4 Most Harmful Ingredients in Packaged Foods | Reader's Digest

4 Most Harmful Ingredients in Packaged Foods

Planning a frozen dinner tonight? Think again.

What happens when you eat more salt than your body needs? Your body retains fluid simply to dilute the extra sodium in your bloodstream. This raises blood volume, forcing your heart to work harder; at the same time, it makes veins and arteries constrict. The combination raises blood pressure.

Your limit should be 1,500 milligrams of sodium per day, about the amount in three-fourths of a teaspoon of salt. (Table salt, by the way, is 40 percent sodium, 60 percent chloride.) Older people should eat even less, to counteract the natural rise in blood pressure that comes with age. People over 50 should strive for 1,300 mg; those over 70 should aim for 1,200 mg.

Only the “Nutrition Facts” panel on a food package will give you the real sodium count. Don’t believe claims on the package front such as “sodium-free” (foods can still have 5 mg per serving); “reduced sodium” (it only means 25 percent less than usual); or “light in sodium” (half the amount you’d normally find).

HIGH-FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP
Compared to traditional sweeteners, high-fructose corn syrup costs less to make, is sweeter to the taste, and mixes more easily with other ingredients. Today, we consume nearly 63 pounds of it per person per year in drinks and sweets, as well as in other products. High-fructose corn syrup is in many frozen foods. It gives bread an inviting, brown color and soft texture, so it’s also in whole-wheat bread, hamburger buns, and English muffins. It is in beer, bacon, spaghetti sauce, soft drinks, and even ketchup.

Research is beginning to suggest that this liquid sweetener may upset the human metabolism, raising the risk for heart disease and diabetes. Researchers say that high-fructose corn syrup’s chemical structure encourages overeating. It also seems to force the liver to pump more heart-threatening triglycerides into the bloodstream. In addition, fructose may zap your body’s reserves of chromium, a mineral important for healthy levels of cholesterol, insulin, and blood sugar.

To spot fructose on a food label, look for the words “corn sweetener,” “corn syrup,” or “corn syrup solids” as well as “high-fructose corn syrup.”

Plus: The Best Foods for Your Heart (and How to Save on Them)