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It’s both completely shocking and not at all surprising that even the healthiest sounding foods can contain some not-so-healthy food additives. Eaten at a restaurant lately? Grabbed a bag of natural chips? In this modern world, who doesn’t? We often eat on the go, and even if we try to make it as healthy as possible, we can still get duped by hidden food additives. Are you eating these unhealthy ingredients?

1. Natural flavors: Yum. Flavors. Food is all about flavor and the more natural, the better, right? Food manufacturers don’t have to disclose where their “natural flavors” come from, and they can be manufactured in a lab just like artificial flavors. This is how the FDA defines natural flavors:

The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.

In other words, as long as the food scientists start with a natural ingredient, it can be turned into anything they want. And do you know what else is considered a “natural” food additive? The anal glands of beavers, which are used to produce berry flavors. For. Real.

2. MSG (monosodium glutamate): If you skip dining at the local Chinese restaurant out of fear of MSG-induced headaches and other issues, you may be doing yourself a favor, but you’re likely not eliminating it altogether. In fact, there are more than 40 different names for MSG. It can come from vegetable proteins and yeast extracts, common in natural and organic foods, but those variations don’t require noting MSG on the label. Check out this list of other names for MSG and steer clear.

3. Hidden GMOs: The Non-GMO Project calls them “invisible GM ingredients” and you may find them in organic foods or foods that say something like “Made with non-GMO corn.” Deceptive, right? But if your food contains any of the invisible GMOs such as citric acid, maltodextrin, stearic acid, xanthan gum or whey, you may be eating GMOs. While the U.S. currently doesn’t require genetically modified ingredients to be labeled, more than 60 countries around the world do because of concerns over human health and risks to the environment.

4. Aspartame: Dr. Mercola has called it “the most dangerous substance on the market” because it accounts for 75 percent of complaints to the FDA. It’s been linked to serious health issues including chronic migraines, tinnitus and cancer. Think aspartame is just found in sodas or those artificial sweetener packets at the coffee shop? That term natural flavors can also include the artificial sweetener, aspartame. Look harder at your flavored yogurts and flavored water products as well as cereals, salad dressings and marinades, as aspartame may be among the ingredients.

Want to learn more about ingredients to avoid? Check out Naturally Savvy’s “Scary Seven” food ingredients list.

Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger

Image: MIchael Bentley