The Standard American Diet, appropriately abbreviated SAD, literally makes people sick. In fact, when people from other cultures adopt a Western or SAD diet, they start to experience health issues in just a few short years.

Why? Because the typical American diet is loaded with carbs, sugar and processed foods, all of which have been linked to cancer, heart disease, obesity, hormone imbalances and other health concerns.

These problems have been on the rise ever since we began moving away from growing our own food, eating what’s in season and carefully preserving what was needed to see us through the winter. Our grandparents’ grandparents preserved food by canning, smoking, drying, salting and/or pickling it. Today? We preserve food with chemicals, and we’re slowly poisoning ourselves as a result.

A study published by the open-access medical journal BMJ Open found that nearly 60% of an average American’s daily calories come from ‘ultra-processed’ foods – products that contain flavors, colors, sweeteners and other additives that you wouldn’t use at home. They often contain artificial preservatives, colorants, flavorings and texturants that are designed to trick the brain into craving and eating more of these nutritionally void foods.

SHAPE ReClaimed teaches patients to avoid eating chemical-laden processed foods. Instead, we recommend eating fresh, whole foods: lean meats, low-fat dairy and anti-inflammatory fruits and vegetables. By avoiding ultra-processed foods, you also avoid the risks associated with these toxic food preservatives and additives:


Sulphites are a group of chemicals that are used to preserve color in foods like cut potatoes, dried fruits and dried vegetables, and in soft drinks, beer and wine. The FDA restricted their use in 1986 after they were linked to hives, hypotension, abdominal pain, diarrhea, asthma, headaches and allergies, but plenty of foods still contain them.

Nitrates and Nitrites

Nitrates often added to processed meats like bacon, ham, sausages and hot dogs to preserve taste and color. They are also found naturally in some vegetables and in our bodies. The problem with high levels of added nitrates is that they can be converted to nitrites in the gut, which can cause adverse effects such as anemia, hypotension, preeclampsia, birth defects, peripheral neuropathy and potentially cancer.

Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate is commonly used to preserve and enhance flavor in acidic foods, but it can also show up in medicine, dyes and household preparations. It has been proven to cause hives, asthma, rhinitis and even anaphylactic shock in some people, and clinical trials showed that it can cause DNA damage at the cellular level.


Sorbates, including sorbic acid and potassium sorbate, are chemical preservatives used for food, some personal care products and some pharmaceuticals. You can find sorbates in wine, cheese, baked goods and canned goods, as well as in some fresh meats and produce. Sorbates have been linked to hives, asthma, migraine headaches, nasal congestion and abdominal pain. Calcium sorbate is now banned in Europe due to a lack of safety data.


BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) help prevent oils and fats from oxidizing, which can affect the taste, color and odor of the food. They are commonly found in cereals, gum, snack foods, shortening and oils in the United States, but they have been banned in Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Japan and throughout Europe. BHA and BHT have been linked to cancer, sleep issues and behavioral problems, and they may disrupt endocrine function.


Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor enhancer, commonly used in Chinese food. It is also widely used in processed foods, sometimes under different names. In fact, you can buy MSG as an ingredient in the spice aisle in your own grocery store. But MSG has a long history of causing adverse side effects such as headaches, flushing, sweating, facial pressure or tightness, numbness, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, weakness and more.

The Bottom Line

Does this list scare you? If not, it should. Our bodies weren’t designed to eat artificial ingredients and lab-created foods. We were meant to eat real food – the kind without labels at the grocery store.

If you do choose to eat lightly processed foods, such as those allowed on our program, read the labels and only choose products with ingredients you can pronounce. The SHAPE ReClaimed Patient Guidebook provides clear guidelines on what to eat and what to avoid. When in doubt, leave it out!

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