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Healthy vs. Unhealthy Food: Ingredient Word Clouds

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Food: Ingredient Word Clouds

Eating healthy can be tricky. Even when you make a conscious effort to make smart nutritional choices, it’s not always easy to know exactly what’s in your food. At the grocery store, shoppers can check the ingredient list on any packaged product, but when you’re out to eat, or grabbing something to go, you might not notice the long list of chemicals or additives that make up your favorite treats. decided to have some fun with word clouds to illustrate just how extreme the difference is between whole, natural foods, and overly-processed, fast food menu items. As you might have guessed, fruits and vegetables are chock full of vitamins and minerals while processed foods like Culver’s fried cheese curds and Taco Bell’s epic Double Decker taco are brimming with complicated-sounding artificial ingredients.

Check out the word clouds below to see what different foods are made up of.

Taco Bell’s Double Decker Taco


Culver’s Wisconsin Cheese Curds

McDonald’s Big Mac

Black Beans



CDC Infographic Shows Super-sized Portions Are the New Normal



FoodFacts has learned that “Super Sized” portions are the new normal sized portions.

In the mid-2000s, Cornell researcher Brain Wasink performed an experiment called the “bottomless bowl of soup.” He gave unsuspecting diners self-filling bowls of tomato soup to see how they would naturally regulate how much they consumed. On average, they ate 73% more than control subjects with normal bowls. Humans aren’t good at saying no to food. And that tendency to mindlessly keep eating when provided with super-sized portions has some serious health consequences.

The Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) new infographic, “The New (Ab)Normal,” makes clear how the increase in portion sizes over the past 50 years has corresponded to America’s ever-expanding waistline. The average American is 26 pounds heavier than in 1950. About one-third of us are overweight or obese and that number is projected to hit nearly 50% by 2030. At the same time, the size of a hamburger has tripled, a basket of fries more than doubled, and the average soda has grown from a modest 7 ounces to a jumbo 42 ounces.

A 2009 study of chain restaurants shows that 96% of the entrees served exceeded U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommendations for calories, sodium, and fat. The CDC says the average restaurant meal is also four times larger than it was in the 1950s. Looking at these statistics, it’s not surprising that eating only one fast food meal a week is associated with overweight and obesity.

We’d all like to eat healthy, home cooked meals, but sometimes that’s not realistic. When you are eating out, especially at a chain or fast food restaurants, the CDC recommends splitting your meal with a companion, taking half home, or ordering the smallest size entrée on the menu available. They also encourage patrons to ask restaurant managers to provide smaller portions.

When trying to visually estimate appropriate portion size, the following comparisons can be helpful: A healthy serving of fruit vegetables is about the size of a baseball, a serving of meat should be about the size of a deck of cards, a serving of rice is about the size of a light bulb, a serving of fat, such as butter or mayo, should be no larger than a poker chip.


Cinnamon, making a healthier diet … nutritional information from

Cinnamon, a common spice found in most pantries has benefits that we at understand go beyond giving food a distinctive flavor and aroma. Cinnamon may be beneficial to health – possibly helping to lower blood glucose and blood lipids and increase insulin sensitivity. Cinnamon extracts can also be used as a natural pesticide, as well as a natural antimicrobial, making it an effective preservative. Nutritionally, cinnamon is a good source of calcium, manganese, iron and dietary fiber. With so many benefits to cinnamon, why not add it as part of a healthy diet?

Some studies show that cinnamon can aid in lower blood sugar and blood lipids, as well as increase insulin sensitivity – which is great news for people with metabolic syndrome and/or type 2 diabetes. In one animal study, rats were fed a high fat, high fructose diet, to stimulate metabolic syndrome. The rats experienced abnormal fat accumulation and reduced pancreatic weight, which was alleviated with the addition of cinnamon. An extract of cinnamon was also shown to regulate genes critical to the uptake of glucose and the function of insulin in isolated fat cells.

In studies using human subjects, cinnamon’s effects on gastric emptying and blood glucose were tested. The study showed that adding 6 grams of cinnamon (a little more than 2 teaspoons ) helped to delay gastric emptying, possibly resulting in lower blood glucose. However, one meta analysis study of cinnamon’s effects for blood glucose, blood lipids, and A1C did not show significant results, so more research in this area is needed.

Cinnamon extracts are also used as natural pesticides, insecticides, fungicides as well as cat and dog repellants. A study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry shows that a cinnamon extract is effective insecticide for mosquito larva.

Cinnamon also acts as a powerful antimicrobial. One study shows it was effective against some bacteria (Pseudomonas fluorescens and Serratia liquefaciens, Brochothrix thermosphacta, Carnobacterium piscicola, Lactobacillus curvatus, and Lactobacillus sake) In fact, cinnamon is also comparable to chemical preservatives such as BHA, BHT and propyl gallate in preventing oxidative damage, keeping food from spoiling.

The next time you are unsure which spice to pick from the spice rack, may we suggest cinnamon? It’s health benefits alone are a good enough reason to use the spice, but it will also add a wonderful scent and flavor to your food. (pg 53)

Chemicals in our environment and our bodies … healthy lifestyle information from understands that people don’t want manmade chemicals in their bodies; we definitely don’t. To avoid unwanted chemicals (such as pesticides and heavy metals) in our bodies, we wash our fruits and vegetables to rid them of pesticides and avoid taking huge bites of lead (maybe only little ones). However, a report published by the CDC titled Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals shows the level of chemicals people have in their bodies. The latest report has 75 chemicals listed; some which may be surprising.

The Human Exposure to Environmental Chemicals report measures the amount of chemicals in blood and urine from a sample group of people and over a number of years. They state that the chemicals they tested for may have found their way into the human body through air, dust, soil, water and food. It also shows if a population has more/less of a certain chemical in their system. For example, their toxicology report states “In the past 15 years, data show that blood cotinine levels for nonsmokers in the US population have decreased about 70%, indicating that public health interventions to reduce ETS exposure have been successful.” The same report also says bisphenol A (BPA), which is linked to reproductive toxicity, has been found 90% of the samples tested. Furthermore, the report states, “the measurement of an environmental chemical in a persons blood or urine does not by itself mean that the chemical causes disease.” While there might be traces of chemicals found in our system, which may or may not be causing harm, do we want them there at all?

For example, one of the herbacides, 2,4- D, was found in concentrations of 12.6 micrograms/L in samples in the 95th percentile. lists this chemical having moderate toxicity, a possible carcinogen and a suspected endocrine disrupter. Another chemical listed 1,4 dichlorobenzene (urinary 2,5 Dichlorophenol) was found in amounts of 473 micrograms/liter in samples in the 95th percentile. 1,4 dichlorobenzene is listed as a known carcinogen in California. So what can we do about this?

On the plus side, however, our bodies are amazing machines that can filter out chemicals that aren’t supposed to be there. Our bodies rid toxins from our system through waste elimination (feces/urine), but there are multiple organ systems at work – like our livers, kidneys, lungs as well as our colon (plus other systems, like our immune system). For those of us that want to keep chemicals in our bodies low, we can keep our organs running efficiently by taking a few simple measures.

Drinking plenty of (filtered) water to help our kidneys flush away toxins, keep caffeine, alcohol and processed foods to a minimum – the less your liver has to do, the better. Sweating also helps remove a trace amount of chemicals, so we can go ahead and add another benefit to exercising. Eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables for their vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, antioxidants and fiber, which will help our immune system and keep a healthy colon. Remember to thoroughly wash your fruits and vegetables and/or buy organic when/if possible.

Taking these simple precautions may not only reduce your exposure to chemicals, but also add to an overall healthy lifestyle.

The Many Faces (er..Ears?) Of Corn … nutrition facts brought to you by

According to the USDA 2010 crop production summary corn for grain production is estimated at 12.4 billion bushels.1 With so many bushels of corn sold, you’d wonder what all the corn is being used for? As it turns out, corn is a versatile crop with a wide variety of uses. The national corn growers association states that there are more than 4,200 different uses for corn products.  Corn can be used for both food and non-food products. Non-food uses can include pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, while food uses can be as transparent as high fructose corn syrup or as ambiguous as sodium erythorbate (since that same product could come from a different source like, sugar canes or beets). This blog article will focus on corn derived products and ingredients which we may not realize use corn.


Antibiotics: Over 85 different types of antibiotics are produced using corn.  Penicillin is one of the antibiotics made using a corn product – corn steep liquor, as it has nutrients needed for penicillin to grow. It was formerly considered a waste material, corn steep liquor became a crucial ingredient in the large-scale production of penicillin.

Aspirin: an oxidized starch paste, which dries to a clear, adherent, continuous film, is spread in a thin layer over the aspirin.

Paper Products: Paper products use raw starch in the manufacturing process. The properties of high paste viscosity and strong gels are useful in specially coated papers. Pyrodextrins are also used for paper manufacturing for the adhesive property on remoistenable gums for postage stamps and packaging tape.


Beer: Beer manufacturing is a process of treating malt to convert and extract the barley starch to fermentable sugars using the amyloytic enzymes present in malt followed by yeast fermentation. However, demand for lighter, less filling beer, especially in the U.S., has permitted use of more refined carbohydrate sources of two types: a) dry adjuncts, primarily dry milled corn grits, broken rice, refined corn starch, and more recently, dextrose and b) liquid adjuncts, namely corn syrups.

Citric Acid: Used as preservative, pH control, and to add a tart flavor to foods. Citric acid can be found in fruit sauces, jellies, canned goods and many other types of foods. Citric acid can be derived from fruits, however in view of the fact that the isolation of citric acid from fruits is very expensive, it is commercially produced from sugar with the help of bacteria and yeasts.  (See the 331 page list of food items that use citric acid as an ingredient:

Iodized Salt: Iodine, an essential nutrient, is found in iodized salt. It was originally added to salt to prevent goiters. Corn derived dextrose is also added to iodized salt to help retain the added iodine.

Many (understatement perhaps?) products can be made from corn. It is used as food for humans and feed for animals, as well as nonfood uses in pharmaceuticals, cosmetics, detergents and more. As science has a tendency to do, it will most likely find many more uses for corn.

See this poster for more products which use corn:

Expiration date: Never? … nutritional information brought to you by

We’ve all seen foods that have seemingly endless shelf lives. If these foods never expire, how are they be digested by our systems? Today, FoodFacts is going to take a look at what our bodies are capable of digesting and what happens to food we don’t digest.

The digestive system involves many different organs (from the mouth to anus) whose primary function is to break large molecules of food into smaller molecules of food and convert them into energy  and nutrients that our cells can use to sustain healthy bodily functions. Each organ in our digestive system has a primary function which lends itself to the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, proteins, fats and micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). For example, digestion begins in our mouths when we mechanically break down food using our teeth and the enzymes in our saliva (salivary amylase) start breaking down starches. In our stomachs, carbs, proteins and fats are broken down using gastric acid  (pH 1.5 – 3.5, by comparison, vinegar is around 3/4) and enzymes which denature proteins, digest lipids and further breakdown fats. This continues in the small intestines, where, with the exception of fiber) the macro (carbs/proteins/fats) and micro (vitamins and minerals) nutrients are absorbed.  In certain cases, such as lactose intolerance, the body does not have the enzyme (lactase) to break down the sugar (lactose). Bacteria in the intestines break down lactose, resulting in painful gas and stomach cramps (among other symptoms).

With the exception of fiber, substances that are not nutrients – such as additives and/or preservatives in foods – cannot be broken down by the body, as we do not have the enzymes to break them down.  Some foods, which are undigested, remain in the large intestine for a much longer period of time rather than being excreted.  These foods stay in our large intestines, incompletely digested and  are eliminated in our waste after being broken down by microbes in our intestines. Foods that stay in the large intestine could restrict motility, block absorption of other nutrients into our cells and /or result in malodorous excrement.

Some such ingredients would be Tertiary Butylhydroquinone (TBHQ) and butylated hydroxyanisole. These are preservatives keep food from spoiling, and probably from being properly digested. While these (and other) ingredients are considered safe for human consumption by our government,  it isn’t necessarily a good choice for our bodies. Stefani Bardin, a TEDxManhattan fellow, shows us how our ramen noodles  are digested in our stomach (spoiler alert: it doesn’t).|main5|dl12|sec1_lnk3pLid%3D134120  

Perhaps it is best to leave foods with long shelf lives on the shelves.

Natural Flavorings understands that these days, there are a growing number of consumers who are becoming increasingly aware of the effects certain products and foods have on their health, their children’s health and/or the environment. To assuage their ethical /moral/health/whatever beliefs, many people have started purchasing “natural” foods and products. This has been evidenced by a rise in “green” products and “natural” foods. The word “natural” seems to be synonymous with the term “healthy” or “good for you/the environment/etc.” However, is natural always good for us? Poison Ivy and mosquitoes are technically natural, but (most) people wouldn’t want them in or around their body. We certainly don’t. When it comes to food, what does “natural” mean? If you find yourself reading food ingredient lists, wondering “what does ‘natural flavors’ mean,” then read on.

Let’s start with the term “natural.” We may think of the term regarding a substance that occurs in nature and is unadulterated by man. This is what the FDA defines as natural: “From a food science perspective, it is difficult to define a food product that is ‘natural’ because the food has probably been processed and is no longer the product of the earth. That said, FDA has not developed a definition for use of the term natural or its derivatives. However, the agency has not objected to the use of the term if the food does not contain added color, artificial flavors, or synthetic substances.” Therefore, the FDA’s definition of the term natural is a food that does not contain synthetic additives. So while there is no technical definition of natural by the FDA, it refers to foods that have no synthetic additives. There is no mention of production methods. Furthermore, if a product is natural, it can contain “natural flavors.”

The FDA defines “natural flavors” as: “The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional. Natural flavors, include the natural essence or extractives obtained from plants listed in subpart A of part 582 of this chapter, and the substances listed in 172.510 of this chapter” (that list is by no means exhaustive, see links of some below). Labeling laws also require manufacturers to list the top 8 allergens (milk, egg, fish, crustacean shellfish, tree nuts, wheat, peanuts and soybeans). However, could there be animal products in your natural flavorings? Possibly.

These flavors may also find their way into some organic products that may claim to be 70 – 95% organic, since it falls under the 5% or less category. Some non-organic substances are also allowed in processed organic foods, if they meet certain requirements, such as “Flavors, nonsynthetic sources only and must not be produced using synthetic solvents and carrier systems or any artificial preservative” (

While food manufacturers have to comply with strict FDA standards for foods, and use ingredients that are shown to be safe for human consumption (as is the case with castoreum. It’s been around for years and has been shown to be GRAS). However, it is always helpful to know a little bit more about what is in your food. If you find yourself wanting to know what is exactly is the natural flavoring the company uses in a certain product, FoodFacts suggests you try contacting them.

Essential oils, oleoresins (solvent-free), and natural extractives (including distillates).
Spices and other natural seasonings and flavorings.
582.50 Certain other spices, seasonings, essential oils, oleoresins, and natural extracts.

Seeds: good things come in small packages

FoodFacts knows that seeds, which are often sowed, watered and waited for to reproduce some kind of food, pack a punch of nutrition relative to their size. However, you don’t need to wait for a seed to sprout to get all its nutrition. In just one ounce , seeds provide a good source of unsaturated fats, manganese, phosphorus and other vitamins and minerals. They are also low sodium, cholesterol and saturated fats. Most seeds are incomplete proteins, so mix them with grains, legumes and/or nuts to make complete proteins. Some seeds are also a great source of dietary fiber. Below, we have evaluated 5 seeds that are packed with nutrients, in no particular order.

1. Flaxseeds: We’ve all heard of these little guys. They are an excellent way to get your omega-3′s, widely available, come in seed and oil form. They are a great source of magnesium, (27% DV), Copper (17% DV), and Thiamin (31%). Flaxseed has all 9 essential amino acids in the amounts needed to make a complete protein, which is great for vegans and vegetarians. Crush seeds to get their full nutrient bioavailability.

Nutrition info: 1 oz contains 150 kcals, 12 g fat (6 grams omega-3), 8 grams fiber.

2. Sesame seeds: These seeds are also a great source of vitamins and minerals. They offer 24% of your magnesium, 19% phosphorus, 20% copper, 20% manganese and a whopping 39% selenium! Phytonutrients in these seeds can help aid in blocking cholesterol absorption. Tahini, made mostly from ground sesame seeds is often found in hummus. It is a complimentary protein to chickpeas, making hummus a complete protein. Yum!

Nutrition info: 1 oz of sesame seeds provides 177 kcals, 3 grams fat, 3 grams fiber

3. Sunflower seeds: A great source of Vitamin E, a 1 oz serving of sunflower seeds provides you with 37% of your daily vitamin E requirements! They are also a great source of selenium (32% of your DV), and copper (26%). A handful of sunflower seeds makes a fast and filling snack. Sunflower seed butter on whole wheat toast makes a complete protein; a simple and great snack any time.

Nutrition info: 1 oz has 163 kcals, 14g fat, 3 grams fiber.

4. Lotus Seeds: Lotus seeds are common in Asian cuisines. They can be eaten raw as a snack (with their bitter parts removed and used for medicinal purposes), added to soups or ground up and turned into paste for pastries. A serving size is low in calories and low in fat compared to other seeds, and a good source of nutrients such as Thiamin (12%), and potassium (11%). Add lotus seeds to a soup with legumes for a complete protein.

Nutrition info: 1 oz has 93 calories, 1 g fat.

5. Chia seeds: The very same that are used for Chia Pets are not only great for decorating terracotta figurines, but a great source of nutrition. Chia seeds are another great source of complete protein for vegans and vegetarians. They are also very versatile in cooking, since the seeds don’t impart flavor and absorb liquids to form a gel like consistency. Mix seeds with a milk of your choice to make chia pudding.

Nutrition info: 1 oz serving has 137 kcals, 9 g total fat, 11 grams fiber. It is also a good source of calcium, providing 18% of your daily needs per serving!

Watching sodium levels?

While grocery shopping the other day, we came across a bouillon that claims to be “Sodium Free.” The nutrition label even backs it up. There are exactly 0 mg of sodium per serving. Amazing! However, upon closer inspection of the ingredients list, we noticed that it contains “disodium inosinate” and “disodium gunaylate.” FoodFacts found this to be intriguing enough to share with everyone we know (and some that we don’t).

These ingredients are added to the bouillon in such tiny amounts (parts per million) that it could be considered negligible for most normal people. However, if you are sensitive to sodium, and/or monosodium glutamate, aka MSG (see how to spot MSG here: this might be something of interest to you. Further still, if you happen to look up those two ingredients on, you’ll see that they are used as flavor enhancers, used in conjunction with MSG. Meaning, just because you don’t see the words “monosodium glutamate” anywhere on the ingredients list, it could be hidden as something else, somewhere else on that list.

Many different sodium food additives exist in the food world. They have a range of uses as stabilizers, preservatives and/or flavor enhancers. However, if, for whatever reason, you are watching your sodium intake, you might want to not only look at the nutrition label, but keep reading the ingredients list. Keep an eye out for any ingredient that has sodium in it. For instance, sodium caseinate, sodium nitrate (nitrite), disodium EDTA, sodium benzoate, sodium bisulfite and disodium 5′ guanylate (a combination of disodium inosinate and disodium guanylate).
These are also ingredients we have listed as “controversial” on, as they could have potentially harmful effects. For example, sodium benzoate, when mixed with ascorbic acid (vitamin C) can create benzene – a known carcinogen. Effects of another sodium additive, Disodium 5′ Guanylate is not safe for babies under twelve weeks and should generally be avoided by asthmatics and people with gout, as the guanylates are metabolized to purines. However, with both of these ingredients, the typical amounts found in food are generally too low to produce significant side effects or cause serious damage.

Food science has found many great uses for sodium (which is both a naturally occurring and necessary mineral in our bodies). Without some additives, we could have spoiled food and gray deli meats (ew). In small amounts they may not cause any side effects, but what if you add up all the sodium additives in your diet? A little in your lunch meat, a little in your dairy, a little in your beverages. The amount of additives could add up. If you are watching your sodium intake, it could be something to be mindful of.

“Hidden” Chemicals In Apples

Let’s pretend there is an apple in front of you. Can you tell us how many nutrients are in it? We’ll give you a moment to think about this. How many nutrients was everyone able to come up with? 20? 100? Try nearly 400. That’s how many phytochemicals have been found in a whole, fresh, clean apple, according to the Handbook of Phytochemical Constituents of Generally Regarded as Safe (GRAS) Herbs. This gives new meaning to the adage “an apple a day keeps the doctor away.”

Here at FoodFacts we like to stress the importance of eating whole, fresh foods. They give you proper nutrition that’s beneficial to your health. For example, studies have shown that nutrients in apples have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, brain cell damage, and certain cancers. Furthermore, according to research in the Journal of Nutrition, some nutrients in apples work better together than separately. Meaning that, while science has the capability to isolate each nutrient and turn it into 400 different supplements, eating just one apple is far better ( not to mention easier) for our health. These are just the nutrients we know about in an apple. We all know the food industry is constantly changing and emerging research will shed more light into the positive health benefits of foods we already knew were good for us, but never understood why.

As a FoodFacts reader, we are sure you have noticed front of label health claims on packaged food products. The latest over- priced product on the market may claim to have high amounts of every nutrient known to man. There may even be big, bold statements that link single nutrients to positive health benefits and so on. While those claims may have truth to them, we ask ourselves – is a product high in one nutrient good for us if it comes with the added sugar and/or manmade ingredients you struggle to pronounce the name of? Do we want to risk our health and well being by introducing items into our body that it does not recognize? Can we find all the nutrients in an apple in a s supplement, or even apple juice? We could waste time trying or we could take the simple approach and eat a delicious, good for you, nutrient packed apple. Whole foods for our whole bodies – a simple, straight forward approach that can keep us healthy for years to come.