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Are Your Food Fears Founded by Science or Social Media?

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We like to label things in this country—from fitness (running is bad for your knees!), to celebrities (Miranda Lambert is too thin!) and clothing (Yoga pants can be worn anytime, anywhere!). It’s no wonder, that when it comes to what we eat, we scrutinize every ingredient in food labels. The American consumer is constantly being influenced on how to think about certain ingredients, taking labeling to another extreme level when they group foods in only two camps—”bad” and “good”—without stopping to think about the products as a whole.

New research in the journal Food Quality and Preference identified not only who among us fears food the most (a lot of social media addicts) but also what foods and additives are found most frightening. The study revealed that consumers find most of their exaggerated information on the Internet. Yup, surprise surprise: social media is fueling America’s food fears! Research also indicated that the ingredients associated with less healthy foods mainly hurt evaluation of foods perceived as relatively healthy.

For example: If you think high-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is the devil, you’re not alone. But, would you be surprised to know that both sugar and HFCS work the same way in the body? Before you start warding off all sugar, we consulted with Dr. Kevin Campbell, MD, FACC, to get his 4 commonly feared additives and the truth about whether or not you should include them in your diet.

1. Artificial sweeteners
What they are: Artificial sweeteners serve as sugar substitutes.
Where you find them: Found in many foods that are marketed as “diet” or “sugar free.”
Fear or fear not: “There have been controversies surrounding artificial sweeteners for years. However, according to the National Cancer Institute there is no scientific evidence that these substances cause cancer or other serious health problems,” assures Campbell, who also notes that “Artificial sweeteners are useful in helping patients with diabetes and also those who wish to work on weight control.”
Verdict: Fear not

2. Synthetic Trans Fats
What they are: Trans fats are formed when hydrogen is added to vegetable oil during food processing in order to make it solidify. The process makes fat less likely to spoil, so foods appear to remain fresher longer, have a longer shelf life, and also have less-greasy feel.
Where you find them: Fast food and in certain grocery store boxed goods.
Fear or fear not: This one is simple, according to Campbell. “Trans fats are one of the worst foods that we can ingest. They are laden with fats that are more likely to increase body weight. They are clearly associated with heart disease and obesity, and [it’s my opinion] that you should avoid trans fats at all costs.”
Verdict: Be afraid

3. Artificial Flavors and Colors
What they are: Additives and preservatives are used to increase shelf life of foods and to preserve color.
Where you find them: Everywhere! To avoid then, Campbell suggests “looking for “organic” or “additive free” labels” when shopping in the grocery store.
Fear or fear not: It’s a push. “There is some data to suggest that some of these additives and colors can be associated with behavioral problems in children including ADHD as well as hypersensitivity reactions.”
Verdict: Avoid when possible

4. High Fructose Corn Syrup
What it is: Another substance that has little or no nutritional value and is calorie dense.
Where you find it: Soft drinks, salads and salad dressings, breads, processed snacks and bars.
Fear or fear not: “HFCS intake is associated with obesity and obesity can lead to diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure and other chronic diseases. These substances should be avoided and have no role in a healthy diet.”
Verdict: Fear

Do you have any food fears? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

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