Deciphering a food label can be difficult for anyone that doesn't have a background in any kind of nutrition. It is really important that you gain an understanding of nutrition labels so that you can make sure you are eating the right foods.

A lot of people familiarize themselves with the calorie and fat part of the nutrition label but they should really focus on the ingredients list instead. Calories are not that important if that food is composed of good, healthy ingredients. For example, if there is a high calorie food, most people would avoid it but if that food is made up of nutrient dense ingredients, it should be eaten. On the flip side, people will see a low calorie food with ingredients that they cannot even pronounce and will consider it healthy.

The American diet is composed of a ton of processed foods. These foods are filled with all kinds of artificial additives and flavorings, sweeteners, salts, colorings, chemicals and preservatives to make the food taste good and last long. The ingredients that are used to make your frozen dinners taste so good can be very detrimental to your health in more than one way. Aside from the ingredients in these foods being harmful to your health, a lot of the time the nutrients that were originally in those foods are stripped and diminished making for an extremely unhealthy food.

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Take a look in your kitchen and check out the ingredients list in some of your foods. Here are some of the worst ingredients that are added to many foods that you should look out for and avoid:

Partially Hydrogenated Oil
Partially hydrogenated oil is another name for a trans fat. When people talk about fats that they should avoid, trans fat and saturated fat are the two most harmful fats for the body. Trans fats are the worst kind of fat for your waist line and your heart. These fats boost your levels of LDL cholesterol or "bad" cholesterol and decrease your HDL cholesterol or "good" cholesterol. Increasing the bad and decreasing the good? That can't be beneficial for your health.

Foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils include many baked goods such as cookies, cakes, and donuts, popcorn, chips, and all kinds of fast food. When checking the ingredients list, look for these words: "Partially hydrogenated," "fractionated" or "hydrogenated."

Sodium Nitrite
Sodium nitrite is a preservative used to help prolong the shelf life of many meat products. This chemical is used to make sure that your meat and fish products do not get contaminated by bacteria. Sodium nitrate is a salt preservative that essentially causes dehydration to the food by sucking out the moisture. Bacteria won't grow in dehydrated places so it is a perfect solution to preventing food spoilage.

This preservative can be found in many processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon, sausage, SPAM, and packaged deli meats like salami and ham. When shopping for meats, try to stick to fresh ones that come from a butcher, these meats do not contain sodium nitrite.

Aspartame is the most common artificial sweetener that is used in tons and tons of food products. This sweetener is made up of three chemicals: Aspartic acid, phenylalanine and methanol. Together, they make up an additive that is about ten times sweeter than natural sugar. Many of the sweeteners that people use such as Equal and Splenda contain this harmful chemical because it contains no calories. Diet soda, diet Snapple, diet iced tea, and all other things "diet" are made with aspartame in order to keep the beverage/food still flavorful.

Aspartame has been shown to cause many adverse health symptoms such as headaches, nausea, muscle spasms, depression and irritability. Although people use it as a diet supplement because it contains zero calories, it may induce weight gain later down the road. Long-term effects of ingesting aspartame include cancer, strokes, diabetes and heart disease. Stay away from anything saying "diet" because chances are it is loaded with this sweetener.

Xanthan Gum
This sugar-like compound is made with fermented sugars and bacteria. That already doesn't sound too good. This ingredient, found in many packaged foods, is used to help thicken foods. Ever wonder how some salad dressings stay thick and creamy? Thank Xanthan gum for that.

This ingredient is not only used in your salad dressings and sauces, but also your hair gel and concrete. Before picking up some ice cream, check the ingredients list and see if it contains this thickening agent. If so, put it back.

Phosphoric Acid
What makes soda so bubbly? Phosphoric acid does the trick. This acid can cause many side effects such as gastrointestinal distress, difficulty breathing and dermatitis. It can also have a negative effect on your bones and teeth because of the acidity. Aside from being used in your soda, phosphoric acid is also found in soaps, polishes and fertilizers. Swap out your daily glass of Coke for water.

These are just a few of the many harmful ingredients that are put into many foods in your grocery store. It is really important to have an understanding of what you are ingesting into your body. Things like aspartame and phosphoric acid may claim to be safe but the human body was not meant for these chemicals. Your body needs fresh, whole ingredients -- not man-made chemicals.

A good rule of thumb when looking for foods is to look at the ingredients list and even if you don't read the actual ingredients, just see how many there are. If there are more than five ingredients in that product, chances are it's full of chemicals and additives. For example, there are 38 ingredients in McDonald's chicken nuggets. If you were to make your own chicken nuggets at home, how many ingredients would you have? Not 38! More than half of those ingredients are flavorings and preservatives. You may not be eating McDonald's chicken nuggets but that same holds true for many packaged products in the grocery store.

Another thing to look at is if you can pronounce the ingredients on the list. If you have to stand there and sound out some 18-letter word that reminds you of something you learned in 10th grade chemistry, you shouldn't be eating that food. The foods you eat should be full of natural and healthy ingredients.

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