If you’ve been having some tummy issues of the late, you might want to be sure you’re not eating any harmful additives in food products that are often the culprit of GI issues. Many harmful additives in food can offset your tummy’s natural bacteria health, which causes painful stomach issues for many people. Often overlooked, these symptoms can be masked as disorders like IBS, IBD, Crohn’s Disease or candida yeast overgrowth. The problem can even cause joint pain and symptoms of inflammation. To eliminate any possible food intolerance, I would first suggest avoiding these 7 harmful additives in food products that are usually the suspect for why so many people tend to have issues in their digestion. For me, it was matter of weeding these out one at a time, and then discovering which ones I tolerated, and which ones I didn’t. It you have gas, bloating, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion or stomach pain, do be sure to read all your labels to see if you spot one of these additives on the ingredient list. Though some aren’t as harmful as others, most are often the root of the cause for many people’s ill digestion.
Many of you have probably heard of carrageenan, one of the most popular harmful additives in food today. Producers who use this in food specify that carrageenan comes from a natural food, therefore should not be avoided. Well, while it does come from a natural source, being red algae, which is a seaweed, carrageenan is in fact proven to be a known factor of digestive issues for many people. It acts a thickener in foods, such as yogurt, milk, candies, dips, spreads, ice cream and many more. However, no matter how natural it is, it has been linked to a host of digestive woes for many people. I personally love many nondairy milks that have it in the formula, but don’t tolerate them at all, therefore I have eliminated all brands out of my diet that contain carrageenan. There are products out there that don’t contain carrageenan in them, however. My favorite brand of almond milk is Silk Pure Almond unsweetened almond milk, which is carrageenan-free, as well as free of gums that cause problems. Be sure to test your own body out to see if you tolerate carrageenan or not, and if you have further questions about it, feel free to see some of the sources at the end of this article for more information.
This is by far one of the most harmful additives in food for your digestion of all, and it is being disguised as a health food. Here’s the deal with inulin. It is a carbohydrate that contains nondigestible sugars and fibers known as fructans, similar to the carbohydrates known as FOS, said to promote healthy bacteria in the colon. Inulin is touted as a prebiotic fiber because it does feed certain classes of good bacteria in the colon, but it also feeds unhealthy yeasts and bacteria at the same time. In someone sensitive to certain fibers and sugars, or who has a current issue with yeasts already, inulin can be like putting alcohol onto an open flame. I know myself because as someone with past candida issues, which inulin has been proven to feed, inulin caused terrible digestive issues with me, including bloating, gas, pain, constipation, diarrhea and nausea. I bought a vegan protein powder that contained it, and finally linked that the inulin was the only ingredient I had never eaten before. Once eliminating that brand, all my issues disappeared. I now choose to buy an inulin-free vegan protein powder instead from Garden of Life, which uses no fillers whatsoever in any of their products. Inulin is said to be a prebiotic, but actually is used as a thickening agent in many nondairy products like yogurt, nutritional food bars and more. Always read labels on food products to see what you are eating, and don’t stay sick if you don’t have to. For more information about inulin, please feel free to visit some of the sources at the end of this article.
3. Guar Gum
Another fiber that is promoted as healthy is guar gum, which comes from the pod of a legume plant. Guar gum has eight times the thickening power of corn starch, therefore it is used in a multitude of processed foods, especially non-dairy alternative products like milks, yogurts, etc. Guar gum does thicken food well, but what it also does is cause a wide range of digestive issues for many people. It can act as a laxative or a source of constipation, depending on the individual, due to its extreme high fiber content. Bloating is usually an occurrence of inulin ingestion as well, and is the primary reason I don’t consume it. During production, guar gum is also usually treated with chemicals that are full of pesticides and even alcohol. Read your labels on all food products and avoid guar gum at all costs if you have a sensitive digestive system. Guar gum is used in everything from food products, to supplements, protein powders, ice cream, yogurt, salad dressings and protein bars, just to name a few.
4. Xanthan Gum
Xanthan gum is another thickener you’ll want to avoid if you have a testy tummy. It is made by fermenting corn sugar with a bacteria that forms a powder, used as an effective thickener in tons of food products. Many people even purchase it to use in gluten-free baking and to put in smoothies. I personally love what xanthan gum does in a recipe, because it thickens very fast. In a smoothie, it creates that thick and fluffy ice cream shop consistency, yet what it does to your stomach is a whole other issue. Xanthan gum soaks up air quickly, resulting in a thicker food product. Therefore, in your stomach, that air has to be released somehow, and you can guess how this happens. It is very uncomfortable, as well as problematic for many people who haven’t linked xanthan gum to their digestive issues yet. Xanthan gum is said to completely natural and safe, but in my opinion anything that causes the pain in your digestive tract that xanthan gum does isn’t worth it, natural or not.
5. Potassium Benzoate
Potassium benzoate is a preservative used in many food products, even healthier ones like organic salad dressings and some hummus products. It is used to prevent mold and yeasts from developing in foods, and for this reason is also found in yogurts, frozen foods and protein bars, just to name a few, though it is used in other food products as well. This preservative causes wide ranges of digestive issues for sensitive individuals like myself, ranging from pain, gas and bloating, to ingestion. Though digestive issues aren’t usually related to this additive, preservatives are something that is recommended to be avoided by sensitive individuals such as those with IBS.
6. Chicory Root
Chicory root is a food that is actually a source of inulin. It contains a type of carbohydrate known as fructan, which is also found in wheat, garlic and onions. Chicory root is often used as a coffee substitute, or a source of added fiber in food products. Many people even use it as a sweetener because it has a nice sweet taste to it, yet contains no glycemic-spiking carbohydrates. Since it contains fructans, chicory root can cause many issues for people who consume it, especially those with IBS. A FODMAPS diet suggests eliminating fructans from the diet to help remove IBS issues and symptoms.
7. Modified Food Starch
Lastly, another common food additive that you’ll see today is modified food starch. It comes from corn most of the time, but can also be sourced from wheat, being a source of gluten many people don’t recognize initially on a food label. Unless a product is labeled gluten-free, you can’t be sure if any of the ingredients contain gluten or not. Yet, even if it comes from corn, modified food starch could be something contributing to your ill digestion. Modified food starch is used as a thickener, and I used to consume it daily through my “healthy” sugar-free yogurt. I now look back and realize that yogurt was anything but healthy due to all the additives it had in it, including modified food starch. This additive causes bloating, constipation, indigestion and general pain for sensitive individuals. My best advice is to avoid this additive, along with most all other additives in all your food products, however possible.
I know digestive issues can leave you feeling exhausted and full of stress because it seems there is nothing out there safe for you to eat. This is one reason I’m so passionate about making my own foods, and make the time to do so. I’m not willing to go through life sick and feeling bad, just because it takes a little extra time to make my own foods. I do buy some processed foods, but they’re as close to being whole food sources as possible. My yogurt is plain Greek yogurt, containing no additives, and I purchase products from companies like those I mentioned above that don’t contain problematic additives. If you have a digestive issue of any kind, I recommend starting with avoiding gluten, grains, legumes, beans and high sugar fruits. Then, try to start eating more protein, vegetables, leafy greens and healthy fats. You truly can get all the nourishment you need from these foods, along with fiber from seeds like chia, hemp and flax, which won’t cause the digestive issues that some grains, beans, legumes and fibers mentioned above can. While those are healthy foods for some, they're a source of digestive problems for others. Do you have digestive issues, and do you think any of these food additives might be the cause?