If you're like me, your New Year's resolution for 2016 was to get healthy.
Both the American Heart Association and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention offer guidelines for how to do this, including exercising, not smoking, managing your stress and eating healthy.
Simple, right? Not really.
Thanks to confusing nutrition labels, conflicting guidelines and the proliferation of ingredients we can't even pronounce, eating healthy has become a mind-boggling undertaking.
This might explain why an estimated 93 million Americans are affected by obesity. But when — and how — did eating healthy become so hard?
The following are some of the ingredients that make it so hard for you to do something as simple as eating healthy:
According to WebMD, a healthy amount of sugar for a female is — at most — 6 teaspoons a day, or the equivalent of about 100 calories.
For men, it's slightly more at 9 teaspoons, or about 150 calories.
This is what we should be consuming.
In reality, the average American is eating 19 teaspoons of added sugar daily.
How is this happening?
Sugar has found its way into products you would never suspect, including ketchup, barbecue sauce, salad dressings, flavored coffees and, one of the biggest culprits, pasta sauce.
Since your body also breaks down starches into simple sugars, those French fries, crackers and pretzels you're eating are giving you the same metabolic highs and lows that sugar does.
It goes by alien names you might not recognize: dextrose, fructose, glucose and sucrose.
Making it worse, sugar stimulates your brain and activates its reward system, which, in turn, makes you crave more and more.
It's a vicious cycle.
Despite all this, sugar lobbies (yes, there are actual sugar lobbies) such as The Sugar Association continue to claim sugar is "an important ingredient that has been safely used for thousands of years."
Like sugar, sodium isn't technically bad for you in moderation.
The American Heart Association explains that too much sodium in your body causes the retention of water, which can burden your heart and blood vessels.
This leads to high blood pressure.
The average American consumes 3,400 milligrams of sodium daily.
Yeah, you guessed it; that's way more than the 1,500 mg recommended daily intake.
Beware the "salty six": breads, pizza, soup, cold cuts, poultry and sandwiches.
Hidden sources of sodium include barbecue sauce and ketchup (again), as well as snack foods and frozen dinners.
Want a laugh? Just like sugar, there's a salt lobby as well.
Just like the sugar industry, the Salt Institute touts all the benefits of its product.
This is an actual quote:
[Salt has] been the secret ingredient of the human race for 8,000 years.
3. Artificial Flavors And Additives
According to Food Matters, a typical American family will spend up to 90 percent of its food budget on processed foods.
These are foods that have been modified and packaged for sale.
While not all processed foods are bad for you, many are low in nutrients and contain high amounts of the aforementioned salt, sugar and additives.
The additives are used to enhance the food's appearance and shelf life.
As innocuous as that sounds, these ingredients can include monosodim glutamate (MSG), which can cause reactions such as headaches, chest pains, nausea and weakness.
Another one is sodium nitrate.
This is a preservative found in processed meats. It is thought to harden and narrow blood vessels and increase your risk of heart disease.
The most infamous additives, however, are the trans fats.
These are industrially created fats that help keep food longer.
Chips, cookies and fried foods commonly use trans fats, which raise your LDL (or bad) cholesterol.
Food dyes are controversial as well.
In a piece done by Shape Magazine, Nicole McDermott notes the discrepancy in food manufacturing between the United States and Britain:
Fanta in the UK, for instance, gets its color from pumpkin and carrot extracts. The US version? Red 40 and Yellow 6 (a dye that causes mild to severe hypersensitivity reactions in some people). A strawberry sundae from McDonald’s has solely strawberries in Britain, but here, petroleum-based Red 40 gives the sundae its hue. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese was recently under fire for using yellow dyes 5 and 6 in the US version, while the British version uses no dye.
In an article by CNN titled, "What Are Natural Flavors, Really?" author Amanda Woerner writes:
Added flavoring, both natural and artificial, could contain anywhere from 50 to 100 ingredients. All of the extra ingredients in flavors often aren't as innocent as you'd hope they would be.
Starting to feel like the cards are stacked against you? You should.
Thanks to special interest groups within the food industry, it's tough to know which foods are good for you, let alone what is being added to them.
A foodie revolution is long overdue.
Awareness is the key to fighting industries that profit off our confusion and ignorance at the cost of our health.
So, read the label before you put something in your cart or take that first bite.
If you can't pronounce half its ingredients, maybe it's time to reconsider.