A series of studies and interviews with doctors in the Netflix documentary, What the Health, show how eating processed meats and dairy products lead to many negative implications on your health. The film highlights the importance of ingredient checking.

Mass-produced foods are typically made with dangerous ingredients to preserve the taste and colour of foods for longer-than-normal periods of time, so they can be shipped around with no quality loss. However, these ingredients can severely impact the quality of your health.

“We sent researchers into fast food and family restaurants. Not only were there carcinogens in every single restaurant, but we found them in every single chicken sample that we took,” says Dr. Neal Barnard in the film, as What the Health shows images of McDonald’s, KFC, and Subway. A carcinogen is a life-threatening substance that is directly linked to cancer, according to several online resources.

As UTM students, we tend to opt for cheaper food choices like Tim Hortons, Subway, or Pizza Pizza, because they are conveniently located on campus. The food tastes good, but could we know where the ingredients come from without extensive research?

“They’re made of propylene glycol, partially hydrogenated oils, liquid sugars, and artificial colours,” says nutritionist Mike Adams, in the documentary Hungry for Change. “You can also use propylene glycol to winterize your RV—it prevents the pipes from freezing in the winter.”

The ingredients list for Subway’s chicken strips reveal they contain soy protein concentrate, sodium phosphate, potassium chloride, maltodextrin, and vinegar solids, as well as many other unhealthy ingredients. Just like most fast food restaurants, Subway isn’t good for a person’s health.

“Avoid food products that contain more than five ingredients. The specific number you adopt is arbitrary, but the more ingredients in a packaged food, the more highly processed it probably is,” says Michael Pollan, author of Food Rules, in his book.

Also, look for fewer ingredients with pronounceable, familiar words. Whole Foods shares a list of “unacceptable” ingredients for food on their website. Some of which include hydrogenated oil, sucralose, high fructose corn syrup, and sodium nitrate/nitrite.

Always check the ingredients if you’re buying from a store, just as someone would with an allergy. Or simply, make your own food with ingredients you know and like.

Dr. Michael Greger and Dr. Michelle McMacken, interviewed in What the Health, suggest eating foods high in plant protein. You can get a high serving of protein from vegetables like peas, spinach, kale, broccoli, or asparagus, along with many others.

If you like meat, try buying from local farmers or markets that restrict the use of hormones and chemicals. Picking up locally-grown foods also reduce harmful gas emissions from big transport trucks, so you double up on your consumer responsibility.

Some of these changes may be costlier, however looking after our health should be priority. Eating processed foods should not come at the expense of our health.