The food industry is a tricky one to figure out. Firstly, most of our food supply is loaded with unhealthy added sugar, artificial flavoring, coloring, dyes, preservatives, additives, chemicals, stabilizers, GMO’s and hormones. Processed food will always contain an astonishing number of food additives, more than 10,000 additives are allowed in our food during processing, storage, and packaging. Additives are used in many different ways to make processed food more appealing, extend the shelf life, prevent fats and oils from going rancid, prevent fruits from turning brown and improve taste, aroma, and texture. Processed foods are also fortified with synthetic vitamins and minerals to replace the ones that were destroyed during processing. Many additives however are linked to health concerns. A number of additives used in the U.S are banned or restricted in other countries. These are some factors that are contributing to an American population that are heavier, less healthy and more prone to a variety of chronic diseases than in previous decades. To help you make better choices when shopping you need to sort through the questionable additives and chemicals on food labels, let’s take look at some of the worst.
- Nitrates and nitrites. Sodium nitrite is a synthetic preservative added to cured meats like hot dogs, deli meats and ham, and is commonly used as a coloring agent and preservative to maintain that nice pink color. Some studies have linked nitrates and nitrites to cancer and The World Health Organization believe it to be a probable human carcinogen.
- Potassium bromate. It is used as an additive in commercial breads and baked goods to make the dough more elastic and stand up to bread hooks. When you consume a hamburger or hotdog bun you are consuming bromide, an endocrine-disrupting chemical commonly used in flours. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies potassium bromate as a possible carcinogen. It is banned in the United Kingdom, the EU and Canada.
- Propyl paraben is an endocrine-disrupting chemical used as a food preservative in approximately 50 U.S. snack foods like tortillas, muffins, cakes and other baked goods. Propyl paraben acts as a weak synthetic estrogen, which makes it relevant when it comes to estrogen-sensitive cancers and can alter hormone signaling. Studies have shown that chemicals that disrupt hormone signaling can lead to developmental and reproductive problems. It is banned in the European Union.
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). This is a preservative that is found in chips, breakfast cereals, nut mixes, chewing gum, butter spread, dehydrated potatoes, popcorn, beer and preserved meats. The International Cancer Agency categorizes it as a possible human carcinogen, and it is listed as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65. BHA may also trigger allergic reactions and hyperactivity. BHA is banned in infant food in the U.K and is banned from use in all foods in certain parts of the EU and Japan.
- Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). This used as a preservative and is a chemical similar to BHA and they are often used together. It has been linked to developmental effects and thyroid changes in animal studies.
- Natural and Artificial flavors. When you see the word’s “natural flavors” or “artificial flavors” on an ingredient list there is no way to know exactly what that means. The FDA has a very broad and vague definition so that could mean that one unnatural additive is included, or a blend of a large number of chemical additives. When we see natural flavor we assume it is truly natural using natural seasonings. Did you know that most natural flavors are created in a laboratory, like artificial flavors the only difference is that natural flavors must be sourced from a natural product, and their function is to flavor the food rather than provide any nutritional value? The end product has no resemblance to where is started out and some natural flavors can contain propylene glycol which is a solvent or the preservative we just looked at BHA, as well as emulsifiers and flavor modifiers. Artificial flavoring comes from anything inedible (i.e. petroleum) that is processed with a variety of chemicals, sometimes more than a 100 different chemicals are used to create the desired flavor. Genetically engineered flavor enhancers can be listed under artificial flavors, on the food label. However, certified organic natural flavors have very strict guidelines and cannot contain synthetic or genetically engineered ingredients
- Diacetyl is an artificial flavoring used often as the butter flavoring in microwave popcorn. It is also used to flavor dairy products such as yogurts and cheese. Research has shown diacetyl may cause brain health issues and may also trigger Alzheimer’s disease. It has also been linked to respiratory damage, including inflammation and permanent scaring of the airways especially workers at microwave popcorn plants.
- Phosphates are among the most common food additives and are added to approximately 20,000 products like baked goods and processed meats. It is used specifically to reduce acid, improve moisture and tenderness and facilitate leavening. It has been linked to some health conditions such as heart and kidney disease.
- Aluminum additives. These include sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate as well as many other aluminum additives. You will find them in processed foods as a stabilizer. This metal can accumulate and persist in your body, especially in your bones. In animal studies aluminum may cause neurological effects such as changes in behavior, learning and motor responses.
- Artificial colors. Did you know approximately 15 million pounds of artificial food dye is put into our food? Nine of the food dyes currently approved for use in the US are linked with health issues this includes cancer, hyperactivity and allergy-like reactions. Some of the worst are Red #40 it is the most widely used dye and you will find it in beverages, bakery goods, dessert powders, candies, cereals, drugs and cosmetics. It can trigger hyperactivity in children. Blue #2 you will find in candies, beverages, pet food and more, it has been linked to brain tumors. Yellow #5 used in baked goods, candies, cereals and much more, has been linked to hyperactivity, hypersensitivity and behavioral issues. It also contains cancer causing chemicals. Caramel color which is widely use in beverages and food products may causer cancer due to 4-methylimidazole (4-Mel), a chemical byproduct formed when certain types of caramel coloring are manufactured. In the European Union most foods that contain artificial dyes are labeled with warning labels stating the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” The U.K government back in 2009 asked food manufactures to remove most artificial colors from foods due to health concerns.
We have looked at some questionable additives, preservatives and chemicals that are lurking in our food that has raised concern in regards to our health. In summary, with so any questionable additives out there in our food and deceptive labeling, the power lies within us the people to read labels thoroughly, if you want to ensure these types of ingredients are free from your diet. We want to eat real food, not fake food created in a laboratory. You can start by choosing fresh whole, unprocessed organic foods which will help you avoid these harmful and unnecessary chemicals.
If you want to read more about what is wreaking havoc on our bodies? If you want to know more about GMO’s and why it is important to go organic. If you want to know how to maintain a healthy lifestyle that in this day and age has become unnecessarily complicated. Then you will want to read my book Eat smart, live long now available for purchase at http://bookstore.xlibris.com.