Decoding hidden foods

Posted by: | August 5, 2011

Though I would love to take all of the glory for my latest article topic, I have to give credit to my dear friend Megan for suggesting I do a little detective work for my next blog post.  We were in her kitchen, waiting to dive into a tub of Haagen-Dazs cookie dough ice cream, when we looked at the nutrition label.  There were 6 ingredients listed on the label and we could understand and pronounce all of them.  I have learned from many dieticians that these are important criteria when deciding what food to buy and eat and so we felt pretty good about the bowls waiting for us on the table. However, we found it hard to pick out these ingredients due to other items listed within parentheses; this is to say, the ingredients used to make up the main ingredients.  When we counted these, there were almost 30 items listed.  Stumped when we tried to discern what some of the other ingredients were, Megan mentioned how much easier healthy eating could be if we could decode these other fixings.   

It is important to be sure to consult with your doctor or a health care professional before deciding to make drastic changes to your diet.  It is however important to equip yourself with this knowledge in order to be sure of what you are taking into your body.

There are many possible items that can be found on nutrition labels but here I present to you Miranda’s “Top 5 food items to commonly appear on labels without anyone knowing what they are”:

  Soy Lecithin Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite Hydrogenated Oil
How Lecithin is a phospholipid that is derived from plants and soy lecithin is the oil extracted from soy beans during processing   

Naturally occurring chemical compounds


Produced when liquid oil is mixed with hydrogen to produce a semi-solid


Margarine, chocolate, cooking sprays and salad dressings


Processed meat such as salami, hotdogs, ham, pepperoni and bacon.


Margarine, shortening, crackers, icing, peanut butter and fried food

What Used for preserving and keeping foods soft and giving them a longer shelf life.  It dissolves cholesterol and fatty deposits throughout the body and can help with digestion. However it can produce allergic reactions as it contains trace amounts of soy –one of the top 10 food allergens. Used as preservatives in meat in order to keep the colour from changing during the cooking process- it would otherwise turn grey, similar to a hamburger when cooked. It can prevent botulism however this can also be done through freezing and refrigeration.  Most notably it has been linked to the formation of cancer causing chemicals. Hydrogenated vegetable oil is a trans-fat, one of the most harmful products in our food supply today. It has been proven to cause heart attacks.  More and more products are being made with alternatives but these can contain higher saturated fat levels.
Result SAFE AVOID when possible AVOID


  Ascorbic Acid MSG (monosodium glutamate)

Naturally occurring organic compound with anti-oxidant properties


MSG is a sodium salt of glutamic acid, a naturally occurring non-essential amino acid


Fruit drinks, breakfast  cereal, meat products, bread


Salad dressing, chips, frozen entrees, restaurant food, instant soup or noodles

What More commonly known as Vitamin C, ascorbic acid is used as a colour stabilizer.  It is also used to counteract the negative effects of sodium nitrite and nitrate as it prevents the formation of cancer causing chemicals.  It is a commonly used amino acid that works by enhancing flavors in food.  It reduces the need for real nutrients in order to make foods tasty.  It also reduces the cost of food production.  Large amounts of MSG have been known to cause headaches, nausea, wheezing, difficulty breathing and changes in heart rate.
Result SAFE AVOID when possible

Filed under: Miranda Massie | Tags: , , ,

One Response to “Decoding hidden foods”

  1. Edith says:

    Great! Thank you! Give us some more!

UBC a place of mind

Food of the Month

Oranges Every month, the Healthy UBC Blog highlights a locally available food, and gives you a recipe or two to try out.  This month, read all about mandarin oranges, rich in vitamin A, vitamin C, fibre and folate.

>> Food of the Month page.


Nothing on the Healthy UBC Blog should be construed as an attempt to offer or render a medical opinion or otherwise engage in the practice of medicine. Opinions offered in the blog are those of individuals and are not the official voice for any department at UBC.

a place of mind, The University of British Columbia

Healthy UBC / Health Promotion Programs
Department of Health, Safety and Environment
University of British Columbia,
50-2075 Wesbrook Mall, Vancouver, BC, V6T 1Z1
Tel 604-822-8762
Fax 604-822-0572

Emergency Procedures | Accessibility | Contact UBC | ©2009 University of British Columbia

Spam prevention powered by Akismet