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Unhealthy “Health Food”- Part 1

Unhealthy “Health Food”- Part 1

Unhealthy Health Food

Not everything at your health food store is healthy.

I shop primarily at health food stores for my groceries. You would think that everything you can get at a health food store would be somewhat healthy, right? Well, it’s not so true. The foods you can buy there may be the lesser of evils, with standards like, “no chemical preservatives or additives”, “no msg”, “no food dyes” etc.  But what about additives such as guar gum, xanthan gum, carrageenan, alginate, calcium phosphate, disodium phosphate and “natural” flavors and spices?

These ingredients are in many packaged foods from health food stores, such as; nut and seed milks, guacamole, cottage cheese, coconut milk, butter, canned beans, soups etc. These foods can be labeled “all natural” but can be an unhealthy health food. So, what’s the story? What are these items, why are they used so often and do they support health?

Packaged Guacamole could be Unhealthy "Health Food".
Packaged Guacamole

Guar and Xanthan Gum

Let’s go through these one by one. We will start with guar and xanthan gum. Both are used as thickeners and stabilizers in foods, mostly in gluten-free or diet products for their binding abilities. They also give foods that slimy texture. Guar gum is extracted from the seeds of the guar plant, the endosperm, while xanthan gum is a strain of bacteria (xanthomonas campestris) used in the sugar fermentation process that is derived from corn, soy and other plant products.  Guar gum can be detrimental to people with GI issues, and diabetics should use with caution while taking blood sugar medication.  Xanthan gum may irritate the lungs and cause inflammation and should be avoided by people with corn or soy allergies.

Carrageenan and Alginate

Next on the list are carrageenan and alginate. Both are widely used in organic foods, are extracted from seaweeds, and are used as thickeners and emulsifiers. Although seaweeds are mostly beneficial and exceptionally nutritive foods; carrageenan has no nutritional value and seems to have a host of side effects, ranging from being a causative of inflammation to ulcerations and cancers of the gastrointestinal tract. Sodium alginate, on the other hand, has mixed reviews. It contains kelp, and is a source of trace minerals.  However, it may also cause problems with people consuming increased sodium to begin with.

To continue this look at additives in the health food industry; which ones are safe, and which ones to avoid, visit Unhealthy Health Food – Part 2 here.

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