4 Most Harmful Ingredients in Packaged Foods

Planning a frozen dinner tonight? Think again.

REFINED GRAINS
Choosing refined grains such as white bread, rolls, sugary low-fiber cereal, white rice, or white pasta over whole grains can boost your heart attack risk by up to 30 percent. You’ve got to be a savvy shopper. Don’t be fooled by deceptive label claims such as “made with wheat flour” or “seven grain.” Or by white-flour breads topped with a sprinkling of oats, or colored brown with molasses. Often, they’re just the same old refined stuff that raises risk for high cholesterol, high blood pressure, heart attacks, insulin resistance, diabetes, and belly fat.

At least seven major studies show that women and men who eat more whole grains (including dark bread, whole-grain breakfast cereals, popcorn, cooked oatmeal, brown rice, bran, and other grains like bulgur or kasha) have 20 to 30 percent less heart disease. In contrast, those who opt for refined grains have more heart attacks, insulin resistance, and high blood pressure.

Read the ingredient list on packaged grain products. If the product is one of those that are best for you, the first ingredients should be whole wheat or another whole grain, such as oats. The fiber content should be at least 3 grams per serving.

Plus: Beyond Bread and Butter: Restaurant’s Healthier Options

SALT
Three-quarters of the sodium in our diets isn’t from the saltshaker. It’s hidden in processed foods, such as canned vegetables and soups, condiments like soy sauce and Worcestershire sauce, fast-food burgers (and fries, of course), and cured or preserved meats like bacon, ham, and deli turkey.

Some sodium occurs naturally in unprocessed edibles, including milk, beets, celery, even some drinking water. And that’s a good thing: Sodium is necessary for life. It helps regulate blood pressure, maintains the body’s fluid balance, transmits nerve impulses, makes muscles — including your heart — contract, and keeps your senses of taste, smell, and touch working properly. You need a little every day to replace what’s lost to sweat, tears, and other excretions.