In her new book, Slim for Life; My Insider Secrets to Simple, Fast, and Lasting Weight Loss, The Biggest Loser trainer Jillian Michaels dispels slim myths and lays waste to dangerous weight-loss ideas that can damage your metabolism and set back your efforts. Michaels offers what she has found works: hundreds of straightforward ideas that are easily implemented and guaranteed to transform your body.
Below is her “Top-Ten Must-Avoid-Whenever-Possible List” of chemical food additives adapted from the first chapter of Slim for Life. What do chemicals have to do with weight? Plenty, it turns out. Read ’em and see:
1. Trans fat, aka hydrogenated oils. These fats, used to enhance and extend the shelf life of food products, are among the most dangerous substances you can consume. Numerous studies show that trans fats increase LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol; they increase the risk of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes; and they contribute to increased inflammation, diabetes, and other health problems.
Found in: any vegetable oil that has been hydrogenated, margarine, chips and crackers, baked goods, and most fast foods.
2. High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS), or corn sugar. Found in almost all processed foods, many believe this highly refined sweetener is the number-one source of calories in America. Based on current research, it’s a safe bet that HFCS packs on the pounds faster than any other ingredient, while it also increases LDL cholesterol levels, and contributes to the development of obesity, diabetes, and tissue damage, among other harmful effects.
Found in: soft drinks, most processed foods, breads, candy, flavored yogurts, salad dressings, canned vegetables, and cereals.
3. Artificial sweeteners (sucralose, aspartame, and saccharin). Pretty much any sweetener you find in a small blue, yellow, or pink packet should be avoided. These chemicals are known to be neuro-toxins and carcinogens. They’re believed to account for more adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combine. The two main ingredients of aspartame — phenylalanine and aspartic acid — stimulate the release of insulin, a hormone that instructs your body to store fat. A large dose of phenylalanine can decrease serotonin levels. Low levels of serotonin can increase cravings, which can lead to weight gain.
Found in: most diet or sugar-free foods, including soda, desserts, sugar-free gum, beverage mixes, baking goods, sweeteners, cereals, breath mints, even chewable vitamins and toothpaste.
4. Artificial colors (Red no. 40, Yellow no. 6, Blue nos. 1 and 2). Food coloring has been linked to everything from ADHD to chromosomal damage to thyroid cancer. Your thyroid is critical to your metabolic function, and anything that attacks the thyroid is extremely bad for your waistline and, obviously, your overall health.
Found in: candy, beverages, cereal, cheese, bakery products, and ice cream.
5. Sodium nitrites and nitrates. Both these food additives are used as preservatives and flavoring in bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, corned beef, smoked fish, and other processed meats. Both ingredients are highly carcinogenic once they enter the human digestive system. There they form nitrosamine compounds that enter the bloodstream and wreak havoc on the internal organs, the liver and pancreas in particular. Sodium nitrite is widely regarded as a toxic ingredient, and the USDA actually tried to ban it in the 1970s, but food manufacturers vetoed it, complaining they had no alternative for preserving packaged meat products. Why does the industry still use this chemical? Simple: it turns meats bright red. It’s a color fixer, and it makes old, dead meats appear fresh and vibrant.
Found in: hot dogs, bacon, ham, luncheon meat, cured meats, corned beef, smoked fish, any other type of processed meat.
6. Growth hormones (rBST, rBGH). Artificial hormones are given to conventionally raised dairy cows and cattle and put in their feed. This is done either to boost their milk production or to fatten them up for slaughter at an extremely accelerated pace. Studies have linked the human consumption of these hormones to both obesity and early puberty.
Found in: nonorganic dairy products and meats.
7. Monosodium glutamate (MSG). MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees, and many restaurant foods. It’s a known excitotoxin, a substance that overexcites brain cells in the hypothalamus to the point of damage or death. The hypothalamus, located just above the brain stem, is responsible for certain metabolic processes as well as activities of the autonomic nervous system. Studies have shown that MSG affects the neurological pathways of the brain, disengaging the “I’m full” function and causing increased hunger and strong food cravings. In addition, regular consumption of MSG may result in myriad adverse side effects, including depression, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, headaches, and obesity. Don’t be fooled if you don’t see it as a listed ingredient – MSG is very often camouflaged under the guise of sodium caseinate, hydrolyzed yeast, hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or autolyzed yeast.
Found in: Chinese takeout and restaurant foods (ask to hold the MSG), many snacks, chips, cookies, seasonings, soup products, canned foods, frozen dinners, and lunch meats.
8. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). BHA and BHT are preservatives commonly found in most nonorganic cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils. They are oxidants that keep foods from changing color, changing flavor, or becoming rancid. They primarily affect the neurological system of the brain, which can alter behavior, disrupt your endocrine system (hormones), and form cancer-causing reactive compounds in your body, potentially leading to cancer. It may be hard to find packaged products without BHA or BHT, but you can find them – make sure you read the labels carefully.
Found in: potato chips, gum, cereal, frozen sausages, enriched rice, lard, shortening, candy, and Jell-O.
9. Antibiotics. Antibiotics are routinely given to farm animals to fight infections from inhumane feedlot conditions and to cause the animals to grow larger and faster than normal. For all you pescatarians out there who think you’re safe, antibiotics (along with pesticides for sea lice – yuk!) are also given to farm-raised fish for the same reasons.
A number of studies suggest that the overuse of antibiotics may be greatly contributing to our expanding waistlines, causing people to pack on fat like farm animals. Low and steady doses of antibiotics can cause “unusual” activity in genes that are linked to breaking down carbohydrates and regulating cholesterol (blood fat) levels. Antibiotics also kill the “good bacteria” in our gut, which helps us to absorb vitamins and minerals. If we can’t absorb these micro-nutrients, then we can’t effectively synthesize hormones.
You can avoid unintentionally taking antibiotics by going organic with your meat and eating wild-caught fish as often as possible.
Found in: conventionally raised livestock (including poultry) and farm-raised fish.
10. Pesticides. A study conducted by the Mercer University School of Medicine examined whether pesticide exposure plays a role in worldwide childhood obesity. The researchers observed nearly 6,800 subjects aged six to nineteen. They determined individuals’ exposure to environmental pesticides through the use of urine tests, so they could identify the concentrations of pesticide residues. They found a higher prevalence of obesity in the participants with high urinary concentrations of a pesticide known as 2.5-dichlorophenol (2.5-DCP). 2.5-DCP is one of the most widely used pesticides on the planet. Now, this particular study focused on kids, but many other studies have found similar effects with adults. Pesticides disrupt the endocrine system, which in turn causes the metabolism to “malfunction.” And you know where that leads – right to your bottom (or your belly).
Found in: the majority of non-organic fruits and vegetables.