What is in My Food?!

One of our many jobs at Cookeville Nutrition Experts is to help you decipher food labels and ingredient lists. You may often look at the back of your food wrapper and wonder what some of the items are in the long ingredient list. If you cannot pronounce an ingredient or if you do not know what it is, does that make it bad? Not necessarily. However, food additives are often used in foods with low nutritional value, so they should be consumed in moderation. Continue reading to learn about some of the most common, hard to pronounce food additives. Your local registered dietitians are here to help!

Sugar, Corn Syrup, and Refined Sugars

Overconsumption of these products can lead to a multitude of health issues. They are empty calories and can result in obesity, tooth decay, and heart disease. Common food products with sugar, corn syrup, and refined sugars are soft drinks, sweetened teas, fruits drinks, flavored yogurts, cereals, cookies, cakes, candies, and most processed foods. Below is a list of terms you may see on the back of a food wrapper and should consume in moderation.

-brown sugar

-corn syrup



-fruit juice concentrates

-high fructose corn syrup


-invert sugar

-malt sugar



Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners are also known as sugar substitutes. The sweeteners listed below have been reviewed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and are recognized as safe. As a result, they may be beneficial for people who are trying to reduce their caloric intake or maintain their blood sugar. Keep in mind that some people have adverse effects from artificial sweeteners and may want to limit them. Below is a list of common artificial sweeteners.

-Acesulfame-K (Sweet One, Sunett)

-Aspartame (Nutrasweet, Equal, Sugar Twin)

-Neotame (Newtame)

-Saccharin (Sweet’n Low)

-Stevia (PureVia, Truvia)

-Sucralose (Splenda)

Sugar Alcohols

Sugar alcohols are another sugar-free sweetener. They are typically found in foods like chewing gum, sugar-free candies, cookies, and soft drinks. Sugar alcohols digest slowly, so they do not cause a sudden increase in blood sugar levels. Do not consume too much, because they can cause diarrhea, bloating, and weight gain.



-Hydrogenated starch hydrolysates  








Starches and modified starches are typically used for thickening, stabilizing, and emulsifying. They are found in products that claim to be “instant”. Foods like gravy packets, instant puddings, and boxed meals usually contain modified food starches. Modified starches may be used to replace more nutritious ingredients like fruit, vegetables, and whole grains. Below you will find some common food starches listed on food packaging.

-Modified corn starch

-Modified potato starch

-Modified starch

-Modified wheat starch

-Potato starch

-Tapioca starch

-Wheat starch

Nitrites and Nitrates

Nitrites and nitrates are found in vegetables, fruits, cured meats, dairy products, cereal, and beer. Not all nitrites and nitrates are bad, however, the ones found in ham, bacon, deli meat, and hot dogs, for example, should be consumed in moderation or avoided.  Below is a list of how they may present themselves on a food label.

-Sodium nitrite

-Sodium nitrate

Food Acids

Food acids are used to enhance product flavors or increase shelf life. Below is a list of food acids that you may see on a food wrapper.

-Citric acid

-Fumaric acid

-Lactic acid

-Malic acid

-Tartaric acid


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