The 10 Worst Food Ingredients You Should Avoid Like the Plague

Food companies use lots of unhealthful and dodgy ingredients to extend shelf life, add gaudy colors, and make us crave their products.

You can (and should!) steer clear of these toxic, tacky ingredients to protect your family’s health. When enough of us say “no way,” these food companies will get the message and clean up their act.

Here are the top 10 “worst of the worst” in our opinion (not necessarily ranked in order of the harm they do)…

1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

What it is: MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor-enhancer in processed foods (one of the most common food additives).

Why It’s Bad: It’s an known excitotoxin, which is a neurotoxic chemical additive shown to harm nerve cells— overexciting them, sometimes to the point of cell death. Regularly consuming excitotoxins like MSG destroys significant numbers of brain cells and can lead to serious health problems, including neurological disorders. (The two other common excitotoxins used in food are aspartic acid (found in aspartame) and l-cysteine, which is used as a dough conditioner.) In addition, regular consumption of MSG has been shown to stimulate the appetite and contribute to weight gain and obesity.

AKA: MSG goes by several aliases, such as Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Vegetable Protein Extract, Yeast Extract, Glutamate, Glutamic Acid, Sodium Caseinate, Textured Protein, Soy Protein Isolates, Barley Malt, Calcium Caseinate and Malt Extract.

It’s Found In: Processed foods like salad dressings, low-fat yogurt, canned meats, frozen entrees, potato chips, canned soups (including Campbell’s Condensed Chicken Noodle Soup), and flavored crackers (like Wheat Thins, Cheez-Its and Triscuits).

2. Aspartame

What it is: One of the most widely-used artificial sweeteners.

Why It’s Bad: Like MSG, aspartame is an excitotoxin. It also is believed to be carcinogenic, and produces neurotoxic effects such as headaches, dizziness, blurry vision, and gastrointestinal disturbances.

Aspartame contains 10-percent methanol, which is shown to be broken down by the body into the toxic by-products formic acid and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is considered to be a potent nerve toxin and carcinogen, which may explain why aspartame accounts for more reports to the FDA of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.

AKA: NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel, Spoonful, Natrataste, AminoSweet, plus others.

It’s Found In: Over 6,000 products contain it, including diet and sugar-free sodas and drinks, sugar-free chewing gum, yogurt, breath mints, instant breakfasts, frozen desserts, juice beverages, and gelatins.

Avoid Its Pals: Splenda (Sucralose), Sweet ‘n’ Low (saccharine)

3. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

What it is: This is a highly-refined sweetener in which corn starch is separated from the corn kernel. The corn starch is then converted into corn syrup through a process called acid hydrolysis.

Why It’s Bad: Nearly all HFCS is made from genetically-modified corn. It is the number-one source of calories in the US diet, and has been shown to contribute to weight gain and the development of diabetes.

HFCS also is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease, arthritis, insulin resistance, and elevated triglycerides and raised LDL cholesterol. In 2009, the Environmental Health Journal reported that a study conducted by the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found mercury in 9 of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The HFCS came from 3 different manufacturers including popular brands such as Quaker, Hunts, Kraft, Yoplait, Nutri-Grain, and Smuckers. Mercury is a heavy metal and is considered a potent brain toxin. The presence of mercury-contaminated caustic soda in the production of HFCS is common.

AKA: Corn sugar, glucose/fructose (syrup), high-fructose maize syrup inulin, iso-glucose, and fruit fructose.

It’s Found In: Soda, salad dressings, breads, cereals, yogurt, soups, lunch meats, pizza sauce and condiments. On average, Americans consume 12 teaspoons of HFCS per day.

4. Agave Nectar

What it is: This highly-processed sweetener is derived from the agave (cactus) plant. Most agave sold in the US comes from Mexico.

Why It’s Bad: Many consumers believe agave syrup is a healthful sweetener, but it’s anything but. Agave nectar contains the highest amount of fructose (55-97%) among all the commercial sweeteners, including HFCS (which averages 55% fructose).

Fructose has been shown to increase insulin resistance, the precursor to Type 2 diabetes. It is mainly broken down in the liver and then converted to fat. Excessive fructose, when consumed in quantities greater than 25 grams a day, has been shown to elevate uric acid levels, which causes chronic, low level inflammation throughout the body. It is also a main cause of fatty liver disease.

Fructose consumption also leads to weight gain, elevated blood sugar and triglycerides, plus high blood pressure.

AKA: Agave Syrup

It’s Found In: Ice cream, energy bars and cereals, ketchup and other sauces. Agave is also sold as a stand-alone sweetener.

5. Artificial Food Coloring

What it is: If your food isn’t naturally colorful, these additives tint them much like the dyes that color clothing.

Why It’s Bad: Artificial food dyes were originally synthesized from coal tar — and now they are derived from petroleum. They have long been controversial, and are one of the most widely used additives in food products today. Many dyes have been banned because of their adverse effects on laboratory animals. Studies have confirmed that nine dyes currently approved for use in the US raise the following health concerns.

According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) study on food dyes, “The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet it is still in the food supply.” CPSI further reports that these nine food dyes are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions.

A large-scale British government study (published in 2007in the UK medical journal Lancet) found that a variety of common food dyes, as well as the preservative sodium benzoate, increased hyperactivity and decreased the attention spans of children. These additives were shown to adversely affect children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), along with children having no prior history of behavior problems.

The European Union (EU) has put labeling regulations in place to inform consumers of the health risks, but the US has failed to follow suit.

AKA: Caramel color, FD&C Blue #1, Brilliant Blue FCF, Bright blue, Blue # 2, Ingtotine, Royal Blue, Red Number 3, Erythrosine, FD&C Red No.40, Allura Red AC, Yellow 5 and 6, FD&C Green Number 3, Fast Green, Sea Green, to name a few.

It’s Found In: Beverages, candy, baked goods, cereal, energy bars, puddings, jams, bread, macaroni and cheese, deli meat, frostings, condiments, fast food, ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, plus meat and fish (to make them appear “fresher”).

6. BHA and BHT

What it is: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are preservatives used in many foods to prevent oxidation and extend shelf life.

Why It’s Bad: BHA and BHT are oxidants, which have been shown to form potentially cancer-causing reactive compounds in the body. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, considers BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the State of California has listed it as a known carcinogen.

Where It’s Found: In packaging materials, cereals, sausage, hot dogs, meat patties, chewing gum, potato chips, beer, butter, vegetable oils, cosmetics, and animal feed.

7. Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate

What They Are: These two closely-related chemicals are used to preserve meat.

Why They’re Bad: When added to meat, the nitrates are readily converted to nitrosamines, which are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancers. This chemical reaction occurs most readily at the high temperatures. In a 2007 analysis, The World Cancer Research Fund revealed that eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat every day increases your cancer risk by 20%.

AKA: Soda niter, Chile saltpeter

They’re Found In: Cured meats, bacon, ham, salami, corned beef and hot dogs, pate, pickled pig’s feet, canned meat (Vienna sausages, deviled ham), smoked salmon, dried fish, jerky.

8. Potassium Bromate

What it is: A form of bromide, it is used as an additive to increase the volume in some breads, rolls, and flours.

Why It’s Bad: It has been shown to cause cancer in animals and is banned in the EU, Canada, and several other countries. The FDA, since 1991, has requested that bakers voluntarily stop using it. It is rarely used in California because a cancer warning is required on the label. Bromide is considered to be an endocrine disruptor.

AKA: Bromic acid, potassium salt, bromated flour, “enriched flour.”

It’s Found In: Most commercial baked goods in the US, including Wonder Bread, Sunbeam, Home Pride (but not in Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Entenmann’s, and Orowheat brands). It’s also common in flour, and occurs in some toothpaste and mouthwash brands as an antiseptic.

9. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH)

What it is: Produced by Monsanto, rBGH is a genetically-engineered version of the natural growth hormone produced by cows. It is used to boost milk production in dairy cows.

Why It’s Bad: “rBGH milk” contains high levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1), excess levels of which have been implicated as major causes of breast, colon and prostate cancers. rBGH milk is not required to be labeled.

Giving cows rBGH has been shown to increase the incidence of mastitis. When a cow has mastitis, pus and blood are secreted into the milk. It also leads to antibiotic resistance, which is tied to the spread of virulent staph infections such as MRSA. Hormones in food have also been linked to the onset of early puberty for girls.

Consumer feedback spurred such megabrands as Dannon and General Mills, and the supermarket chains Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Publix to phase out products with hormones rBST and rBGH.

AKA: Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST).

It’s Found In: All dairy products that aren’t specifically labeled “No rGBH or rBST.”

10. Refined Vegetable Oil

What it is: There are many different kinds of commercially-refined vegetable oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil.

Why It’s Bad: Refined cooking oils are made by intensive mechanical and chemical processes that extract the oil from the seeds. The refining process also utilizes chemical solvents and high temperatures. The oils are then typically deodorized and bleached. This process removes the natural vitamins and minerals from the seeds and creates a product that has been shown to become rancid and oxidize easily, causing free radical formation.

These oils are also high in Omega-6 fatty acid, which is inflammatory and neutralizes the benefits of Omega-3s in your diet. The oxidation effect has been shown to contribute to inflammation in the body, DNA damage elevated blood triglycerides, and impaired insulin response. Additionally, many refined vegetable oils are hydrogenated. This process creates trans fatty acids, which are known to contribute to heart disease and some cancers.

It’s Found In: Many, if not most, processed foods such as crackers, granola bars, and baked goods use these vegetable oils. They also are popular as stand-alone products (i.e., cooking oils and margarines).

Conclusion: This is certainly not a complete list of all the unhealthful ingredients in commercial foods today, but these are the ones to avoid like the plague. If you have other nominees, please add them here in the comments below.

If we consumers refuse to purchase products containing these ingredients, the food industry will quit making them. It’s really that simple. (You’d be surprised at how closely food companies monitor their sales!)

“Voting” with your dollars is a powerful and immediate way to influence the quality of food in the supermarket. The more you vote, the faster things will change!

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About the author


Jim Healthy™ is a noted health reporter and author. During his 35-year writing career, Jim has helped break the news about the biggest healing discoveries of the past 30 years, including glucosamine-chondroitin, fish oil, omega-3 foods, and olive oil, as well as the inflammatory effects of eating refined carbs and processed food products. He also is the owner and editor of, where he shares his discoveries about research-proven ways to reverse prevalent health conditions without drugs or painkillers. Jim is the co-author of The Healthy Body Book (Penguin, 1991) and The Fast Food Diet with Stephen Sinatra, MD (Wiley, 2005). His most recent book is The 30-Day Diabetes Cure (co-authored with Dr. Stefan Ripich).

Visit his website at

To learn more about healing diabetes with diet and exercise, visit


Anonymous's picture


In the many ingredients in your article about which foods or ingredients are bad for your health you ommitted the worts of them all ¨SOY ¨ and its by products.

Anonymous's picture

Steve Swetman

So really what can we eat, what is safe? is there a list of foods that can be trusted? You just killed the entire meat and dairy industry including cereal. So we should stop eating?

Its getting really tough to discern the truth. It would help if there were a top 10 foods that can be trusted or are healthy. thanks

Anonymous's picture


Great article, thank you. Thoroughly informative..a bit of a worry re the genetically engineered bovine hormone especially if its not on the label. Hey, 'they' wonder why our cancer rates are escalating!

Anonymous's picture

Ivan Sparrow

I wouldn't get near carrageen, found in some processed foods like ice cream to thicken it.

As a comment to the previous post: I seriously doubt soy is the "worst of them".

Anonymous's picture


I certainly agree with soy and would also add margarine to the list!. Horrible stuff. I make my own mix of butter and olive oil (50/50). Works and tasts great!

Anonymous's picture


It's confusing. The article states that BHA and BHT are oxidants and then states that they are used as antioxidants.

Anonymous's picture

Sumajean C.N.C

Wow, this information is priceless! Athough in the Holistic Health field, we also mention this-the general public is still in the dark, and refuses to acknowledge this or becoming more healthier with a lifestyle full of better choices. That is where the Heart attacks, CVD's, and other Chronic Diseases show up.
Suma G Nathan
Certified Registered Holistic Nutritionist
Certified Chinese Herbologist/Journalist

Anonymous's picture


Thatis apretty extensivelistof items tostay away from. Will we be limited to the outside isle in the grocery store and any farmers markets we can find. Some of these chemicals are in the items in the health food section if you just take the time to read the labels.
Good searching.

Anonymous's picture


So what can we eat?

Anonymous's picture


Can you tell me a bit more of soy milk...I get the organic brand and sometimes oat milk. They are from retail Wool-Worth or Coles in Western Australia. I have been taking soy for years, but I have notice I lack muscle power in the last few years, has this to do with the products of soy milk (or the addictives to preserve their life on the shelf of retailers or health shops), whether organic or not.
Thank you. look forward to reply.

Anonymous's picture

Helen Gay Oulton

Please tell us about soy. The comments above contradict each other

Anonymous's picture


We should be eating foods with NO labels! We should eat as much locally grown, fresh food as possible. Even if someone lives in an area where this is difficult, whole food with no packaging is the way to go. Shop the perimeters of the store. Think "food growers" not "food manufacturers". This may require a bit more planning and cooking, but it's the best way to avoid additives.
Another really important issue is genetically modified (gm) foods, which seem to be causing not only significant health issues, but destroying the soil and creating wierd fungal organisms as well. This is one reason why we should avoid soy. Most is gm, as is most corn and canola. Fermented soy has some great health value (as long as it's not gm), but because soy is so controversial, it should probably be avoided. It's also really high in phytates which prevents absorption of minerals; but then again if we eat gm soy, we don't have to worry about losing minerals because there aren't any. And then there's the phytoestrogen issue with soy, a potential problem for both women and men.

Anonymous's picture


Thank you for this information! Fortunately, I have been avoiding these foods for some time now. I do have a question though.

In terms of how my body processes sugars, what is the difference between HFCS, Agave, Honey, refined table sugar, and organic table sugar? Is organic table sugar or "Sugar in the Raw" any better than refined?

I prefer using stevia, but it does not dissolve as well in cold liquid as it does in hot. Also, I don't always have it with me. (What about Truvia or Purevia? What does this process do to stevia?)

Anonymous's picture


I agree with most of the comments, but I am puzzled as for peanut oil being on the list of the baddies, as for some health experts, lists peanut oil as being one of the goods oils along with olive oil, coconut oil, so if you can clear this contradiction that would be appreciated. JAM

Anonymous's picture


To answer the question of what is wrong with soy:
Both Soy & Peanuts are mostly GM. Soy is very high in estrogens unless it is fermented. The high amount of estrogen and psuedo-estogen in our diet is responsible for a lot of cancers, fibroid cysts, endometriosis, man-boobs and low sex drive, to name just a few problems.

Anonymous's picture

Terry B

Ok Jim, you've given us the 10 worst foods what about the 10 BEST foods hmmm?

Anonymous's picture


Note on cows milk, all milk contains IGF1, more in cows given rGBH but it is naturally present in all cows milk. IGF1 Human IGF1 differs from chimpanzee IGF1. Bovine IGF1 and human IGF1 are identical, 70 DNA strands match. IGF1 is the most powerful growth hormone in your body. IGF1 has been called a key factor in the growth and abhorrent proliferation of breast, prostate and other cancers. As to pus in milk, a cow is said to have infection in her mammary glads and or her udder if the pus count in the milk is above 100 million per liter (some use 200 million per liter). Most states in The USA have about 315 million per liter, many states have 400 million or more. You cannot ship milk across state line if it is more than 750 million cells per liter, thanks to the USDA looking out for your health.
Milk is not a health food.

Great article! Keep up the good work!

Anonymous's picture

Gertrude "Trudy"

To anonymous stevia user: The best answer I have found to date is ERYTHRITOL. It is expensive ($35-37/lb), but tastes like sugar only sweeter so you don't use it up as fast. Used any way you use sugar--in eating/drinking/baking/cooking. Dissolves OK. No off-taste. No side effects found to date.
To soy quandary: Recently read that a 30-year study in Japan of soy product eaters resulted in a lot more Alzheimer's, even in those who had not eaten soy for years. And that soy products, even baby formulas, have about 5 birth control pills worth of estrogen--good luck, all you men--! Also, soy has a lot of toxins that can't be 100% eliminated in processing. Suggestion: instead of soy milk, try homemade almond milk, tastes better than store kind and no additives. Cover whole raw organic almonds (de-shelled but with inner brown skin still on) with pure spring or distilled water, let stand overnight, blend in blender, adding more water if needed, strain out solids, serve. Save solids to sprinkle on porridge or pancakes, toast, soup, or salad. Refrigerate in airtight glass jug. Good taste 1st day, better 2nd day, use up 3rd day. Nutmeg & vanilla make it taste like eggnog. Follow tapioca directions for almond-milk tapioca pudding (can add solids).

Anonymous's picture


Steve, Patrioticpam, and TerryB, you (and others) asked and we answered. Here's a link to "Yummy Food Products We Love."

Juan, we are not fans of processed soy, but we do like fermented soy products. See our article here:

Joy, Ivan, Sumajean, Josam, Lori and Lmuira, thank you for adding your recommendations and praise. We also hate margarine...we dis it in #10 above : )

Ardete, I'm confused by your comment. Can you clarify?

In terms of sugar, refined sugar is terrible for you, but we're not fans of any form of sugar. See why here:

At, we like Fructevia.

Anonymous's picture


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol which can cause digestive distress in some folks. Why not just use small amounts of natural sugar??

Anonymous's picture


I strive for a raw food and super food diet. Super foods - think David Wolfe, (cacao, goji berries, hemp etc.). When you steer toward this lifestyle and away from processed and cooked foods, you will naturally start eating healthier and steer clear of the bad ingredients on this list, and lose the unwanted body fat. And when you are getting the vitamins and minerals you need from these foods you will be less hungry during the day. I have gone 8 hours on an avacado salad without feeling hungry.

Anonymous's picture


Erythritol is a sugar alcohol, for sure, but does not cause digestive distress. I have a very sensitive digestive system, and this product does not bother it at all. I've also read other authors who state that this product does not cause digestive distress. I have also questioned a company that uses erythritol in their muffins, and was told by them they use this sweetner because it does not affect diabetics and has no effect on digestive system.

Anonymous's picture


Soy. Soy has lecithin in it an emulsiphier used in chocolate, which also contains lecithin.
Lecithin is good for the eyes because it needs to be replaced when the body extracts lecithin from the eyes to neutalise the effects of carbon monoxide.
Carrots, chocolate, raisens, corn, and filberts eaten together does fight some cancer.

Anonymous's picture


You just advised us to avoid all food and liquids!

Anonymous's picture

Buck Bradley

What about Molassas & Honey as sweetners??

Anonymous's picture


Very informative article and it was very nice that the types of food these ingredients are most found in was listed.

Anonymous's picture

Gertrude "Trudy"

Erythritol--it's a bacteria killer. So is xylitol. Used as tooth powder, they kill decay bacteria but also decay-protective bacteria! Also kill digestive gut fauna. Sorry I suggested it.
Stevia: first dissolve it in a little hot, then add cold. Easy fix. Sugar/honey: Cane sugar is non-GM, beet sugar is GM I hear. Domino is one cane sugar brand. Molasses has health benefits, like blackstrap molasses for anemia. Honey doesn't require insulin. Organic, raw, non-filtered honey retains the goodies that heat destroys or filtering removes. Coconut oil is naturally sweet & I use it in coffee. I drink caffeine coffee; the decaf process is near to pesticide. Columbian is grown at high-altitude so no pests/pesticides. There are ways to call it organic when it's not--one MOFGA farmer used city water for irrigation, which means his fields were now not organic. He didn't know that--nor that fluorine & chlorine poison his soil as well as his crops & fluorine won't evaporate but builds up in soil, crops, boiling water, laundered clothing & bodies, and won't chelate out. It takes the kidneys 2 days to flush out one day's supply of fluorine from a ten-minute shower. Bottled water plastics mess up hormones. A whole-house fluoride water filter is best. Water-Wise & another company (Health Ranger's site had the link) sell whole-house filters.
Oils for cooking: No oil is safe at high temps. Old-timers saved bacon grease, or lard & butter for cooking, baking, eating. Non-hydrogenated. Apple-wood cured bacon has less bacon taste. Straining grease keeps it fresh longer. Melt butter only enough for the clear part to separate; the clear part is less cholesterol. Called ghee or clarified/drawn butter.
Raw organic grass-fed whole milk only. A whole book on why is available from

Anonymous's picture


Well damn I guess I have to starve since everything on here is in almost every food there is besides organic fruit. I'm human and I have a life. I can't eat like this.

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