What The Heck Are You Eating? 19 Fake Foods to Avoid Forever

With processed foods running rampant in the grocery store it's hard to know what you're actually eating. With artificial colors and unpronounceable ingredients, there are just some foods you should never put in your mouth. Thanks to Eat Clean, it's a little bit easier to navigate the dos and don'ts.

Pasteurized cheese snack

Cheese faking is an art nearly as popular as cheese making. The ingredients in "pasteurized cheese snacks" — fillers, oil, and emulsifiers — are so un-cheese-like that lobbyers tried to force the companies making it to call their cheese products "embalmed cheese" — but the government settled on "processed cheese."

Ingredients: Whey, cheddar cheese (milk, cheese culture, salt, enzymes), canola oil, milk protein concentrate, whey protein concentrate, milk, contains less than 2% of sodium citrate, sodium phosphate, salt, calcium phosphate, lactic acid, sodium alginate, autolyzed yeast extract, sorbic acid as a preservative, cheese culture, enzymes, apocarotenal (color), annatto (color)

easy cheese
(Photo: Women's Health)

Chocolate Chip-Flavored Cookies

A chocolate chip cookie, by any other name, is a total red flag. See chocolate-chip-flavored cookies. Why is it called "flavored"? To be called chocolate, the FDA requires that a food contain cocoa butter, and these use cheaper vegetable oils as substitutes. And yes — that partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil is code for trans fat. Better bake your own.

Ingredients: Enriched flour bleached (wheat flour, niacin, iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid), sugar, chocolate flavored chips (sugar, partially hydrogenated palm kernel oil, cocoa, cocoa processed with alkali, dextrose, soy lecithin), partially hydrogenated soybean and/or cottonseed oil, water, contains 2% or less of: molasses, wheat protein isolate, baking powder (baking soda, sodium aluminum phosphate), salt, eggs, artificial flavor, nonfat milk

chocolate chip
(Photo: Women's Health)

Caramel Syrup

This product may look and taste like the gross approximation of caramel, but industrial caramel is way different than the kind you make at home using a sugar base. Some "caramel color" is processed with ammonia, and California even added the compound that makes it up — 4-methylimidazole — to its list of known carcinogens. Companies don't have to disclose whether they use ammonia in their caramel color, so it's best to melt your own with this DIY recipe.

Ingredients: Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, sweetened condensed skim milk (skim milk and sugar), water, contains 2% or less of: disodium phosphate, sodium citrate, salt, artificial flavor, caramel color, xanthan gum, artificial color (yellow 6, yellow 5)

caramel syrup
(Photo: Women's Health)

Peanut Butter That's Not All-Natural

Peanut-flavored sugar oil doesn't have quite the same ring, but it's far more accurate a name than your average peanut butter. What shouldn't contain added sugar typically has at least two types, plus partially hydrogenated oil (code for trans fat). What should be on the ingredients list? Peanuts. Period.

Ingredients: Peanut butter [roasted peanuts, sugar, hydrogenated vegetable oils (cottonseed and rapeseed), molasses, salt, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil], sugar, and honey

peanut butter
(Photo: Women's Health)

'Frozen Dairy Desserts' Posing as Ice Cream

Gone are the good ol' days of ice cream. Now, we're forced to shovel down spoonfuls of "frozen dairy dessert," which can't legally be called ice cream without containing at least 10% milk fat, according to this depressing New York Times lament of ice cream lost. What frozen dairy dessert does contain is plenty of corn syrup, gums, and whey.

Ingredients: Milk, sugar, corn syrup, cream, whey, mono and diglycerides, carob bean gum, guar gum, carrageenan, natural flavor, annatto (for color), vitamin A palmitate, Tara gum

frozen dessert
(Photo: Women's Health)

Egg Substitutes

Eggs are one ingredient. But creating a faux version of them takes 20. Thankfully, eggs top the ingredient list, but it goes downhill from there: The very next ingredient is a proprietary blend of "natural flavor" to conjure up egginess.

Ingredients: Egg whites (99%), less than 1% of the following: natural flavor, color (includes beta carotene), spices, salt, onion powder, vegetable gums (xanthan gum, guar gum). Vitamins and minerals: calcium (sulfate), iron (ferric phosphate), vitamin E (alpha tocopherol acetate), zinc (sulfate), calcium pantothenate, vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B1 (thiamine mononitrate), vitamin B6 (pyridoxine hydrochloride), vitamin B12, folic acid, vitamin D3, biotin

egg substitues
(Photo: Women's Health)

Instant Mashed Potatoes

Meet the mashed-potato-in-a-box, whose first ingredient is, thankfully, potatoes. (Dehydrated potato flakes, to be exact.) But they also come with preservatives, emulsifiers, flavorings, and even trans fat. At that point, good luck trying to convince anyone of potato realness.

Ingredients: Potato flakes (sodium bisulfite, BHA, and citric acid added to protect color and flavor), contains 2% or less of: monoglycerides, partially hydrogenated cottonseed oil, natural flavor, sodium acid pyrophosphate, butteroil

instant mashed potatoes
(Photo: Women's Health)

"Maple" Syrup

Check out the syrup in your pantry before you pour it on your stack of pancakes: Chances are good you'll find plenty of corn syrup (two types!) and artificial flavorings. Here, treat your pancakes to another squeeze of sodium hexametaphosphate!

Ingredients: Corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup, water, cellulose gum, caramel color, salt, sodium benzoate and sorbic acid (preservatives), artificial and natural flavors, sodium hexametaphosphate

maple syrup
(Photo: Women's Health)

"Blueberry" Pancakes

What goes best with fake maple syrup? Fraudulent pancakes, of course. Read the tiny print that says "with imitation blueberries," and you'll be dying to hear how to fake a fruit. Here's the secret: Take some dextrose, fractionated palm kernel oil, flour, citric acid, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, artificial flavors, two types of blue, one part red, and you're set.


Ingredients: Enriched bleached flour (wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid, may contain malted barley flour), imitation blueberry pieces (dextrose, fractionated palm kernel oil, enriched flour [wheat flour, niacin, reduced iron, thiamin mononitrate, riboflavin, folic acid], citric acid, cellulose gum, maltodextrin, artificial flavor, red 40, blue 1, blue 2), sugar, soy flour, leavening (sodium bicarbonate, monocalcium phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate), canola or soybean oil, dextrose, salt, mono-diglycerides, guar gum, artificial flavor

blueberry pancakes
(Photo: Women's Health)

What other foods should you avoid? Click here to read the full article on Eat Clean.