Nutritional Cheat Sheet: The Ingredients That Ruin Fast Food, Revisited

“Bacon, one day you’ve gotta write something short.” -Thee Ted Smith

Alright Ted, I’ll give my best shot at writing something short!

I wrote a short article a couple of years ago titled “The 3 Ingredients That Ruined Fast Food” outlining three of the most damaging things generally added to fast food, packaged dinners, etc. ( In this article, I’ll be plagiarizing my own work, adding a couple of more, and looking at some of the food additives or ingredients that are unfairly demonized. Enjoy!

Added Ingredients to Avoid:

  1. Added Sugar: sugar, sucrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, evaporated cane juice (not making that one up), agave nectar, rice syrup, molasses, cane sugar, cherry/pineapple/orange/ any fruit juice, pineapple juice powder, etc., etc., etc.Generally, if you follow the advice of any decent nutritionist and only shop the perimeter of your local grocery store, it’s fairly easy to avoid these, but even some processed meats might have added sugar (corn syrup solids in hot links, for example).  Of note: this does NOT include naturally occurring sugars you get from fruits, as the fiber in them slows down the breakdown process of sugar in your body.

Why It’s Bad For You: There’s a myriad of issues added sugar have, ranging from spiking insulin levels and contributing to insulin resistance, to fructose (the most dangerous part of sugar) destroying your liver faster than ethanol can, without even the nice buzz you get from a delicious IPA. What’s more: it’s actually as addictive as some hard core drugs, such as cocaine; that’s one reason, I believe, that people who abstain from alcohol for an extended period of time start to crave anything with high amounts of sugar in it. Of note: while High Fructose Corn Syrup has been given the finger for the explosion of diabetes, most versions of HFCS are actually about 55/45 fructose/glucose (for comparison, sucrose, or table sugar, is 50/50). One of the “healthy” replacements mainstream experts have put forward is agave nectar, which can go up to 80% fructose.

2. Vegetable Based Oils: vegetable, core, peanut, rice, grapeseed, rice, sunflower, safflower, canola and soy oil. Also: Trans fats, partially or fully hydrogenated oils (usually from canola or soy), particularly margarine and vegetable shortening. Again, shopping the perimeter cuts a lot of this out, but you will see this, again, in cheaper meats and prepackaged foods, such as jerky (looking at you, Walmart’s Great Value Jerky!). NOT to be included: olive, avocado, coconut and palm oil, as well ass any of the above oils in their natural forms, such as nuts or legumes.

Why they’re bad for you: Far from being a healthy alternative to butter, these types of oils are polyunsaturated, meaning less stable; some bottles of cooking oil are actually spoiled while they sit on the shelf, before you even buy them. And while some PUFA oils are good (omega-3 in olive oils, for example), others, like omega-6 are bad if consumed at a far higher ratio, as they contribute to inflammation and cellular damage due to their oxidative properties. Canola is the least offending subject here, but your average commercial oil have omega 6/3 ratios as high as 16:1.

Refined Wheat: bleached/unbleached wheat powder, wheat flour., etc. Obviously used to make bread and other bakery products, it’s also used as a thickening agent in other things, such as gravy and some imitation dairy products. Not to be included: Whole wheat, actual grains, durum/semolina wheat, such as pasta and couscous, and fermented products, such as sourdough (there’s your out if you love sandwiches!).

Why It’s Bad For You: The biggest effect is that refined wheats is that it acts in much the same way that added sugar does, spiking blood sugar levels, along with the other fun effects of metabolic syndrome. And one of the reasons it does is the species commonly used isn’t the healthy ones we had in the past, such as einkorn or red, but dwarf wheat, which is nowhere near as nutritious.

Soy: This one should be fairly easy to spot, even if you’re not in the ethnic food aisle. I’ll give edamame a pass on this one, but again (Great Value Jerky, you goddamn disappointment), you see this added in cheaper packaged foods, such as burger patties, as it is generally used as a cheap filler or a substitute for meat based protein. Other products are tofu, tempeh, and other replacements for things you actually want to eat, such as milk. Whole or fermented soy products aren’t nearly as harmful, but the refined concentrated versions certainly do.

Why It’s Bad For You: Particularly in oil form, they share some of the properties that other vegetable oils do as stated above. Another issue is, though soy does have decent nutrients, it also is high in a compound called phytates, which acts as a sponge for said nutrients, both from soy itself and whatever else you’re eating; it’s found in many plants and acts as a self defense mechanism, which is why people on a “raw” diet look half dead most of the time.  One of the most damaging effects, for men at least, is that some of the compounds in it act like estrogen in the body, leading to a whole host of problems you get when you disrupt hormonal balance. This is particularly bad the earlier you  consume soy, up to and including as children; it even has effects in the womb.

Unfairly Demonized Ingredients:

Salt: It’s usually attributed to excess water weight, heart disease, stroke, etc. The reality is that, unless you have kidney issues or eat a salt block, you urinate out any excess.

Excess protein: Along with salt, it’s called on as hard on the kidneys,  but again, unless you’re on dialysis, your kidneys can handle them.

MSG: an ingredient used to enhance the savory/ umami flavor in foods (such as Chinese food). In excess amounts it might have neurological damage or overeating, but it’s hard to get that much from diet alone.

Ted, I’m under 1,000 Words (999!)

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