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20 Food Facts That Will Change How You Eat

You won’t believe some of the stuff you’ve been eating. Read these food facts from our experts before you take another bite.

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Healthy low carbs products. Ketogenic diet concept. Top view; Shutterstock ID 1046974864; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOH Keto and diabetesYulia Furman/Shutterstock

Don’t believe everything you read

By now you’re probably familiar with antibiotics in your meat, pesticides on your produce and the pink slime from fast-food outlets. But even supposedly healthy foods can pack some surprises. We rounded up some food facts you won’t find on any nutrition label, and the results may forever change what, how and where you eat.

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Closeup of frozen red berries on a kitchen counter in FrancePierre-Olivier/Shutterstock

Frozen fruit can be healthier than fresh

Fresh is best—most of the time. Research shows that frozen fruits are generally equal in nutrition to—and can even offer more benefits than—their fresh counterparts, says Amy Gorin, MS, RDN, owner of Amy Gorin Nutrition in New York City. One study from the University of California, Davis, found that freezing fruit helped retain nutrients such as vitamin E and minerals such as calcium and iron. Frozen fruit makes nutritious food available to us all year long. Take a look at these 11 foods you’re probably storing wrong.

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Set of dressings for salad: sauce vinaigrette, mustard, mayonnaise or ranch, balsamic or soy, basil with yogurt.Rimma Bondarenko/Shutterstock

Some bottled dressings use the same ingredients as sunscreen

Titanium dioxide is a key ingredient in sunscreen and paint, and the one responsible for their white color. But it’s also found in many brands of store-bought salad dressings, as well as coffee creamers and icing, says Brigitte Zeitlin, MPH, RD, CDN, an owner of BZ Nutrition. Fortunately, cutting your consumption isn’t difficult. If you’re not up for reading labels on the bottled stuff, DIY salad dressing can be as simple as splashing a little olive oil and lemon juice on your greens, and you can use regular milk or cream in your coffee.

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Tasting-White wine pour in a glass; Shutterstock ID 195727904; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): TOHFreeProd33/Shutterstock

Not all wine is vegan

File this under the category of inconvenient food facts: Who would ever guess that your vino might not be vegan-friendly? It’s true, says Ginger Hultin, RD, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the nutritionist behind ChampagneNutrition. “In order to make wine clear, fining agents are used—commonly casein (a milk protein), albumin (egg white), gelatin (animal protein) and isinglass (fish bladder protein).” Although there is generally no residue from these products left in wine after processing, anyone who opposes using animal proteins in their food should seek out wine specifically labeled “vegan.”

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You’ve never had real wasabi

Anyone who’s ever had a California roll is familiar with that little green ball of sinus-clearing spiciness. But it’s probably not authentic wasabi, which comes from the roots of the wasabi plant and is naturally green in color, says Gorin. Most of what you’ll find in the United States is actually horseradish mixed with a few other ingredients, such as oil, water and either natural or artificial coloring. Both horseradish and true wasabi come from the same Brassica family of plants that also includes broccoli and cabbage, but wasabi is difficult to grow outside of Japan, which is why you won’t often find it stateside. (There are a few growers in the Pacific Northwest and Canada.) Wasabi has a more complex flavor than horseradish, with some floral notes and some sweetness.

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Refreshing Bubbly Soda Pop with Ice Cubes. Cold soda iced drink in a glasses - Selective focus, shallow DOFVintage Tone/Shutterstock

Why soda won’t catch on fire

Need another reason to put down the soda and pick up the H20? One of the more unpleasant food facts ought to motivate you: A common ingredient in pop is brominated vegetable oil (BVO), which has been banned as a food additive in Europe. The reason? Excessive intake of bromine, one of the main chemicals in BVO, can lead to memory loss and nerve damage, says Zeitlin. And no wonder—it’s also commonly used in flame-retardant materials. Here’s what’s really in your natural, artificial and organic food flavors.

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Rich chicken Alfredo pizzaTaste of Home

Pizza hides the salt

The majority of salt in the American diet doesn’t come from a shaker. It comes from processed foods like soups and sauces and one other culprit that tends to fly under the radar: pizza! One slice can have upwards of 600 milligrams, says Hultin—that’s nearly half the sodium you need in a day. The American Heart Association suggests not exceeding 2,300 milligrams and, ideally, limiting yourself to 1,500 milligrams. So keep an eye on that pie!

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Colorful donuts in box; Shutterstock ID 422346634; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): Taste of HomeFabrikaSimf/Shutterstock

A poor diet can cause brain damage

An Australian study found that people who eat a lot of processed junk food have a markedly smaller hippocampus—part of the brain crucial to learning and memory—than those who eat mostly fresh, whole foods. And in 2017, research published in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke revealed a startling new link between diet and Alzheimer’s disease: People who drank one or more artificially sweetened drinks per day were nearly three times more likely to develop dementia than those who drank less than one a week. Lesson: Eat (and drink) better brain food. Wise up to 45 superfoods you should be eating.

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Top view of the almond milk in the glass bottle with almond nuts in the white bowl on the grey table.Edalin Photography/Shutterstock

Almond milk isn’t as healthy as you think

“I’m always baffled by folks who want to avoid processed food yet drink almond milk,” says Angela Lemond, RDN, CSP, LD, a nutritionist in Plano, Texas, and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Commercial almond milk is four to five almonds, water, added vitamins and additives to make it look like milk. It’s very man-made.” She recommends that people snack on whole almonds and drink regular cow’s milk to maximize their nutrients in the most natural way possible. Check out the 48 unhealthiest foods you can buy at the grocery store.

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Colorful jelly candy background with many different flavorsStephen Coburn/Shutterstock

Your nails and jelly beans have something in common

You know that shiny, long-lasting shellac manicure you’re obsessed with? That same substance is used to give jelly beans, candy corn and other glazed candy their shine, says Zeitlin. And that’s not even all. Shellac is actually a secretion from an insect. For a better way to satisfy your sweet tooth, join team dark chocolate—it has antioxidants and comes from the cacao plant, not some bug. Try any of these delicious dark chocolate recipes!

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wicker basket of cherry tomatoesdibettadifino/Shutterstock

Processed food isn’t all bad

People have a knee-jerk reaction to the term “processed foods,” but they’re not all bad. It just depends on the level and kind of processing, says Gorin. Take 100 percent grape juice, for example. Because it is made by pressing whole Concord grapes (including the skin, seeds and pulp), it makes the heart-healthy and immune-boosting nutrients in those fruits—which are fairly short-lived in terms of their growing season—much more accessible. Similarly, cooking tomatoes actually increases the bioavailability of lycopene, the cancer-fighting compound in them, making some packaged products a great option. And research has found that steaming broccoli can up levels of health-promoting antioxidant compounds. Read about what happens to your body when you go gluten-free.

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chewing gumAfrica Studio/Shutterstock

You should watch out for unnatural “natural flavors”

Manufacturers can use the blanket term “natural flavorings” on food labels. This could include castoreum, aka secretions from the anal gland of beavers, says Zeitlin. Yup, that’s natural! Castoreum, which is still sometimes found in small amounts in some products containing alcohol, has been used in chewing gum, ice cream (usually vanilla and strawberry), puddings, brownie mixes and some hard candy. It’s earned the FDA’s “generally recognized as safe” (or GRAS) status, but vegans and people with a high ick factor may want to beware or stick to sweets with cleaner ingredients.

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A cup of black coffee with sugar and sweet cupcakePetrova Evgeniia/Shutterstock

Coffee is the top source of antioxidants in the American diet

According to a study by researchers at the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania, coffee is the number one source of antioxidants in the American diet. Antioxidants, as you may have heard while learning about other food facts, are great for fighting off aging and heart disease. But before you go for that second cup, remember this: Coffee isn’t a super-rich source of the free-radical-slaying substance; it just comes out on top because the rest of our diets is so poor. Load up on leafy greens, berries and nuts to get your fill. Here’s what time of the day you should scratch that coffee itch.

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Happy male friends clinking with beer mugs in pub; Shutterstock ID 521300353Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Beer may help prevent tooth decay

Some food facts just make you smile: Yes, tossing back a brew or two—specifically Guinness—may help keep your teeth sparkling, according to a study published in the Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology. Researchers discovered that beer helped prevent the growth of bacteria that leads to tooth decay and gum disease. Previous research found that the silicon in beer may promote strong bones, so it looks like milk’s got some competition. Learn the surprising birthplaces of 20 favorite foods and drinks.

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Jellyfish and chipsShutterstock (2)

Someone made jellyfish snacks

And you thought cricket protein bars were bad. In 2017, researchers at the University of Southern Denmark developed a method for drying the tentacled sea creatures out to a crispy, paper-thin consistency, not unlike a chip. No word on whether they’ll be for sale in U.S. supermarkets anytime soon or in what flavors, but we can always hope.

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Raw oysters are still alive when you eat them

This may be one of the grossest food facts that is sadly true. The slimy little creatures are totally alive as they slide down your throat because dead oysters are not safe to eat. Once an oyster is plucked from the deep blue sea, their life span is extremely short, which means that restaurants need to get them on your plate ASAP. Live oysters are the only safe ones to eat because dead oysters harbor large amounts of bacteria that will make you sick, according to Safe Oysters. Find out the most iconic food in your state.

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Using microwave ovenKostenko Maxim/Shutterstock

Leftovers may taste better the next day

As if you needed another reason to save leftovers, the Institute of Food Technologists found that chemical reactions within food may continue to take place well after you cook and store it away. This means that your food may taste even better second time around! Food proteins may continue to break down and release amino acids like glutamate, which gives food its savory taste. You may also notice that your leftovers start to brown in the microwave. The browning effect happens when the amino acids react with sugar to produce new flavor molecules. While you’re picking up new food facts, make sure you’re not falling for these 8 common cooking myths.

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Sea salt and table salt contain about the same amount of sodium

Sea salt is often hailed as the healthier, low-sodium alternative to table salt. You may think you’re eating smarter by sprinkling sea salt on your roasted vegetables instead of table salt. But the truth is that table salt and most sea salts contain about 40 percent sodium by weight, according to the American Heart Association. Sorry, sea salt advocates!

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Hot sauceRob Hainer/Shutterstock

Spicy foods may lower your risk of dying

A 2015 study from Harvard found that people who ate spicy food almost every day had a 14 percent lower risk of death than people who only ate spicy foods once a week. The researchers looked at the health and diets of nearly 500,000 people in China for four years and followed up a few years later. But keep in mind that the study doesn’t say that eating spicy foods gives you a few extra years of life; it just shows that people who ate spicy foods during the study period were less likely to die than those who ate spicy foods less frequently. “Some evidence from other studies suggests the bioactive ingredients in spicy foods such as capsaicin may lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and triglycerides and improve inflammation,” Dr. Lu Qi, the study author, told the Harvard Health Letter. Check out these 13 foods you need to start eating this year.

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pineapple. details of fresh pineapple on woodenbackground;janecocoa/Shutterstock

Pineapple can ruin your taste buds

Before you start to freak out, the effect usually lasts only for a few hours or the remainder of the day. Plus, some people experience a burning, prickly sensation eating a pineapple, while others do not. The culprit behind that prickly feeling on your tongue is bromelain, an enzyme that breaks down proteins. Cooking pineapple or cutting it up and letting it sit overnight will lessen the attack of bromelain because the enzyme does break down with time or heat. Make sure you also avoid eating the core—that’s where most of the bromelain hides.

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Wisconsin Butter Basted BurgerTaste of Home

It takes 460 gallons of water to make a hamburger

It takes 1,840 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. That number includes irrigation for the grains and grasses that the cattle feed on, plus water for drinking and processing. A good step toward being more environmentally friendly might be swapping out that juicy hamburger for a vegetarian burger. In comparison, one pound of soybeans requires only 216 gallons of water! If you’re in awe of these eye-opening food facts, check out the 11 foods you’re throwing out too soon.

Reader's Digest
Originally Published on Reader's Digest