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Healthy eating: the top ten food additives to avoid

12 April 2009 962 views No Comment

Healthy Eating: Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid

1. Propyl Gallate:

This preservative, used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling, might cause cancer. It is used in vegetable oil, meat products, potato sticks, chicken soup base and chewing gum and is often used with BHA and BHT (see below)

2. BHA and BHT:

Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are used similarly to proplyl gallate – to keep fats and oils from going rancid. Used commonly in cereals, chewing gum, vegetable oil and potato chips (and also in some food packaging to preserve freshness), these additives have been found by some studies to cause cancer in rats. If a brand you commonly buy uses these additives, look for a different brand as not all manufacturers use these preservatives.

3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

MSG is a flavor enhancer in many packaged foods, including soups, salad dressing, sausages, hot dogs (don’t even get me started on the evils of hot dogs), canned tuna, potato chips and many more. Many people have personally experienced varying degrees of ill affects from MSG including headaches, nausea, or vomiting after eating foods containing MSG. On a more serious side, some doctors believe there is a link between MSG (and artificial sweeteners) and sudden cardiac death, particularly in athletes, as well as excitotoxic damage (excitotoxins are a group of excitatory amino acids that can cause sensitive neurons to die). Sound bad? Well, what is even worse is that food companies have found a way to hide MSG in their ingredients! Although MSG is a chemical compound, it is derived from natural ingredients. Therefore, the FDA allows the food companies to label MSG as “natural flavorings”. This will usually be listed as the last ingredient in the description and may or may not include MSG! Look for your processed food items in a health food store where you can be sure the processed foods will be MSG (and trans fat) free.

4. Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet)

This artificial sweetener is found in Equal and NutraSweet, along with products that contain them such as diet sodas, and other low-cal and diet foods. This sweetener has been found to cause brain tumors in rats as far back as the 1970’s, however a more recent study in 2005 found that even small doses increase the incidence of lymphomas and leukemia in rats, along with brain tumors. Some people, who are sensitive to aspartame, may also suffer from headaches, dizziness and hallucinations after consuming it. Be wary of labels that say “No Sugar Added!”. This usually means that the produce is using aspartame as the sweetener. Truthfully, you would probably be better off with the sugar!

5. Acesulfame-K

Acesulfame-K is an artificial sweetener that is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. It is used in baked goods, chewing gum, gelatin desserts and soft drinks. Two studies involving rats have found that this substance may cause cancer, and other studies to reliably prove this additive’s safety have not been conducted! When Acesulfame-K breaks down, it has been found to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits and dogs.

Recent studies have shown that the artificial sugar substitutes used primarily in soft drinks may interfere with your body’s natural regulation system and result in your overindulging in other sweet foods and beverages! Nice, huh!!

6. Sodium Nitrate

Sodium Nitrate is used as a preservative, coloring, and flavoring in bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, corned beef, smoked fish, and other processed meats. These additives can lead to the formation of cancer-causing chemicals called nitrosames which promote the growth of various cancers. It is no comfort to know that the USDA actually tried to ban the use of Nitrates in the 1970’s, but were preempted by the meat processing industry who rely on the chemical as a color fixer to make their meats more visually appealing. Nitrates are especially dangerous to expectant mothers, infants, and children where there can be a heightened risk of brain tumors to the fetus or child. Sadly, nearly all school lunch programs use products containing sodium nitrates. I would say that this is one of the most dangerous chemicals being used in the food market today and should be avoided at all costs!

7. Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil

The process used to make hydrogenated vegetable oil (or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) creates trans fats, which promote heart disease and diabetes (and good old weight gain). The Institute of Medicine has advised that you should eat as little trans fat as possible (duh!). Anytime you see these ingredients on the label you should avoid them. Trans fats can be found in some margarines, vegetable shortening, crackers, candy, snack foods, cookies, baked goods, salad dressings, canned soups, bread and much much more! It is used by the food industry because it reduces cost and increases the shelf life and flavor stability of foods. Check with your local health food store for trans fat free options.

8. Blue 1 and Blue 2

Blue 1, used to color candy, beverages (yes, those sport drinks), and baked goods may cause cancer.

Blue 2, found in pet food, candy and beverages, has caused brain tumors in mice.
9. Red 3 and Yellow 6

Red 3 is a food coloring that is used in cherries (fruit cocktails), baked goods and candy. It causes thyroid tumors in rats and may cause them in humans as well.

Yellow 6 is the third most often used food coloring and is found in baked goods, candy, gelatin and sausages. It has been found to cause adrenal gland and kidney tumors, and contains small amounts of many carcinogens. (carcinogen refers to any substance that is directly involved in the promotion of cancer).

10. Potassium Bromate

This additive is used in breads and rolls to increase the volume and produce a fine crumb structure. Although most bromate breaks down into bromide, which is harmless, the bromate that does remain causes cancer in animals. Bromate has been banned throughout the world EXCEPT for in the United States and Japan! (yes, it is even banned in Sri Lanka and China). In 1991 instead of banning the harmful additive, the FDA decided (without much success) to urge bakers to “voluntarily” stop using it. In California, however, a cancer warning would likely be required if it were used, which is why it is rarely used in that state (Hurray for California!!).

In conclusion, try to remember one thing when you are shopping and looking at the labels. No matter what the packaging promotes, bottom line is that food companies are in the business of making money. They are not concerned about your health, or your family’s health. They just want to sell a product regardless of how, as long as they fall within the FDA guidelines (which, as you have seen, are not limiting enough!). You have to be your own healthy food advocate. As much as you are able, buy organic, purchase as many items as possible through a health food market where many of those food companies are attempting make a better and healthier product, and eat as many fresh and unprocessed foods as you can! Happy Eating.

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