Today, my husband and I ate at different times rather than sitting down to a meal. Between research for my book, and for my WTF blog, I decided to grab some instant oatmeal. Once again, I made the choice to look at the nutritional label and found myself slightly shocked at what I was eating. After all, the main ingredient in oatmeal should be oats, right? This particular product is marketed as a weight control product, something that I tend to look for in hopes that it might reduce my waistline. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Let me begin with the basics: calories were 160 with a total of 25 calories from fat; not too bad as far as prepackaged foods go. As I looked further, a frown slowly formed on my face.

From unnamed natural and artificial flavors to acesulfame potassium, which is linked to cancer and other major health problems and soy lecithin (discussed below), the names made little sense to this simple consumer. So, as usual, I began to have a look.

The Good?

Rather than simply telling the oatmeal lovers of the world to put down the spoon, I will try to start on a positive note.

Ingredient 1: whole grain rolled oats – According to Kelli Foster, there are several types of oats, and their names are assigned according to processing and texture. So, whole grain oats are simply what they are. Ready for the rub? Oats are most likely rotated with wheat which may cause several health issues; one particular problem is that it may be a poor chocie for anyone who is allergic to gluten because of the close contact with wheat. Oats also have some gluten in them, so they should be avoided on a gluten-free diet. And the most disturbing news on this seemingly healthy item? Pesticides, pesticides, and more pesticides; a word that has become the equivalent to major health problems. As I was looking at information on oats, I found that it was one of the top ten foods that several websites recommend that we consumers purchase organic versions of. After reading multiple sources, I find myself in complete agreement. Click this link to read more. There are other sources of information out there as well.

The Not-So-Good & Just Plain Bad

Ingredient 2: whey protein isolate – According to Web MD, this is a protein from the “watery portion of milk that separated from the curds when making cheese.” While whey has been used as part of weight loss plans and in other helpful areas, the side effects may include fatigue, nausea, headache and others.

Ingredient 3: maltodextrin -Let me see if I can break down everything I have read about this food additive. Frequently used in products that claim to be low sugar and even no sugar, this sweet substance has some fairly large issues. First, it causes a spike in blood sugar that exceeds regular sugar. It even affects hormones. To counteract the blood sugar spike (that high feeling after we eat sugar), our bodies produce insulin. This substance has a very high glycemic level which means higher sugar spikes and more insulin. Over the long term, this is damaging in that it can contribute to a host of problems; one is immediate fat storage. Even more serious, it has links to cancer and other chronic problems because of our bodies reactions to the substance. I found several websites claiming it to be safe; at least two of the websites were linked to products that use maltodextrin. One interesting read that explained some of the problems can be read by clicking this link or this link.

Ingredient 4: natural and artificial flavor (a.k.a. I don’t know what it is and can’t find it) – During my research, I could not find what particular natural and artificial flavors are used. I’m not a fan of ingredients that I have to guess what they are.

Ingredient 5: Calcium Carbonate – According to one article on Reference.com, this substance is one that is typically prescribed to patients who have low calcium in the diet. In foods, Calcium Carbonate may be used as a whitening substance, used as a firming agent, or to control acidic levels. I suppose my question here is if I am getting the correct amount of calcium in my diet and this is frequently added to prepackaged foods (and it is), what are the possible side effects? The answer? The most common were gastrointestinal issues, but there were other more severe side effects listed on some of the drug fact sheets. Since there is no way to tell how much of this is actually in my oatmeal, I’m not sure that I would be providing accurate information on possible side effects, so I will let you, the reader, explore more.

Ingredient 6: Pyridoxin Hydrochloride- This appears to be a B6 vitamin. According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there is no indication that this is hazardous. Keep in mind that many prepackaged foods have added synthetic vitamins which will be the basis for an entirely new article at some point.

Ingredient 7: Soy Lecithin – This is a food additive, common to prepackaged foods, that is made primarily of soy. Unfortunately, what I have found says nothing good about soy additives. One issue is that in the process of creating soy lecithin, chemicals are used. The chemicals are not regulated by the FDA and are left in our food products when this is used. Another major concern is pesticide residue from the soy. We are exposed to thousands of toxins on a daily basis, and this additive is one of the contributors.

Ingredient 8: Sucralose – This was once sugar, but became Sucralose after being chlorinated, a chemical process that produces a chlorocarbon which makes it possible for the reduced calorie sweetener to remain sweet while lacking the calories of sugar. In a prior article on my diet soda, I said, “The first thing that one might notice when researching chlorocarbon is the word poison.” This chemical has been proven to reduce healthy bacteria increasing risks of several different short-term, and long-term issues. It has been linked to many problems – one being cancer. While I was researching this ingredient, I admit to coming across several articles that claimed to debunk the damning evidence against the use of this substance. The negative side effects and research-based data far outweighed any positive claims. I am partial to some of Dr. Mercola’s articles on the subject.

What Should We Do?

I could recommend that we all stop eating processed foods, but in a world of convenience-oriented individuals, that might be unrealistic. What we can do is be aware of what is hidden in our foods and choose accordingly. Putting our money where our mouths are can make a significant impact on how companies are packaging our foods. I hope that you will consider this the next time you pick up prepackaged oatmeal. At the very least, go organic and use natural sweeteners like organic honey.

I am currently researching some of the online organic/safe food markets and will share that information on a blog as soon as I feel I have found good alternatives. Until then, question what you eat and reach for the safer alternative.