Food Label Red Flags

Let’s talk about what is in our food. People talk about it all the time! People judge you, they judge me, we judge them, but who really knows what we are eating? Unless your food is a WHOLE food, which requires no processing or ingredient label, we need to be smart about our labels. Whole foods are our vegetables and fruits we find in the produce section. Then there is everything else. As much as we would like to have a diet 100% whole foods, let’s be honest, we are people always on the go and convenience is sometimes our goal. I know that my car has car snacks for my kiddo ranging from trail mix and pretzel sticks to gummy snacks so let me be the first to say, no judgment here. We eat processed foods most days, if not every day, so let’s be smart about it.

I wanted to comprise a list of ingredients that are big red flags that most people are not aware of hiding in our foods. The reason I write about this topic is because a lot of these bad additives and preservatives are connected to hormone disruption, migraines, flu like symptoms, mood instability, sleep disorders, cancer and the list goes on! Yikes! Did I not mention cancer?!?! And yet the FDA allows a lot of the products to make it to our mouths and bodies simply because there is not enough research yet to prove that it is NOT safe, according to their ‘standards’. Many of these products are not further tested by 3rd party labs for unbiased evaluations.

First off, this list is not a complete list of additives and preservatives, but merely a list of some of the most common ones you will find in products we buy most often. One basic thing to know when deciding which treat to purchase is ingredient lists are listed in the order in which the product contains the MOST to LEAST of. If that granola bar has sugar as its #2 listed ingredient, it is packing a sugary punch. Always remember that just because the product says things like "healthy, organic, natural, all natural, and diet" does NOT mean they are free of these additives, so READ THE INGREDIENT LIST!


Artificial sweeteners

They are just as addictive as heroin and cocaine. They are chemicals made to enhance sweetness of products so that you become addicted to it and buy it again. Good marketing tactic ya? At the expense of your health. They can be as much as 20,000 times sweeter than natural sugar that were never meant to be processed by our bodies.

  • Labeled as: Aspartame (NutraSweet or Equal), Acesulfame potassium (Sunett or Sweet One, Sucralose (Splenda), Saccharin, and “natural sweetener”- which includes high fructose corn syrup and sorbitol
  • Health concerns: Type 2 diabetes and blood sugar dysregulation, weight gain, obesity, migraines, indigestion, hormone dysregulation, gas, bloat, flu-like symptoms, metabolic syndromes, etc
  • Commonly found in: MANY PRODUCTS such as soda, diet soda, energy or sports drinks, fruit juice, baked goods, sauces, yogurt, popcorn, ice cream, chips and cookies, crackers, and candy
  • Alternatives: It is always best to cut down or get off the sugar but if you are like me and like your sweet snacks, look for foods with organic maple syrup, honey, and raw sugar.
  • Bottom line: you are better off with real sugar instead of this stuff. And here is an article for more reading on our artificial sweetener epidemic


(Partially) Hydrogenated (Vegetable) Oil

Notice all of the parentheses? Well that is because companies can use any variation of the word combination to fool you into not knowing exactly what they are talking about. These are your trans fats; the less healthy fats. Marketing experts put the word vegetable in there to make it sound healthy. Well, it is not. These oils are extracted and processed JUST for their consistency, texture, and to add shelf life so the product being sold can sit on the shelf long enough for you to take it home.

  • Labeled as: partially hydrogenated oil, hydrogenated oil, fully hydrogenated oil, vegetable oil
  • Health concerns: Type 2 diabetes, cancer, decrease immune function, reproductive issues, heart disease
  • Commonly found in: baked goods, cookies, crackers, fried foods
  • Alternative oil sources: coconut oil, olive oil, avocado oil, walnut oil
  •  Healthy fats: nuts and seeds, fish oil, eggs, grass-fed meats, grass-fed butter or ghee
  • Bottom Line: Fats in your diet are GOOD in moderation. They are the basis of all our hormones and a large energy source so make sure the source of your fats and oils are sourced properly.


MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

MSG is a flavor enhancer added to foods for a more rich meaty flavor. MSG is derived of free glutamic acid (glutamate) and when accumulates in the body, it floods our cells with glutamic acid causing it to become an excitotoxin. Therefore when we have glutamic acid acting as an excitotoxin in our bodies, our nervous system is put on overdrive thus creating systemic inflammation.

  • Labeled as: MSG, Monosodium Glutamate, “Spices”, “Flavoring”, Yeast extract, and hydrolyzed soy protein
  • Health concerns: headache, sweating, numbness/tingling in extremities, chest pain, nausea, flu-like symptoms, brain damage, nervous system disorders, weight gain, and hormone dysregulation
  • Commonly found in: Chinese food, frozen dinners, dressings, dry packaged dinners, seasonings, and canned vegetables or meats
  • Alternatives: none, you don’t need MSG!
  • Bottom Line: Avoid it


"Artificial Color"

Though most are banned in most countries already, the US still allows these colors to be added to our everyday foods- from our deli meat, to our ‘all natural’ fruit juices, to our children’s foods of convenience such as those oh so convenient squeeze pouches. Why use them? They are another marketing tactic to get you to buy the food because it looks mouthwatering delicious. Yet again, all at the expense of your health.

  • Labeled as: Artificial colors, or named out as: Blue #1, Blue #2, Citrus Red #2, Green #3, Red #3, Red #40, Yellow #5, Yellow #6
  • Health Concerns: Cancer and tumor growth, hyperactivity, allergies, migraines, indigestion, etc
  • Commonly Found in: All food categories including deli meat and cheese to most packaged foods
  • Alternatives: Just stick to foods that do not have ‘artificial colors’ or any of the colors listed. If a food appears way to pleasing to the eye, it likely is enhanced to make it look as such.
  • Bottom Line: avoid. If you want an exhaustive list of colors and information from the FDA, click here


“Artificial Flavor”

What does it MEAN?!? I don’t know either! But what I do know is that it is a cover word for thousands of chemicals we have no idea how to pronounce. These chemicals are created to mimic the flavor of whatever they decide they want the product to taste like even if it literally contains no bit of the product as well as creating a more addictive product so you will buy it again. Did you know McCormick’s Bac’n Pieces contain no bacon whatsoever? My point exactly.

  • Labeled as: artificial flavor, flavor and even ‘natural flavor’ are not as natural as they are portraying so should be included. The EWG has a great article talking about the difference. You actually do not know what exact chemical it is. Here is the list of ingredients published by the FDA
  • Health concerns: brain damage, memory dysfunction, DNA damage, fatigue, allergies, chest pain, lung disease, osteopenia, osteoporosis, etc
  • Alternatives: Even ‘natural flavors’ are not a good option but they are the better alternative, by a little bit, to ‘artificial flavors’.
  • Bottom line: avoid

Our ultimate take away: READ YOUR LABEL AND BE INFORMED. We all like to be natural people; go hike, camp, eat healthy, and rub elbows with nature but in the grocery store, we need to be detectives of what “natural” means on our labels because our foods are not as safe as our food industry makes it out to be.



Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. There are no financial ties to any supplement companies, pharmaceutical companies, or to any of the products mentioned in this post. This post is not meant to treat, cure, prevent, or diagnose conditions or diseases and is meant for educational purposes. As always, please consult your doctor before trying any new treatments or supplements. 


Rippe J, Marcos A. Controversies about sugars consumption: state of the science. Eur J Nutr. 2016;55(S2):11-16. doi:10.1007/s00394-016-1227-8.

Figlewicz D, Ioannou G, Bennett Jay J, Kittleson S, Savard C, Roth C. Effect of moderate intake of sweeteners on metabolic health in the rat. Physiol Behav. 2009;98(5):618-624. doi:10.1016/j.physbeh.2009.09.016.

Johnson R, Nakagawa T, Sanchez-Lozada L et al. Sugar, Uric Acid, and the Etiology of Diabetes and Obesity. Diabetes. 2013;62(10):3307-3315. doi:10.2337/db12-1814.

Swithers S. Artificial sweeteners produce the counterintuitive effect of inducing metabolic derangements. Trends in Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2013;24(9):431-441. doi:10.1016/j.tem.2013.05.005.

Longhi R, Almeida R, Pettenuzzo L et al. Effect of a trans fatty acid-enriched diet on mitochondrial, inflammatory, and oxidative stress parameters in the cortex and hippocampus of Wistar rats. Eur J Nutr. 2017. doi:10.1007/s00394-017-1474-3.

Michas G, Micha R, Zampelas A. Dietary fats and cardiovascular disease: Putting together the pieces of a complicated puzzle. Atherosclerosis. 2014;234(2):320-328. doi:10.1016/j.atherosclerosis.2014.03.013.

Amin K, Abdel Hameid H, Abd Elsttar A. Effect of food azo dyes tartrazine and carmoisine on biochemical parameters related to renal, hepatic function and oxidative stress biomarkers in young male rats. Food and Chemical Toxicology. 2010;48(10):2994-2999. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2010.07.039.

Arnold L, Lofthouse N, Hurt E. Artificial Food Colors and Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Symptoms: Conclusions to Dye for. Neurotherapeutics. 2012;9(3):599-609. doi:10.1007/s13311-012-0133-x.

Safety and Health Information Bulletins | Occupational Exposure to Flavoring Substances: Health Effects and Hazard Control | Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Oshagov. 2018. Available at: Accessed February 6, 2018.

Gutiérrez O, Luzuriaga-McPherson A, Lin Y, Gilbert L, Ha S, Beck G. Impact of Phosphorus-Based Food Additives on Bone and Mineral Metabolism. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2015;100(11):4264-4271. doi:10.1210/jc.2015-2279.

Kregiel D. Health Safety of Soft Drinks: Contents, Containers, and Microorganisms. Biomed Res Int. 2015;2015:1-15. doi:10.1155/2015/128697.

Metcalf, D. “Food Allergy”. Primary Care: Clinicsl in Office Practice 25.4 (1998).

Blaylock, Russell L. Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills. Santa Fe, NM: Health, 1998