|Also known as: food additives|
What is it?
|For a very complete
list of food additives go to the
food additives page.
To some, all additives are bad. In truth, they wouldn't have to be used if we purchased whole unadulterated food. Broadly speaking, additives can be classified according to function. There are FLAVORINGS and FLAVOR ENHANCERS; COLORINGS; nutritional supplements (usually VITAMINS and MINERALS added to flours and cereals to replace nutrients lost during milling and refining); ANTIOXIDANTS (to prevent rancidity); PRESERVATIVES (to retard spoilage); emulsifiers, stabilizers and texturizers (to keep creamy foods creamy); thickeners; HUMECTANTS (to keep foods moist); anticaking agents (for free-flowing flours and salts); leavening agents; bleaches; dough conditioners; and sweeteners. Of the nearly 3,000 "chemicals" U.S. processors intentionally add to food, 98 percent are nothing more than sugar, corn syrup, SALT, pepper, CITRIC ACID (found naturally in citrus fruits), baking soda, mustard and vegetable colors. Then there are the unintentional additives that make their way into our food supply on its long journey from farm to dinner table. These include residuals of drugs given to animals, of pesticides and herbicides, even of chemicals that migrate into food from plastic packaging and metal cookware.
The FDA is mandated by law to regulate the food industry and ensure the safety of our food supply. Not always with complete success, as consumer watchdogs are quick to point out. Anyone scanning a food label will be bewildered (frightened, perhaps) by the number of additives. It's impossible to cover them all, but here's a list of food additives to avoid.
Food Additives to Avoid (Listed alphabetically)
Known commercially as Sunette or Sweet One, acesulfame is a sugar substitute sold in packet or tablet form, in chewing gum, dry mixes for beverages, instant coffee and tea, gelatin desserts, puddings and non-dairy creamers. Tests show that the additive causes cancer in animals, which means it may increase cancer in humans. Avoid acesulfame K and products containing it. Your sweet tooth isn't worth it.
The great bulk of artificial colorings used in food are synthetic dyes. For decades synthetic food dyes have been suspected of being toxic or carcinogenic and many have been banned. Whenever possible, choose foods without dyes. They're mostly used in foods of questionable nutritional worth anyway. Natural ingredients should provide all the color your food needs.
This sugar substitute, sold commercially as Equal and NutraSweet, was hailed as the savior for dieters who for decades had put up with saccharine's unpleasant after taste. There are quite a few problems with aspartame. The first is phenylketonuria (PKU). One out of 20,000 babies is born without the ability to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the two amino acids in aspartame. Toxic levels of this substance in the blood can result in mental retardation. Beyond PKU several scientists believe that aspartame might cause altered brain function an behavior changes in consumers. And many people (though a minuscule fraction) have reported dizziness, headaches, epileptic-like seizures, and menstrual problems after ingesting aspartame.
Avoid aspartame if you are pregnant, suffer from PKU, or think that you experience side affects from using it. If you consume more than a couple of servings a day consider cutting back. And, to be on the safe side, don't give aspartame to infants.
These two closely related chemicals are added to oil-containing foods to prevent oxidation and retard rancidity. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, consider BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the State of California has listed it as a carcinogen. Some studies show the same cancer causing possibilities for BHT.
BHT and BHA are totally unnecessary. To avoid them read the label. Because of the possibility that BHT and BHA might cause cancer, both should be phased out of our food supply. To play it safe, phase them out of your diet.
Caffeine is found naturally in tea, coffee, and cocoa. It is also added to many soft drinks. It is one of the few drugs -- a stimulant -- added to foods. Caffeine promotes stomach-acid secretion (possibly increasing the symptoms of peptic ulcers), temporarily raises blood pressure, and dialates some blood vessels while constricting others. Excessive caffeine intake results in "caffeinism," with symptoms ranging from nervousness to insomnia. These problems also affect children who drink between 2 to 7 cans of soda a day. Caffeine may also interfere with reproduction and affect developing fetuses. Experiments on lab animals link caffeine to birth defects such as cleft palates, missing fingers and toes, and skull malformations.
Caffeine is mildly addictive, which is why some people experience headaches when they stop drinking it. While small amounts of caffeine don't pose a problem for everyone, avoid it if you are trying to become or are pregnant. And try to keep caffeine out of you child's diet. An entire article regarding caffeine can be found here.
Early in this century a Japanese chemist identified MSG as the substance in certain seasonings that added to the flavor of protein-containing foods. Unfortunately, too much MSG can lead to headaches, tightness in the chest, and a burning sensation in the forearms an the back of the neck. If you think you are sensitive to MSG, look at ingredient listings. Also, avoid hydrolyzed vegetable protein, or HVP, which may contain MSG. Check out this article - MSG - Dangers and Deceptions.
Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are two closely related chemicals used for centuries to preserve meat. While nitrate itself is harmless, it is readily converted to nitrite. When nitrite combines with compounds called secondary amines, it forms nitrosamines, extremely powerful cancer-causing chemicals. The chemical reaction occurs most readily at the high temperatures of frying. Nitrite has long been suspected as being a cause of stomach cancer. Look for nitrite-free processed meats -- some of which are frozen, refrigeration reduces the need for nitrites -- at some health food and grocery stores. But regardless of the presence of nitrite or nitrosamines, the high-fat, high-sodium content of most processed meats should be enough to discourage you from choosing them. And don't cook with bacon drippings.
Olestra, the fake fat made by Procter and Gamble, is both unsafe and unnecessary. Olestra was approved over the objection of dozens of leading scientists.
The additive may be fat-free but it has a fatal side-effect: it attaches to valuable nutrients and flushes them out of the body. Some of these nutrients -- called carotenoids -- appear to protect us from such diseases as lung cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and macular degeneration. The Harvard School of Public Health states that "the long-term consumption of olestra snack foods might therefore result in several thousand unnecessary deaths each year from lung and prostate cancers and heart disease, and hundreds of additional cases of blindness in the elderly due to macular degeneration. Besides contributing to disease, olestra causes diarrhea and other serious gastrointestinal problems, even at low doses."
FDA certified olestra despite the fact that there are safe low-fat snacks already on the market. There is no evidence to show that olestra will have any significant effect on reducing obesity in America.
Despite being approved as safe by the FDA, all snacks containing olestra must carry a warning label (similar to one found on cigarettes) that states:
As of May 2000, more than 18,000 consumers have submitted to the FDA reports of adverse reactions that they attributed to olestra. That’s more reports than the FDA has received for all other additives in history -- combined. For a full story regarding olestra to to this page.
This additive has long been used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb (the non-crust part of bread) structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide. However, bromate itself causes cancer in animals. The tiny amounts of bromate that may remain in bread pose a small risk to consumers. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States. It is rarely used in California because a cancer warning might be required on the label.
Several studies in the 70's linked saccharin with cancer in laboratory animals. Avoid it. Sweetener packets and cans of saccharin-containing diet drinks bear warning labels: "Use of this product may be hazardous to your health. This product contains saccharin, which has been determined to cause cancer in laboratory animals."
In May 2000, the government revised its position on saccharin and said that while saccharin causes bladder cancer in animals it does not cause cancer in humans.
Michael F. Jacobson, executive director of
the Center for Science in the Public Interest, had the following comment
about the Department of Health and Human Services decision to remove
saccharin from the National Toxicology Program’s (NTP) list of
cancer-causing chemicals. Jacobson spoke at the 1997 meeting of the NTP’s
Board of Scientific Counselors, which voted 4-3 not to delist saccharin.
“The government is making a serious mistake in delisting saccharin.
Studies indicate that saccharin causes cancer in the urinary bladder,
lungs, ovaries, uterus, and other organs in animals and also increases the
potency of other cancer-causing chemicals. Furthermore, the best human
study, conducted by the National Cancer Institute, correlated bladder
cancer with exposure to saccharin (and other artificial sweeteners).
Delisting saccharin will probably mean that more people — including
children — will consume more foods with saccharin and have an increased
risk of cancer. The delisting of saccharin sets a dangerous precedent for
delisting other chemicals that cause cancer in animals, but have not been
proven to do so in humans.” “Dr. Olden’s statement that ‘decades more data
from observations of humans’ shows that saccharin is safe is
remarkably unscientific, because no better human studies have been done
than the 1980 National Cancer Institute study.”
Sulfites are a class of chemicals that can keep cut fruits and vegetables looking fresh. They also prevent discoloration in apricots, raisins, and other dried fruits; control "black spot" in freshly caught shrimp; and prevent discoloration, bacterial growth, and fermentation in wine. Until the early 80's they were considered safe, but six scientific studies have proven that sulfites could provoke sometimes severe allergic reactions. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) identified at least a dozen fatalities linked to sulfites. All of the deaths occurred among asthmatics. In 1985 Congress finally forced FDA to ban sulfites from most fruits and vegetables. Especially if you have asthma, be sure to consider whether your attacks might be related to sulfites. The ban does not cover fresh-cut potatoes, dried fruits, and wine.