Kelly LeVeque is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to wellness and internal health, and given her extensive background, this comes as no surprise. A certified holistic nutritionist, wellness expert, and health coach based in Los Angeles, LeVeque runs a popular website, Be Well by Kelly, where she shares her expertise and helps guide others to live life as healthfully as possible. She is constantly researching the latest breakthroughs in nutritional studies and evaluating theories to find the best recipes and habits. Her passion for wellness is evident in her informed recommendations and fascinating findings, which is why we’re so excited to have her as a Byrdie contributor. Here, LeVeque explains how to optimize your shopping trip by sharing which ingredients should never be on your grocery list.
Parabens became taboo some time ago, and the beauty product list of no-no ingredients has been growing ever since. Food labels, on the other hand, remain somewhat uncharted territory. Sure, if you’re a clean-eating, whole food–devoted health nut, food labels don’t even concern you. But for the other 99.99% of the population, we encounter unknown ingredients on a regular basis. So continue to eat clean as much as you can, stock up on healthy essentials like Organic Virgin Coconut Oil ($14) and Organic Raw Apple Cider Vinegar ($7), and avoid these preservatives when grocery shopping.
Scroll through for all the details and a printable preservatives watch list.
Isoflavones are estrogen-like compounds found in soy foods that can cause reproductive problems, weight gain, and fatigue. Research has shown that isoflavones can prevent ovulation and stimulate cancer cell growth. Not only is soy harmful to your reproductive system, but it’s also bad for your skin. It’s full of phytoestrogens that can cause breakouts—these hormonal blemishes occur around the mouth and jawline.
Carrageenan is found in both almond and coconut milk and used as a food thickener or stabilizer. Studies suggest that an increase in exposure to carrageenans can cause intestinal inflammation and lead to digestive problems. While the harmful evidence is not overwhelming (yet), it’s best to avoid carrageenans and double-check the label when buying non-dairy milk.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
Avoid it! This additive ingredient in processed and fast foods is meant to add flavor but masks the true taste of the food. MSG is part contaminants and manufactured chemicals and part glutamate (a form of the amino acid glutamic acid). Glutamate is essential for cognitive function; it acts as a stimulant and signals the messengers in our brain cells to communicate. However, free-bound glutamate ingested in abundance, such as in foods with MSG, can overexcite the nervous system and cause headaches, migraines, and inflammation. The best way to avoid MSG is to shop the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid any prepackaged, extra-salty snacks.
A by-product of the guar bean, guar gum has raised concern due to its prevalence in canned coconut milk. Studies report that consuming guar gum may result in gastrointestinal side effects such as increased gas and abdominal discomfort. If you have digestive issues, removing guar gum from your diet may improve these symptoms.
Chemicals With Estrogenic Activity (EA)
Found hiding in bisphenol-A free plastics—yes, BPA-free plastic—these chemicals bind to estrogen that is naturally occurring in the body and, in effect, increase the amount of estrogen in the bloodstream. Medical research suggests that an increase in estrogen can interfere with your libido and reproductive organs and even result in weight gain. Plastic water bottles exposed to heat and sunlight are prime sources of EA chemicals, so think twice before leaving a water bottle to bake in your car. Or, better yet, opt for reusable glass bottles to avoid these harmful effects, and be more sustainable while you're at it.
And there you have it. Print this list and take it with you on your next grocery store run. Then add the below five foods that nutritionists always recommend.
Certified health coach Nicole Granato recommends quinoa as an amazing plant-based protein. What makes quinoa special is that it is a "complete" protein, explains naturopathic doctor Katherine Dale. (This means that quinoa contains the perfect proportion of all nine essential amino acids needed for optimum nutrition.) "It is a high source of naturally gluten-free protein and has a satisfying taste and texture," Dale continues.
Gisela Bouvier, a registered dietitian, adds that quinoa contains important nutrients like magnesium, fiber, manganese, riboflavin, and B vitamins, "which help the body convert food into energy."
Of the 17 nutritionists features editor Amanda Montell spoke with, more than half named avocado as one of the three healthiest foods in the world. "I have nicknamed avocados God's butter!" says Daryl Gioffre, DC, celebrity nutritionist and founder of the Alkamind cleanse. "It is literally a perfect food. Avocados are rich in vitamins K, C, B5, and B6 as well as key minerals. In fact, they contain more potassium than bananas without all of the sugar. They're also surprisingly high in fiber, so they help maintain digestive health."
A tip? When picking out avocados, make sure to "select blackish-green, pebbly-skin Haas avocados, which are higher in healthy fats and lower in carbs than the smooth, bright green Florida ones," says Colette Heimowitz, the vice president of nutrition and education at Atkins Nutritionals (creators of the Atkins diet).
"Wild salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids and much lower in the toxins like PCBs than farmed salmon," explains Barry Sears, creator of The Zone Diet and author of The Zone series. Omega-3s are important, as they "reduce the risk of heart disease and help boost good cholesterol," Bouvier explains. "Omega-3s have also been linked to helping reduce the risks for depression, cancer, and help overall cognitive function." Not to mention it is amazing to incorporate into a diet focused on healing acne.
"This juicy ball of sunshine contains a long list of super-important vitamins and minerals, many of which contribute to the health of our digestive and immune systems and can do quite a number on the health of our hair and skin," says Courtney Baron, a Thumbtack health and wellness instructor. "The vitamin C in lemons helps produce collagen and protects the skin from free radicals, which could lead to cancer."
"There are at least 15 different types of phytonutrients found in blueberries, and all of them are potent antioxidants that protect virtually every system in the body," says Michelle Babb, registered dietitian and author of Anti-Inflammatory Eating for a Happy, Healthy Brain. "Antioxidants guard against damage to cells, tissues, and muscles and are important for cardiovascular health, brain health, and exercise recovery."