Red Flag Ingredients and Common Terms You Should be Avoiding

Ever Heard of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome? Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is a common ingredient in many processed foods. People use it to enhance flavor, which typically… Trista - November 6, 2022

It’s no secret that we are surrounded more by shady ingredients in today’s world. The list is long and extensive and practically impossible to cover in just one article. To make things worse, these harmful ingredients are in almost every area of our everyday life. So, you have to become sort of a “detective,” fully focused on finding and digging deep to uncover them. These red-flag ingredients are in our food, hygiene products, beauty products, and even the food we give our fur babies.

Sadly, the United States (in comparison to other countries in the world) is very flexible with introducing these ingredients, and that’s probably the primary reason why they are so prevalent. But don’t worry. You can easily eliminate these harmful ingredients from your diet and routine. You will find the most common red flag ingredients to avoid in this list. Plus, we explain some solutions so you can take the first steps in eradicating them from your life.


Don’t Call Me Darling Baby… Call Me Sugar

By far, and I mean faaar, the worst ingredient you will find is sugar. Yes, and that applies even if you don’t typically have a sweet tooth. The biggest problem is that it is literally hidden in so many food items that even if you “think” you are not eating candy, sweets, or dessert, you are actually ingesting massive amounts of sugar. The average American adult, teenager, and child consume about 17 teaspoons of added sugar a day (or 270 calories) which is about 11 teaspoons too many.

According to the American Heart Association (AHA), this study suggests actively and consistently cutting back sugar from our daily lives. While we sometimes add some sweetness to our food by using honey as an ingredient in meals, the biggest problem comes from refined sugars. These sugars come from processed foods like desserts and snacks, which are often hidden behind flavors that make them taste good but are not actually nutritious!

Best Food Facts

America and Their Labels for Added Sugar

Previously, the manufacturers needed to disclose the total sugar per serving. Yet, they did not need to tell how much came from naturally occurring sources versus artificial sources like table syrup or other technical names for sweeter substances, which can’t be listed simply as “sugar.” The new Nutrition Facts label has made it easier than ever to spot added sugars in processed foods. The update requires food and beverage manufacturers across America to list the total amount of sugar per serving on product labels and distinguish them between “Total Sugars” and “Added Sugars.”

Of course, that does not eliminate the problem of abundant sugar in food, but it makes our jobs easier. Now, the amount of sugar you should be eating will depend on many factors, like medical conditions, whether you are an adult or a child, or the total calories your diet is based on. But for that, more tailored research is needed. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.


From Mercury Retrograde to Retrograding Your Mercury

Few things are as intoxicating as the silvery liquid metal known as mercury. Companies use it in everything from thermometers to light bulbs, and its strange properties have captivated scientists and laypeople alike. However, many people don’t realize that mercury is also highly toxic to the human body.

Studies show that even low levels of exposure can cause neurological damage, and high levels can be fatal. Inhaling mercury vapor is particularly dangerous, as it can quickly build up to toxic levels in the body. When mercury is inhaled or ingested, it can damage the brain, kidneys, and lungs. High levels of mercury exposure can even lead to death. Children and fetuses are especially vulnerable to mercury poisoning, leading to developmental delays and congenital disabilities. Having said that, why would anyone be exposing themselves to mercury, you may ask?

Ross Family Dentistry

Mercury In Your Mouth

Something widespread for grownups and adults back in the day, probably from the Millennial and previous generations, was the use of amalgam fillings, or “silver fillings,” as many call them. It is a silver color material used when you have cavities, and they contain mercury. And although it has been the most widely used filling, it can be dangerous if done incorrectly. Reports show that mercury vapor can be released onto the body when those types of fillings are being placed or removed from the body. Mercury is a heavy metal that people find in some eye drops, topical ointments, and contact lenses. You can find it in certain types of fish, so it’s essential to limit your fish intake if you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.

Some symptoms of mercury poisoning to look out for include dizziness, weakness, and difficulty speaking or thinking clearly. If you have any of those symptoms and your physician believes that mercury is one of the reasons, you will have to do a heavy metal cleanse. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.


I Am Sorry, Did You Say Preservation Of Specimen?

Formaldehyde is a gas many different industries use, from the production of furniture, as a preservative in some funeral homes, and for the preservation of scientific specimens. So why again do you have to worry about this? Well, it is also a common ingredient in many household products, such as cleaning products, glues, and adhesives. But let’s not stop there. You can also find formaldehyde in hair straightening products, nail polishes, and other personal care products. So yeah, pretty important to know where to find it because I am sure you don’t want to be using the same ingredient that the morgue uses to embalm deceased Aunt Betsy.

On a somber note, this research links this red flag ingredient to cancer, respiratory problems, and skin irritation. The International Agency for Research on Cancer has classified formaldehyde as a probable human carcinogen. There is enough evidence to suggest that formaldehyde could cause cancer.

REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

Formaldehyde and the Court Filings

Given the potential risks, it’s not surprising that more people have filed lawsuits against companies that use formaldehyde in their products. One of the most well-known lawsuits was from the family of Alyssa Owen, a young girl who died from cancer after exposure to formaldehyde in her home. The Owens argued that the company that supplied the plywood used in their home knew about the risks of formaldehyde but failed to warn them. They won $50 million in damages.

Steering away from those significant legal cases or apparent inhalation of formaldehyde in large quantities, formaldehyde is technically safe to use in small amounts. But if you can avoid it, won’t you? When formaldehyde is in the air, it can irritate the eyes, nose, and throat, and in some cases, it may even cause difficulty breathing. For this reason, it is essential to ventilate areas where formaldehyde is used and avoid using products with high levels of it. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.

The New York Times

Ever Heard of Chinese Restaurant Syndrome?

Monosodium Glutamate, or MSG, is a common ingredient in many processed foods. People use it to enhance flavor, which typically comes from soybeans and adds a savory umami flavor to dishes. These days, you can find MSG in everything from processed foods to Chinese takeout. However, it can also have some nasty side effects. Research links MSG to headaches, nausea, and even seizures. Some people are so sensitive to MSG that they can’t even tolerate trace amounts of it, and unfortunately, you may be having negative symptoms and not even know it.

Sneaky manufacturers will try to deceive you. Instead of literally spelling out “monosodium glutamate,” they will hide the ingredients under names, such as hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast extract, and natural flavors. All of these contain high levels of MSG; you should avoid it as much as possible.


Beware of Fast Food and MSG

When shopping in a market, you can take your time and look at the label for this red flag ingredient. It will be time-consuming, I must admit, but definitely doable. But if you are not shopping for food, where else is MSG prevalent, and how to be on alert? One of the biggest sources of MSG is fast food. And this includes pretty much every fast food joint. From your local Chinese food place to Kentucky Fried Chicken, to Chick-fil-A…yes, you read that right, the “healthy” alternative at Chick-fil-A. Chips and anything that qualifies as a “snack” is also top of the list. And those frozen meals that many of us turn to when we are dieting, yes, you guessed it! They also contain high levels of MSG.

Physicians have identified a list of symptoms typically in patients consuming high amounts of MSG. More importantly, they have grouped them and labeled them MSG Symptom Complex. The symptoms, which can include headache, nausea, and chest pain, are thought to be caused by the body’s inability to metabolize MSG properly. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.

The New York Times

The Official Artificial Sweetener

Though aspartame may sound like something out of a sci-fi movie, it’s a very common artificial sweetener that people have used for decades. It is calorie-free, so companies often use it as a sugar substitute for people trying to lose weight or reduce their sugar intake. It is safe to say that the majority of “diet” foods that are “sugar-free” actually use aspartame as a sweetener. But what exactly is aspartame, and how does it compare to other sweeteners?

Aspartame contains two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins, and when they’re combined, they create a sweet-tasting compound. Aspartame is around 200 times sweeter than sugar, so only a minimal amount is needed to sweeten food and beverages. You will also find it in diet sodas, sugar-free gum, and many sugar-free products. In its essence, aspartame is a synthetic ingredient. And an interesting bit of info: it goes by the E number E951 in the European Union.

The Guardian

More Issues With Aspartame

In 1981, the FDA approved this red flag ingredient for food products. Today, aspartame is in over 6,000 products; if you ask me personally, that is one too many! Although the FDA has deliberated that it is safe for most people to consume, there are reported cases where aspartame can cause serious health problems. Therefore, it is always important to check food labels carefully before consuming any product that contains this artificial sweetener.

Fear not for those affected by the presence of this ingredient. Your symptoms are not a mere delusion. There is growing evidence that aspartame may pose a serious health risk. Studies have linked aspartame consumption to a variety of health problems, including headaches, memory loss, and seizures, to name a few. In addition, aspartame interferes with the body’s ability to absorb essential nutrients. As a result, people who consume large amounts of aspartame may be at risk for malnutrition. I mean, can you really trust a product that falls under the umbrella of Monsanto? Long story short, the company G.D. Searle & Company created aspartame in 1974, and Monsanto later purchased that company in 1984. So do yourself a huge favor and try some real, natural sweeteners like honey and stevia and stay away from all the products that list aspartame on their food label.

Mindful Eats

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) Is a Big No-No

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) has been getting a lot of bad press in recent years. Critics claim it is responsible for everything from obesity to diabetes; some have even called for it to be banned. First, it’s essential to understand what HFCS is. It is a type of sugar from corn syrup, and companies often use it as a sweetener in processed foods. One of the main reasons why HFCS has come under fire is because of its high fructose content. Fructose is a type of sugar that metabolizes differently than other sugars, and some experts believe it can lead to health problems like obesity and diabetes.

However, it is important to remember that HFCS is not the only food containing fructose. For example, fruit is also high in fructose. Studies have shown that HFCS does not appear to be any worse for our health than other types of sugars, yet it is a separate ingredient that companies widely use. The point is not to demonize it – after all, moderation is key when it comes to sugar, but we have to be aware of it and know that it can negatively affect our health.


Why Should You Avoid HFCS?

In the lab, many studies tackle the question of a direct linkage between the ingestion of HFCS and disease. The results were astonishing from a recent study with rats, funded in part by NCI and appeared on August 18, 2021, in Nature. This study found that large amounts of the sweetener can increase how long both normal cell tissues live in the intestines — as well as cancerous ones.

Researchers also discovered that when healthy mice were allowed to live longer, they absorbed more nutrients and grew larger. But on the flip side, the animals whose immune systems let them down developed even worse symptoms than others, including anemia and the growth of malignant tumors. You should avoid HFC at all costs, along with the other red flag ingredients on this list. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.


Color Me Purple

Before the mid-19th century, food colorings were natural and found in plants. But then manufacturers realized they could produce them cheaper with chemicals, so now we have bright colors from unnatural substances such as Red No. 2 or Yellow 5! Research has linked the consumption of these synthetic artificial colors to tumors. And in children, hyperactivity symptoms can be linked to high and/or regular consumption of these ingredients.

It would be hard to find a food nowadays that doesn’t have some kind of dye in it, and the most popular ones are beverages like juices or sports drinks. Candy also uses these dyes for their colors; companies even use these red flag ingredients on things you might think are in common with artificial colors. That includes foods like meats and fish — think that bright red on a steak at the market or that perfect pink on the salmon. If you watch “The Wedding Planner,” you may recall a scene where Jennifer Lopez’s character sits under a tree watching a movie and munching on M&M’s. She would throw away all the colors and only eat the brown ones. Maybe, just maybe, she knew something about the dangers of food colorings!


Children Consuming Red No. 2 or Yellow 5

Unfortunately, in this category, children are at higher risk. And the manufacturers have not been messing around when it comes to artificial food dyes. In fact, in just 50 years, their consumption has increased by 500%. So no, we are not just talking about M&M’s and other candies, but also in an alarming number of different foods, from breakfast cereals to salad dressings. So is it even possible to avoid food coloring altogether?

While it may not be easy, it is undoubtedly possible to escape the consumption of food colorings. The first step is to become a label reader. Many foods that contain food colorings are processed and packaged goods. By checking the ingredient list, we can avoid buying these products altogether. When choosing fresh foods, such as fruits and vegetables, opt for naturally colorful ones instead of artificially dyed ones. And finally, cook at home as much as possible. This way, you can control what goes into your food – and avoid any unwanted ingredients. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.

Business Insider

Congratulations in Portuguese… Maybe Not

So, jumping from food to beauty products, we find a group of ingredients called parabens. Companies commonly use parabens as a family of related preservatives in cosmetic products. They may add these red flag ingredients to protect both the product and the consumer from harmful bacteria, mold growths, or other microbes that could arise during storage due to their antimicrobial properties. But if you thought we were only fighting the food industry, wait till you hear about the beauty industry!

Many cosmetics and personal care products use chemical parabens. These include, but are not limited to, makeup, moisturizers for the skin (think face lotion), hair care items like shampoos or conditioners to make your locks look shiny, and shaving creams. The list is long when it comes to these controversial substances! There are few health concerns surrounding possible links between long-term exposure to parabens and diseases, and the list may even include breast cancer.

Estetica Institute

Paraben Problems and How To Go Paraben-Free

In a study by Berger in 2018, girls who wear makeup every day have 20 times the amount of propylparaben in their urine compared to those that never or rarely wear it. This should be highly alarming, considering the link to so many health problems. It shows that parabens can act like the hormone estrogen in our bodies and disrupt the normal functioning of our hormonal systems, affecting both males and females alike. Research also links them to an increased risk for reproductive disorders such as testicular cancers and reproductive development in men, as well as fertility and birth outcomes in women.

The light at the end of the tunnel is that major brands have started removing parabens from their line-up. Some because they are being more conscientious, and others, quite frankly, because more and more people are choosing more natural products that are paraben-free, and they have no choice but to adapt. And this is a capitalist society, and the offerings depend largely on the consumer’s demand.


Foaming Up Your Hair…Or Did You Mean Teeth?

Ever wonder why your shampoo is so foamy? The answer lies in a common ingredient known as Sodium Laurel Sulfate (SLS). SLS is a surfactant, which means that it lowers the surface tension of liquids, allowing them to mix more easily. This will enable it to penetrate dirt and grime more easily, making it an ideal cleaning agent. You can find this ingredient in shampoos, soaps, tubes of toothpaste, and even laundry detergents. It is also a key ingredient in many car washes and engine-degreasing products. SLS helps to create a rich lather that can effectively remove dirt and oil.

When in small amounts, SLS can be a helpful tool for keeping your home clean and your car engine running smoothly. But it’s important to remember that this chemical can also be quite harmful if not used properly. SLS is known for being an irritant, and on one end of the spectrum, it can cause dryness, redness, and itching. Yet, in severe cases, you may develop a rash or hives.

Get the Gloss

What To Do About SLS Irritations

What to do if you believe you have an adverse reaction to this irritant? Your doctor can prescribe a patch test, and you can take it from there. Like parabens, many companies have started looking for alternative surfactants that are gentler on the skin. If you are one of those people that cannot tolerate it and need to change, the change will take some getting used to.

Do you remember making the change to SLS-free and fluoride-free toothpaste? You may recall that sensation of brushing your teeth and not feeling the foam in your mouth was… strange?! You don’t have to go that far if it is too much to bear. A popular toothpaste like Sensodyne is SLS-free and doesn’t get that much getting used to. Nevertheless, SLS still remains a popular choice in many shampoos and other products due to its low cost and high level of efficacy. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.


Fragrances Can Be Harmful

” A Woman’s Perfume Tells More About Her Than Her Handwriting.” – Christian Dior

Yes, this red flag ingredient can be something so pleasing and has the ability to alter your mood so quickly. Yet we can just call it by the name of the fragrance, and it encompasses so much. It is not just the subtle perfume we spray on the neck and wrists but a complete group of chemical blends that can irritate the skin and respiratory system. In addition, some fragrances contain phthalates, which are endocrine disruptors, and research links these to developmental problems in children.

From the moment we wake up, aromas bombard our sense of smell. We start our day with a hot shower, lathering ourselves in fragrant soap. Then we apply deodorant, perfume, or cologne. As we walk out the door, other smells, such as fresh-brewed coffee or frying bacon, greet us. And that’s just the beginning. Throughout the day, we encounter countless other odors, both pleasant and unpleasant. This barrage of smells is relatively new; until recently, humans didn’t go around smelling like a bouquet of flowers. So how did this change?

AbdesSalaam Attar

How Pleasant Smells Led to Phthalates

In a word: marketing. In the early 20th century, perfumers began to market their products not just as functional items but also as fashion accessories. They convinced consumers that wearing fragrance was a way to express their individuality and attract attention. This message was so successful that it completely changed how people thought about scents. Today, the perfume industry is worth billions of dollars, $3.2 bn to be exact, and it shows no signs of slowing down.

However, the popularity of fragrance products has led to an increase in the use of synthetic fragrances, which can have a number of adverse effects on health. For example, synthetic fragrances can trigger allergies and asthma attacks. Research also links synthetic fragrances to cancer. In addition, many fragrance products contain phthalates, which are chemicals that can disrupt hormone function. As a result, it is essential to be careful when using fragrance products and to choose products with natural ingredients. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.

Veterinary Surgery Online

Let’s Get a Good Scrubbing

Chances are good that you have triclosan in your home right now. Don’t believe me? Let me explain. Triclosan is a common ingredient in a wide range of personal care and household products, from soap and toothpaste to furniture and clothing. But what exactly is this substance, and why is it so ubiquitous?

Triclosan is a synthetic antimicrobial agent which people first developed in the 1960s for use as a surgical scrub. It wasn’t long before the first consumer product containing triclosan hit store shelves. Since then, a variety of consumer products have used this surgical scrub due to its ability to kill bacteria and other microbes.


Triclosan Is Still Everywhere Today

Today, there is an estimation that triclosan is in more than 2,000 consumer products. And while manufacturers claim that triclosan provides extra protection against bacteria, there is little evidence to support these claims in the scientific community. In fact, some studies have shown that triclosan may actually do more harm than good.

Studies have shown that triclosan can disrupt hormone function, potentially leading to developmental and reproductive problems. Additionally, research links triclosan to a higher cancer risk and increases the risk of antibiotic resistance with increased concern that it may cause antibiotic-resistant superbugs! As a result, many countries are now banning or restricting the use of triclosan in consumer products. In spite of these concerns, triclosan remains a popular ingredient in many everyday household items. And we already know those manufacturers to be sneaky, so do me a favor, and when looking at the label, if you don’t see triclosan, then look for its cousin, triclocarban. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.


It’s So Fluffy!

A dough conditioner is a type of food additive companies use to improve the texture and quality of dough. It does this by adding moisture and fat, which help to make the dough more pliable and easier to work with. Dough conditioners also often contain enzymes, which help to break down the gluten molecules in flour, making the dough more tender.

In addition, they may also include emulsifiers, which help to keep the fat and water molecules evenly distributed throughout the dough. As a result, dough conditioners can profoundly impact the consistency and quality of baked goods, and that’s where you will find them the most prevalent. The most controversial dough conditioner out there is bromide. People first used it in the 1960s to replace potassium iodate, and companies use it widely in commercial baking due to the claims that it provides more dependable baking results.


The Issue With Dough Conditioners

On the other side of its glory, because there are at least two sides to any story, dough conditioners can cause problems for people with gluten sensitivities, as they may contain gluten or other allergens. But that’s not the worst of it. Dough conditioners actually mess with your thyroid’s ability to produce and use iodine — the most important regulator of your metabolism. Research also links this dangerous ingredient to different cancers, particularly of the kidneys and the thyroid. And last but not least important, they can cause DNA damage!

So, the next time you’re looking for light and fluffy biscuits or perfect pie crusts, be sure to steer clear of dough conditioners. For that, making your baked goods may take a bit more effort since commercial products are saturated with the ingredient. But in the long term, your body and health will actually thank you for it. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.

Parkland Animal Clinic

Ethoxyquin – Your Pet’s Silent Enemy

Ethoxyquin is a synthetic chemical that companies use as a preservative in foods and as a pesticide. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) classifies it as a hazardous substance, which is why many countries ban it. Research links ethoxyquin to cancer, liver damage, and reproductive problems. Doctors also consider it an endocrine disruptor, which can interfere with the body’s hormone system. Despite these risks, ethoxyquin is still present in the United States as a preservative widely used in pet food.

Ethoxyquin, as a chemical preservative, is a common ingredient in pet. It dates back to the 1950s. But many pet food companies have started to phase out its use due to the increasing number of pet owners complaining of more consistent health problems linked to this preservative. As for humans, there are a good number of manufacturers of dog food-producing food that is free from ethoxyquin and are fantastic alternatives for your fur babies. Although, just for general information, unless you are eating (and that goes for the pets as well) completely organic, there is a chance that this ingredient is making it inside the body.

Taste of Home

Vegetable Oil and Its Fall From Glory

There’s no denying that vegetable oil is delicious. It makes food taste better, and you can use it in a variety of recipes. It was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Or, at least, that’s how it felt for vegetable oil. Once prized for its health benefits and hailed as a miracle ingredient, vegetable oil has fallen out of favor. Its decline began in the 1990s when studies began to link vegetable oil to an increased risk of heart disease. Then, in the early 2000s, the low-carb craze dealt a further blow to its reputation. However, it is not just fluff when it comes to this innocuous ingredient. Studies have shown that vegetable oil is actually harmful to our health.

It’s important to point out that any oil derived from plants, whether from seeds, grains, nuts, or fruits, is considered vegetable oil. Vegetable oil is high in unhealthy fats, including saturated and trans fats. These fats can increase our risk of heart disease and stroke. In addition, vegetable oil is often highly processed, containing harmful chemicals that can damage our cells. Finally, vegetable oil is one of the primary sources of omega-6 fatty acids. These fatty acids are pro-inflammatory, contributing to a wide range of chronic diseases such as diabetes, arthritis, and cancer.

The GAIA Health Blog

What Can You Do About It?

When trying to figure out how to cut back or eliminate these ingredients from your kitchen, you can use several alternative oils, all of which have different benefits. For example, olive oil is a popular choice for heart-healthy cooking as it is high in unsaturated fats. Canola oil is another option, and it has a neutral flavor that makes it ideal for baking.

Finally, avocado oil is a good choice for high-heat cooking, as it has a higher smoke point than other oils. With so many options available, there’s no need to use vegetable oil in your cooking; just make sure to look at the food labels for all the processed foods you purchase. Keep reading to learn more about red flag ingredients and common terms you should be avoiding.


Country Crock Is a Crock

Someone close to me explained the story about how they couldn’t begin to describe to you the first time they heard of this and the disappointment they felt when they found out that Country Crock was not real butter. It all started when they went on a personal search to find the culprit of their constant stomach upsets. After much trial and error, they hit the nail on the head and finally discovered that they were lactose intolerant. But to their surprise and huge disappointment, they also realized then that their beloved Country Crock “butter” was not real butter after all. It was officially called margarine, and although not the culprit of their bathroom runs, it was just as bad!

This spreadable food comes from vegetable oils. Someone first invented it in the 1800s as a cheaper alternative to real butter made from dairy. People originally made them with beef fat, which gave them a distinctly unhealthy reputation. It wasn’t until the 1970s that margarine began to be made with vegetable oils, making it a much “healthier” option – or so everyone thought. Today, margarine comes in many forms, including solid and liquid. It can be found in most grocery stores and is often used as a spread on toast or as a cooking ingredient. But don’t let the name fool you; as much as the different varieties come in, you have the equivalent in diseases, as I mentioned above, with vegetable oils.