)

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It's no secret that junk food is bad for you.

But what many people don't know is why it's bad for you.

We spoke to nutritionist and owner of Cultivate Healthy, Andrea Goergen, to identify the worst ingredients commonly found in junk food, and what they can do to your body.

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Hidden sugars

Goergen defines hidden sugars as "anything that turns into sugar or breaks down to sugar very quickly." Some examples include corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, honey, and agave nectar. She says to keep an eye out for any ingredients listed that end in -ose or have syrup or malt in their name.

According to Goergen, these sugars are a problem because they add calories to food, and increasing caloric intake can lead to weight gain. She advises sticking to foods that don't have any more than 5-10 grams of sugar total, depending on whether it's a meal or a snack.

Video: New Study Says Artificial Sweeteners Won't Help You lose Weight (Buzz60)


Artificial sweeteners

While Goergen does say that research is mixed on how artificial sweeteners impact health, some studies suggest that these kinds of sweeteners can have an effect on how our bodies perceive real sugar.

According to Goergen, it may be that our bodies expect calories when exposed to sweetness. With artificial sweeteners, however, our bodies receive the sweetness but not the calories. This triggers a craving for real sugar, which can lead to overeating and possibly weight gain. Goergen also says that artificial sweeteners have the potential to disrupt normal gastrointestinal bacteria.

Goergen says some of the most common artificial sweeteners to look out for include sucralose, acesulfame potassium, and saccharin.

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Partially hydrogenated oil

Partially hydrogenated oil is an indicator of trans fat, a kind of artificial fat whose detrimental effects on the body have become very clear in recent years, thanks to plenty of research on the topic. Goergen said that even though most manufacturers are removing it from their products — by 2018 the food industry will no longer be able to use it thanks to an FDA ban — it can still be found in some processed foods. She said it's often used to prolong products' shelf life and to promote flakiness in baked goods.

According to Goergen, trans fat increases your bad cholesterol and lowers your good cholesterol, which can lead to cardiovascular issues.

Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

Monosodium glutamate (otherwise known as MSG) has been a hotly debated topic for years. The ingredient has been said to cause headaches, numbness, and nausea. But Goergen says that recent research suggests MSG isn't actually as bad as we once thought.

However, MSG does contain sodium, which, according to Goergen, can raise blood pressure. High blood pressure puts a strain on the heart, increasing a person's risk of a heart attack or stroke. For this reason, Goergen says it's always a good idea to be wary of the sodium levels in junk food. Even "healthy" snacks, like sunflower seeds, can contain a whole day's worth of sodium in just one serving.

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Preservatives and synthetic dyes

According to Goergen, there are a few medical symptoms that have anecdotally been linked to preservatives and synthetic dyes. These symptoms include headaches, digestive disorders, and skin reactions. For any of her clients who are experiencing these symptoms, Goergen often suggests avoiding food with these additives. However, she also says that the research on this topic is far from conclusive, and that whether or not there is a definitive link between these symptoms and junk foods is not yet clear. 

Nitrates and nitrites like BHA and BHT are both preservatives that are often found in junk food. In terms of synthetic dyes, Goergen says to look out for red number 40, which is the most commonly used in the US.

Slideshow: The 20 least unhealthy junk foods (Courtesy: Cheapism) 

AS GOOD AS IT GETS: Everyone craves junk food. Sometimes you go all in and eat a pint of ice cream, even when you know you shouldn't. However, there are snacks that are less unhealthy than most options out there; you just have to know which to choose. So next time you're hankering for munchies, grab one of these not-all-bad snacks. Heck, maybe even consider turning your <a href="">junk food into a proper meal</a>. The 20 Least Unhealthy Junk Foods



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