Why You Should Care if Ingredients Are Pronounceable
Have you ever picked up a frozen meal and glanced at the back of the box? You practically need a magnifying glass to read the ingredients list and it still takes up a good three inches of space.
It probably starts out simple, with inoffensive ingredients like wheat flour and eggs, but the longer you read, the more cryptic it becomes. There are the barely pronounceable (L-cysteine hydrochloride), the deliberately vague (BHT, BHA) and the confoundingly ambiguous (natural butter flavor).
Why should you care? Some of the additives the FDA allows in packaged foods may be linked to cancer, thyroid problems and other serious health issues (some are even banned in other countries). But when you’re staring down a paragraph-long list of scientifically named ingredients in the middle of the freezer aisle, it can be tough to separate the benign from the potentially harmful.
Simple ingredients—the kind you can find elsewhere in the grocery store—are both easier to understand and better for your body.
1. You know exactly what you’re eating.
Let’s be clear: just because you’ve never heard of an ingredient doesn’t automatically mean it’s evil. But when you’re not a food scientist, distinguishing from ascorbic acid (vitamin C) and potassium bromate (a dough conditioning agent and possible carcinogen to humans, according to the New Jersey Department of Health) is difficult, at least without a lot of Googling. A short and simple list of ingredients guarantees transparency, so you’re not eating anything you don’t want to.
2. You can avoid ultra-processed foods.
A bunch of long, complicated ingredient names is a tip-off that a product is ultra-processed, which is generally a clue that it’s high in sodium, sugar and saturated fat. When ingredients are simple and recognizable you’re better positioned to determine whether or not they’re healthy.
3. You can verify the marketing claims for yourself.
Packaging claims like “low-fat” and “sugar-free” sound good on the surface, but when you dig deeper into the ingredients panel they deflate like a balloon. That’s because in order to make “diet-friendly” foods, companies pack in artificial sweeteners and other additives that are far worse for you than the real deal. When you see “cane sugar” or “honey” on the back of the box you know exactly what you’re getting—aspartame and sucralose are another story.
4. It makes shopping easier.
Navigating food allergies and dietary restrictions is so much simpler when you’re dealing with a short list of recognizable ingredients. That’s especially true if the ingredient you need to avoid isn’t one of the top allergens manufacturers are required to plainly declare on the box.