Some of the foods available at the grocery store contains all sorts of additives. These additives are supposed to enhance the flavor and appearance of our foods.
But, at what cost?
I don’t want to sound “alarmist,” but some food additives have been linked with cancer, ADHD, nerve cell damage, high cholesterol, and so on.
Admittedly, we need more research to confirm a definite link for some of these. But, in the meantime what are we to do?
Reading food labels is a good place to start, and although that can be very time consuming, a little research is a very small price to pay for a healthier you.
Here are 15 of the most harmful food additives to watch out for. I suggest reading this list, memorizing it, or printing it out to take with you to the grocery store.
The jury is still out on the safety of sweeteners, but let’s take a closer look at some of them:
Aspartame — this artificial sweetener is found in diet sodas, low calorie foods, and even some children’s vitamins. In 1995, the FDA listed 92 adverse Aspartame symptoms, which had been submitted as complaints.
Some of these symptoms include, headaches, memory loss, seizures, cancer and coma.
Acesulfame-K — is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It can be found in diet drinks, candy, and baked goods. Some studies have linked this sweetener to cancer in rats, we really don’t know what it’s long-term effect will be on humans.
Saccharin — found in fruit juice, soft drinks, and canned fruits. Studies have indicated it may cause cancer in lab animals.
Acesulfame potassium (Acesulfame-K) — found in baked goods, soft drinks, and diet produce, such as light yoghurts. There are concerns about it being a potential carcinogen.
So, are artificial sweeteners to be avoided at all costs? I don’t think so. But, you should reduce your consumption, if you consume them regularly.
As a registered dietitian, I go against many of my colleagues, who don’t have a problem recommending sweeteners to their clients. However, I just cannot reconcile myself to the idea that artificial sweeteners are “safe” for everyone.
You can take it or leave it, but I prefer to “air on the side of caution” with this one. That is, no artificial sweeteners, if I can help it.
2. Food colorings
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) in the US recommended the common colors should be banned. CSPI executive director, Michael F. Jacobson, co-author of the report, Food Dyes: A Rainbow of Risks said this:
These synthetic chemicals do absolutely nothing to improve the nutritional quality or safety of foods, but trigger behavior problems in children and, possibly, cancer in anybody.
Let’s take a look at some of the common food colorings:
Blue 1 — found in certain beverages, candy, and various baked items. This coloring is linked to cancer in mice.
Red 3 — the food coloring used in candy, fruit cocktail and baked goods. In 1990, it was recognized by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals, however it is still permitted in ingested drugs and foods.
Yellow 6 — used in gelatine, baked goods, candy and sausages. This coloring is linked to tumor causation, although disputed by the FDA. It may also cause allergic reactions in some people.
Red 40 — may cause hypersensitivity reactions in a small number of people, and may trigger hyperactivity in children.
Bottom line? All of these additives can be found in junk foods such as candy, sodas, and other sugary beverages — products we need to cut back on anyway.
Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite — used to preserve flavor and the red color in meats. It can be found in bacon, hot dogs, pepperoni, and most processed meats.
These nitrates will form nitrosamines once they enter the body. These are carcinogenic. Studies have indicated that even small amounts can cause breast, prostate and stomach cancer.
Once again, these are unhealthy food choices, and therefore regular consumption should be avoided.
BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (Butylated hydroxytoluene) — these are preservatives used to keep oils and fats from going rancid. They are commonly found in processed foods such as cereals, vegetable oils, potato chips and chewing gum.
Studies have suggested these preservatives may increase your risk of cancer.
Hydrogenated vegetable oils — also known as trans fat, or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil. You can find this oil in many products such as potato chips, popcorn, cookies, pastries, butter, margarine, and almost all fast foods.
The danger with this type of oil is it causes an increase in your LDL cholesterol levels, while decreasing your HDL cholesterol levels. This increases your risk for having a heart attack, stroke, or other heart related problems.
Check out food labels and avoid products stating trans fats, hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate) — you’ve probably heard about the dangers of this food enhancer. It is found in canned soups, potato chips, frozen foods and crackers.
MSG has been linked to a range of side-effects, including headaches, nausea, and vomiting.
A 1995 study, by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, found that although most people can eat MSG safely, “an unknown percentage” may suffer “chest pain, headaches, nausea, rapid heartbeat and drowsiness.” Most at risk were people with severe asthma, or those who consumed MSG on an empty stomach.
Er… comforting thought!
Olestra (Olean) — this is a synthetic fat, developed to prevent fats from being absorbed by your digestive system. The theory is that if your body does not absorb the fat you will not gain weight. However, when the body does not absorb fat, it also does not absorb important nutrients, such as vitamins A, D and K. This is where the problem lies.
Olestra was added to some brands of potato chips, and pushed as a healthy alternative to regular potato chips. But, thousands of complaints have been filed, stating that Olestra has caused severe diarrhea, abdominal bloating, gas and abdominal cramping.
Potassium bromate — this is a bleaching agent, found in flour and baked goods. It is used in rolls, pizza dough and breads.
Studies have shown that this agent can cause cancer in animals and humans. It is banned here in the UK and also Europe, but not in the US. However, since 1991 the FDA have been urging bakers to stop using it voluntarily.
Phew… it makes for pretty frightening reading!
But, avoiding most of these additives is relatively easy. How? By eating mainly fresh, whole foods, and avoiding highly processed products, like those mentioned above.
Another way to make sure you are avoiding food additives is to start a habit of reading foods labels regularly.
What about you — are you concerned about food chemicals or artificial ingredients? How do you protect your health?