For decades now, the food industry has created new chemicals to transform our food supply. Now, there are even “foods” that are made entirely from chemicals. There are five main reasons why chemicals are added to our foods:
- To improve shelf life or storage time.
- To make food convenient and easy to prepare.
- To increase the nutritional value.
- To improve the flavor of foods.
- To enhance the attractiveness of food products and improve consumer acceptance.
Despite these advances in science, this type of manipulation can have a profound effect on our body in terms of possibly promoting disease rather than health. Many of the chemical additives, preservatives, and sweeteners have been linked to obesity, cancer, heart disease, and behavioral problems. While we all can appreciate the convenience of packaged and fast foods (we know, our lives are busy!), we should skip those with nasty toxic offenders.
Which Food Additives Should You Avoid?
1. Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate
Sodium nitrate (or sodium nitrite) is used as a preservative, coloring, and flavoring in bacon, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats, corned beef, smoked fish, and other processed meats. This ingredient has been found to form nitrosamines, some of which are human carcinogens—studies have shown an increased risk of rectal, esophageal, and gastric cancers and consumption of foods containing nitrates/nitrites. There is also a link between increased nitrates and Parkinson’s disease, Diabetes, and Alzheimer’s.
2. Artificial Sweeteners
Artificial sweeteners are commonly found in diet or sugar-free sodas, sugar-free gum, drink mixes, baking goods, table top sweeteners, cereal, breath mints, pudding, ice tea, chewable vitamins, and even toothpaste. Some of the documented effects of consuming artificial sweeteners are behavioral problems, hyperactivity, allergies, and possibly carcinogenic effects as well. The use of any artificial sweetener by children and pregnant women is not recommended, as the lasting effects are not well studied. Anyone with PKU (phenylketonuria—a problem of phenylalanine, an amino acid, metabolism) should not use aspartame (NutraSweet).
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrées, lunch meats, seasonings, and many restaurant foods. MSG is known as an excitotoxin, a substance that overexcites cells to the point of damage or death. Studies show that regular consumption of MSG may result in adverse side effects, which include depression, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, headaches, and obesity.
4. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) & Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHA and BHT are preservatives found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and vegetable oils. This common preservative keeps foods from changing color, changing flavor, or becoming rancid. It has been shown to affect the nervous system, alter behavior, and has the potential to cause cancer.
5. Hydrogenated Fats/Trans Fats
Hydrogenated oils are used to enhance and extend the shelf life of food products. They are found in deep-fried fast foods and certain processed foods made with margarine or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils (trans fats are formed by a process called hydrogenation). Numerous studies show that trans fat increases LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol; increases the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, and strokes; and contributes to increased inflammation, diabetes, and other health problems. Keep in mind that a food label may state that a product contains “0” grams of trans fats, as the labeling law allows that when the product contains less than 0.49 grams per serving. Always read the ingredients to ensure that the product does not contain any hydrogenated oil or partially hydrogenated oil to limit trans fat intake.
And of course… Artificial Food Colorings (Read the 5 Ways to Avoid Risky Artificial Food Dyes)
Changing your shopping and eating routines isn’t something you can easily do overnight‑take it one step at a time. The first step is to become more aware about what you are currently eating. Then you can take steps to make the changes you desire.
Start with a few small changes that make a big difference. For example, shop a local farmers’ market. Pick one additive from the list above, and the next time you do your shopping make sure not to purchase any items that contain it…work your way down the list. The fresher your cart looks, the easier it will be!
Be Well, Be NutritionWise.
~ Nicole Meadow, MPN, RD of NutritionWise
This post is solely for informational purposes. It is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for medical advice. Before undertaking any course of treatment or dietary changes, you should seek the advice of your physician or other health care provider.
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