In our often health-obsessed culture, "low-fat," "low-carb," "paleo" and even "gluten-free" are terms we are trained to look for on food labels. The food products that boast health claims find their way to our shopping carts more easily than fruits and vegetables. No one tells us that the additive in most almond milks is derived from sea kelp, or that there is a "gum" in cottage cheese that can cause excessive bloat and stomach discomfort. We focus too much on health claims and not enough on the physical makeup of the processed foods we consume. 

For a long time, I bounced back and forth between different diets. From low-fat/high-carb to high-fat/low-carb and everything in between, I have tried it all. Until one day I decided to stop focusing so much on the "diet" and start focusing on wholesome foods.

It wasn't until then that I discovered how unhealthy most "health" foods are. These are the top things you should watch out for when choosing the products you buy.


Jenna Carellini

When we think of almond or soy milk, we often think of their use in smoothies, sometimes cereal and even coffee. Those who choose to not consume animal products (vegans) and those who are lactose intolerant often consume these non-dairy products multiple times a day. Something most people do not think of when they consume these products is seaweed. Sounds delicious right? Wrong. Unfortunately, most major dairy-free milk companies use an additive called carrageenan to gel, thicken and stabilize their products. Carrageenan is a substance of sulfated polysaccharides extracted from red edible seaweeds. It is widely used in the food industry. However, unlike regular edible seaweeds found in sushi type foods, carrageenan is not digestible. It can be destructive to your digestive system and according to an article by, it has a similar effect to Salmonella on your body. Found in many "natural" and non-GMO, organic products, carrageenan can cause inflammation and destruction on your digestive system even in small amounts. Chances are if you're buying a dairy alternative or even organic meat or dairy, you're ingesting a small, but effective amount of this food additive. You are better off making your own non-dairy milks because you can customize them to your own flavor preferences by adding different extracts and spices. One of my favorites is this delicious vanilla-cinnamon almond milk.

Locust Bean Gum

Don't let the word "bean" fool you with this next commonly used additive. While locust bean gum is derived from the seeds of the carob tree, it is far from natural. This food additive, which is commonly used in "health foods,"  ice cream and most low or non-fat dairy products, acts as a binder to prevent separation. However, locust bean gum can also be used for paper making, pet food production, shoe polish, insecticides and mining products. The same ingredient in most of your health foods is literally used to blow up rock caves. You can imagine, then, how it could be bad for your digestive system. Quoted from a study on the effect of locust bean gum on glucose tolerance, sugar digestion and gastric motility in rats, "Addition of locust bean gum to test diets reduced the rate of gastric emptying and thus slowed down the passage of food from the stomach into the upper small intestine." This food additive actually alters how other food you consume is digested. Unlike low-fat diary, which requires fillers, binders, or additives, full-fat diary is less likely to contain locust bean gum. Contrary to popular belief, products that are higher in fat can actually be better for you than the lower fat (but more heavily processed) products.

Jenna Carellini

Palm Oil 

While this next ingredient isn't necessarily a food additive, its horrid effect on the environment makes it important enough to watch out for. You'll find it in most "natural" nut butters, cosmetics, deodorants, and ice cream. Palm oil is a traded commodity among most countries. Used very widely in Africa and Southeast Asia, the use of palm oil is also prevalent in the United States, due to the decreasing use of trans fats. Palm oil provides virtually no trans fats, however that does not necessarily make it a better alternative. Palm oil production has become one of the main reasons for rainforest deforestation and destruction. Some of the world's most biodiverse areas are being stripped of their exotic agriculture and animals by the production of palm oil.

According to WWF, the fruitful lands of many equatorial areas are being cleared to make room for the monocropping of palm oil. This crop is also responsible for ruining lands for endangered Sumatran tigers and orangoutangs. Along with all the ecological devastation palm oil causes, the health risks are less than ideal. Diets high in palm oil can cause weight gain, heart problems and hypertension. One way to reduce your consumption of palm oil is by making your own nut butters instead of buying the name brand ones.   

Jenna Carellini

Xanthan Gum

Jenna Carellini

Xanthin gum is one of the most widely used additives on the market. This food additive derived from bacteria is a sugar-like compound that is used to prevent separation. Because of its ability to stop separation of ingredients in foods, xanthan gum is in almost every salad dressing on the market, even the non-GMO, organic, "natural" ones that appear to be wholesome. While most additives are used to preserve freshness, the use of xanthan gum in salad dressing is for consumer appeal.

According to Web MD,  xanthan gum can be used to lower blood sugar for diabetics. It can also be a laxative and can even stimulate saliva for those with dry mouth. However, like many other food additives, xanthan gum negatively affects the digestive system. Most people experience bloating, gas, naseua and even vomiting when they consume this gum. Because consumption of this additive has similar symptoms to that of a gluten or dairy allergy, some get misdiagnosed with gluten or dairy intolerances and still suffer.

Unfortunately, the effects of xanthan gum do not stop there. The Natural Health Journal states that "other people sensitive or allergic to xanthan gum have reported the following reactions when eating foods with the gum: dizziness, reddened skin, facial rashes, extreme bloating, fever, aches and pain all over, migraine headaches, life-threatening anaphylaxis." Xanthan gum also affects the liver by causing it to secrete an excess of bile into feces. Xanthan gum is one of the most prominent food additives in the country, yet its effects are perhaps the most adverse. There are dozens of delicious dressings you can make yourself using tasty vinegars and exotic oils. Yes, they will separate, but your tummy will thank you for not ingesting any dangerous food additives. 

A food product that claims to be "natural" or "healthy" (fun fact: natural can be printed on any packaging and doesn't have an actual definition), could be the exact opposite. For years, I have been taught that cottage cheese is one of the "healthiest" foods I can eat, and it is probably the worst culprit of food additive use in terms of ingredients.

There is a long list of various gums, fillers, stabilizers and even fresheners that are used in products we consume every day. And every year, thousands of new food additives are deemed acceptable for public consumption.

So before you grab your carton of almond milk or new dairy-free ice cream or even Greek yogurt in the grocery store, take a closer look at the ingredients. If you see something that looks fishy (and probably will taste that way too) Google it. If you are cringing, chances are your body will too. Sometimes the extra effort to make certain things from scratch is tedious, but your body and tastebuds will thank you. 

As the saying goes, "If you don't recognize an ingredient, your body won't either."