Snack foods are a big business in this country and for good reason. Americans love to snack. And to compete with our desire to cut down on unsaturated fats while we do, some snack foods bearing the word "light” on their packaging include the fat substitute olestra.

You may not know this but olestra has been banned in Canada and the United Kingdom. According to Smart Money, it's still legal here and used by companies like Proctor & Gamble for its low or non-fat chips, crackers and cookies.

This is the same ingredient that Smart Money says caused a Manhattan dermatologist to become so sick with abdominal cramps that she had to cancel her appointments. The advocacy organization Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) says no one should eat olestra, even though P&G says 6.5 million servings of food containing its version olestra, Olean, have been consumed since 1996. That's when the FDA approved olestra.

Olestra isn't the only banned substance we're snacking on. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH (sold under the name Posilac) is a synthetic hormone injected into cows to stimulate milk production. Smart Money says it appears in many dairy-based snacks like ice cream, but not in Europe or Canada, where it has been banned.

There are fears that a hormone associated with cancer might be higher in people who drink milk treated with rBGH. Eli Lilly, the company that manufacturers Posilac, denies these claims. A division of Eli Lilly bought Posilac for more than $300 million in 2008 and studies show it can increase milk production in a cow by 15% or more, meaning more milk to sell.

Beetle bits

Why stop here? Would you like some pulverized insects in your snack? Smart Money says beetles are often boiled and ground up and used in snack foods to create shades of red, purple and pink in everything from fruit juice to ice cream and candy.

Reading the labels might not even spare you from eating an insect. According to Smart Money, you won't find the word "beetle” anywhere on food labels. Instead, you'll likely see the less cringe-worthy "carmine,” "carminic acid” or "cochineal extract" which is basically, beetle remains. 

Questionable ingredients aren't the only things snack food companies don't want you to know. Smart Money says expiration dates on highly-processed foods can be significantly longer than the date on the package. Karen Duester, MS, RD is president of the Food Consulting Company, which advises companies on food labels and FDA regulations. She says that if the product is well-sealed, kept away from light, and has a low fat and dairy content, it could last for years. That's particularly true for canned snacks like maraschino cherries.

These "use by” dates are provided voluntarily by the manufacturer even though the products could be safe to eat after their expiration. Duester says the reason they do it is because it encourages retailers to restock - and reorder - the product more often. Plus, she adds, an expiration date of 2015 isn't that appealing.

What about those energy and power bars? Smart Money says that if you look closely, you'll see that their ingredients look a lot like what you'd find in a candy bar. They are basically concentrated doses of sugar that provide an immediate burst of energy from the sugar rush but then you crash and feel even more tired than if you hadn't eaten the bar.