If I can’t pronounce an ingredient on a food label, you’re probably better off not eating it. Personally, I try not to buy overly processed foods or any foods with GMOs in them. Nowadays it’s getting easier (and somewhat cheaper) to find foods with simple organic ingredients, but there are still a few ingredients that I frequently see and I always wonder if they are chemically altered. Luckily science (and Google) has provided us with information on 6 ingredients that sound like the ingredients in your chemistry lab, but are actually healthy to eat.

If you see these six common ingredients listed on your food label, you can be reassured that you are still eating clean and healthy, so go ahead and have another bite!


Fun fact of the day, cellulose is a carbohydrate that comes from wood pulp and other plants. Simply put, it is made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen which helps give all plant cells structure and stability. It’s used to stabilize and thicken foods such as beer and ice cream. In fact, it is actually a form of insoluble dietary fiber, which can help regulate digestion. Cheers to that!

Lactic Acid

For athletes, “lactic acid” usually brings to mind the heavy legs feeling at the end of a 400-meter race when your muscles get lactic acid build up. Apparently lactic acid is also an ingredient used to preserve food. Derived from fermented corn, beet or cane sugar, lactic acid acts as a flavoring for frozen desserts and fruit drinks. It is also essential for kickstarting the fermentation process in probiotic-rich foods such as sauerkraut, pickles, buttermilk and cheese. Since it is part of the fermentation process, you will rarely see it listed on the ingredients label, but don’t you feel smart knowing a hidden ingredient?


My only association with this ingredient is from the movie Daddy Daycare when the cutest toddler tells Eddie Murphy that she is allergic to “maw-toe-dextwin.” And if you haven’t seen that movie you need to Netflix it because it’s both adorable and makes me never want kids.

Maltodextrin is a type of starch made from corn, potatoes or rice that gives granola, cereal and most nutrition bars their chewy and satisfying texture. An important fact if you avoid wheat: countries outside the U.S. usually create this filler from grains.

Ascorbic Acid

It might sound like it will rot your teeth, but it’s just another name for vitamin C. Ascorbic acid is used to add extra vitamins to fruit drinks and cereals. It also helps foods maintain their color, flavor or texture, just like when you add lime juice to guacamole to keep it from turning brown and mushy. Ascorbic acid is usually extracted from plants or made by fermenting sugars.

Xanthan Gum

I typically see this ingredient listed on my packet of sugar-free gum, which fits its name don’t you think? Xanthan gum is a sugar-like substance that’s created by feeding corn or wheat starch to bacteria. However, since starches don’t actually contain protein, this ingredient does not contain the wheat protein gluten. Which is great news for us gluten-free people, because it is used in most gluten-free breads and baked goods. Xanthan gum is most commonly used to thicken salad dressings, sauces and some beverages.


This fatty substance pops up everywhere; from chocolate bars to buttery spreads, lecithin is a jack of all trades. It is created from eggs or soybeans, so most of the time the ingredient label will say “soy lecithin.” It’s used  to coat, preserve and thicken food and keep ingredients from separating. Lecithin is also a source of choline, which is a nutrient that’s essential for cell and nerve health, and that helps your liver process fat and cholesterol. So by all means, bring on the dark chocolate.