Cheap Diet Food: Better on Your Wallet, But Better for You?
Spring has sprung, and with it comes the timeless struggle between keeping, or dropping, our recently made New Year’s resolutions.
Given the statistics regarding obesity levels in the United States, it is very likely that your resolution is related to losing weight. Recent CDC estimates list 26.7 percent of adult Americans as obese, and, additionally, roughly 34 percent of adults in the U.S. are considered overweight.
What are Americans to do about our weight crisis?
In recent months, advertisements for achieving better health have inspired many people to go on a quest for cheap diet food. Inspired by the “health movement” many of the nation’s largest grocery store and fast food chains have been advertising their products by highlighting their low cost to the consumer.
This trend of rolling back pricing may have a positive effect on your wallet, but could have potentially damaging effects on your health.
Most food companies today use a numerous amount of additives and preservatives in order to keep costs down for them, and for you. These things may make meals cheap for purchase, but it certainly doesn’t mean they are healthy for you.
One rule of thumb: If you can’t pronounce the ingredient, chances are, it isn’t good for you.
One of bistroMD’s expert dietitians weighs in on some of the preservatives and additives you should avoid the next time you wheel your cart down the grocery store aisle, or pick up that next meal “on sale.”
1. Propyl Gallate
No one wants cancer, so it’s best to avoid this preservative if you see it on any ingredient label.
This preservative is often used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling, and medical studies have shown that it can potentially increase your risk of getting cancer.
“Propyl Gallate is found in many popular food items that many people use on a daily basis,” says Christy Shatlock, MS/RD, and one of the lead dietitians for bistroMD.
“This preservative can be found in things like vegetable oil, meat products, potato sticks, chicken soup base, and chewing gum. Many of these food products also include BHA and BHT, which is also bad for you.”
Speaking of BHA, and BHT…
2. BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene)
Too difficult to pronounce by name, these two additives have the same job as propyl gallate: to keep fats and oils from going rancid.
“BHA and BHT are commonly found in foods like cereal, chewing gum, and various brands of potato chips,“ says Christy.
In recent medical research studies, these additives were even shown to cause cancer in lab rats.
“If a brand you commonly buy uses these additives, look for a different variety, as not all manufacturers use BHA and BHT in their food products,” says Christy.
3. Sodium Benzoate (AKA: Benzoic Acid)
This preservative is used in fruit juice, carbonated drinks, and pickles to prevent the growth of microorganisms.
“Sodium benzoate may cause hives, asthma, or allergic reactions in sensitive individuals, and may adversely affect behavior in children, particularly those with ADHD,” says Christy.
Some studies have also shown that when sodium benzoate is used alongside ascorbic acid in an acidic solution, a reaction occurs that causes the formation of benzene, which has been shown to increase your risk of cancer.
4. Acesulfame K (Acesulfame Potassium)
Also known as Acesulfame potassium, there is concern over the safety of this preservative as it is used in a variety of artificial sweeteners.
“As of right now, there is no immediate danger to your health if you use products that contain Acesulfame K,” says Christy. “Although studies of sweeteners show varying and controversial degrees of dietary safety, it has been approved for general use.”
If you are still concerned about your health in regards to this preservative, it’s best to avoid artificial sweeteners, and stick to regular sugar. Just make sure you don't use more than 2Tbsp. per serving.
5. Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil
Why are hydrogenated oils so bad for you?
Well, before they hit the grocery store aisle, healthy oils are processed through bubbling hydrogen, at temperatures of up to 210C.
When this happens, this creates unnatural fatty acids, called trans-fatty acids.
Your body is not able to use these fatty acids naturally, so the liver sees them as waste, and proceeds to rid your body of them.
“Trans-fatty acids are one of the most toxic wastes that can be inside your body,” says Christy. “What’s bad about trans-fatty acids is that they can prevent your body from using essential fatty acids that it needs.”
If you need vegetable oil to prepare your next meal, make sure you look for another alternative.
“Unfortunately, many oils available for purchase today do contain some sort of hydrogenation,” says Christy. “Avoid using hydrogenated oils for cooking, if you can."
The Bottom Line:
“With so many people wanting to lose weight, many people look for the easiest and cheapest solution for weight loss, and don’t do their research when it comes to the nutritional quality of the food they are buying in the grocery store,” says Christy.
“The American consumer is trained to look for the best deal. With food, however, the deal that appears to be the best is often the worst."
As we just uncovered, there are many additives and preservatives in your food that can cause some health problems down the road.
When viewed in this light, these “deals” might not be worth the monetary savings.
A good alternative to eating healthy, without having to worry about chemicals or additives, is to try a week’s worth of meals from bistroMD.
“What’s great about bistroMD is that our chefs use only the freshest ingredients, and we do our best to minimize the number of additives and preservatives we use in each meal,” says Christy. “With bistroMD, you can have healthy weight loss, without worrying about the nutritional quality of the food you are eating."