The first hazard sign is right there on the label. If the food has a health claim on the label, if it is sugar-free, gluten-free, fat-free then it is something you should be avoiding. A food that has had a major component removed in processing has been fundamentally changed. After the removing of nutrients is completed the food must be reassembled. In the reassembly the manufacturer will re-add artificial or ‘natural’ flavors, add nutrients to make the food have enough flavor to be edible.
In the case of milk, taking out the fat increases the percentage of carbohydrates in the milk. In the case of gluten-free, they will have to add multiple elements to enable the creation of a product that counts on the mechanical properties of gluten in order to take the shape you expect. Artificial ingredients are not-natural. Is not-natural a bad thing? Well, it would be much more convincing that unnatural ingredients are not harmful if the testing of them were performed by a government agency, like the FDA, but they are not. Will you have any problems from eating gluten-free foods? Only you will be able to tell, and perhaps only after you have eaten these fake foods for a long time.
Fat free foods are in the process of going through another major shift. Now that trans-fats are forbidden and tarred with the hazardous tag, food makers and restaurants now have to find a new not-natural fat to replace the old one. Even though lard, tallow and coconut oil are no longer considered dangerous by many nutrition experts, food makers are reluctant to go back to them yet. In the meantime they will rejigger a recipe, adding six ingredients to create the taste and mouthfeel for products that used to contain trans fats.
I am not saying that artificial ingredients are immediately dangerous to life and health. I am saying that food ingredients don’t go through anything like a drug trial. Because they are not clinically tested on a large test group for the years and years that it might take for a food additive to expose it’s side effects (that would be expensive, and time consuming) they are assumed to be trouble free. There are over ten thousand artificial ingredients on your grocery store shelves. If we are lucky we don’t have any reaction to any of them. If we are lucky, the only thing that will be troublesome will be the gluten they removed, or the fat, or the sugar. If we are lucky none of the hundreds and hundreds of ingredients added into our processed foods will give us any other problems.
You could just eat real foods. You could eat single ingredient foods. You could select foods that don’t even need a label, that are not packaged in bags or boxes. You could let the scientists and nutritionists and food industry wizards worry about whether it is or is not safe for everyone. You can opt out of the system. I have. I try like crazy to not eat fake foods. When I eat processed foods I do it mindfully, I decide that it is OK this one time.
I found another book on the subject. The Food Babe Way. I won’t be buying it because I am already convinced. If you want another book you can try Pandora’s Lunchbox, I really recommend this one. Either one will explain the way that food additives are approved for use. It’s worth your time to read one of these books.