The year was 1950, and The Magic 8-Ball had just arrived in stores. It looked like a toy, but it wasn't. It was a future-telling device, powered by the unknown superpowers that lived inside its cheap plastic shell. Despite a bit of an attitude—"Don't count on it," "My reply is no"—it was a huge success.
Americans, apparently, want to see their futures.
A few decades later, Congress passed the Nutrition Labeling and Education Act that, among other things, turned the 45,000 food products in the average supermarket into fortune-telling devices. Americans inexplicably yawned.
I'm trying to change that. Why? The nutrition label can predict the future size of your pants and health care bills.
Unfortunately, these labels aren't as clear and direct as the Magic 8-Ball.
Consider the list of ingredients: The Food and Drug Administration has approved more than 3,000 additives, most of which you've never heard of. But the truth is, you don't have to know them all. You just need to be able to parse out the bad stuff. Do that and you'll have a pretty good idea how your future will shape up, whether you'll end up overweight and unhealthy or turn out to be fit, happy and energized.
While researching the new Eat This, Not That! 2013: The No-Diet Weight Loss Solution, I identified eight ingredients you never want to see on the nutrition label. Should you put down products that contain them? As the Magic 8-Ball would say: Signs point to yes.
More: What is Visceral Fat and Other Fat Facts
This preservative is used to prevent rancidity in foods that contain oils. Unfortunately, BHA—butylated hydroxyanisole—has been shown to cause cancer in rats, mice and hamsters. The reason the FDA hasn't banned it is largely technical—the cancers all occurred in the rodents' forestomachs, an organ that humans don't have. Nevertheless, the study, published in the Japanese Journal of Cancer Research, concluded that BHA was "reasonably anticipated to be a carcinogen," and as far as I'm concerned, that's reason enough to eliminate it from your diet.
You'll Find It In: Fruity Pebbles, Cocoa Pebbles
More: 13 Cancer-Prevention Tips
These synthetic preservatives are used to inhibit mold and yeast in food. The problem is parabens may also disrupt your body's hormonal balance. A study in Food Chemical Toxicology found that daily ingestion decreased sperm and testosterone production in rats, and parabens have been found present in breast cancer tissues.
You'll Find It In: Baskin-Robbins sundaes
More: 5 Nutritional Steps to Prevent Breast Cancer
Partially Hydrongenated Oil
I've harped on this before, but it bears repeating: Don't confuse "0 g trans fat" with being trans fat-free. The FDA allows products to claim zero grams of trans fat as long as they have less than half a gram per serving. That means they can have 0.49 grams per serving and still be labeled a no-trans-fat food. Considering that two grams is the absolute most you ought to consume in a day, those fractions can quickly add up. The telltale sign that your snack is soiled with the stuff? Look for partially hydrogenated oil on the ingredient statement. If it's anywhere on there, then you're ingesting artery-clogging trans fat.
You'll Find It In:
Long John Silver's Popcorn Shrimp, Celeste frozen pizzas
Fight Fat With Fat! Some fats, like trans fat, will pad you with extra pounds, but other types can help you shed unwanted weight. See for yourself—pick up these 5 Fatty Foods that Make You Skinny today!
More: Understanding Healthy Fats In Your Diet