May I offer you some sugar, dextrose, modified food starch, natural and artificial flavor, disodium phosphate and tetrasodium pyrophosphate, mono- and diglycerides, yellow 5, yellow 6, artificial color, and BHA? That’s the same as saying, “May I offer you some instant pudding?”
Do you know how to tell if something is a food? A substance is not a food when it was derived from natural sources and then processed to the point that it no longer resembles the source. Substances in this category include preservatives, chemical or synthetic additives, artificial colorings, flavor enhancers, and refined oils. The food industry uses approximately 3,000 different food additives in a variety of ways. Most food additives are used to extend shelf life, preserve or add color, and enhance taste. Some additives are intended to become addictive, which increases profits as people are compelled to continue purchasing the product. One such additive starts with a “C.” Can you guess? It’s caffeine. Doctors at Johns Hopkins University have confirmed that true caffeine addiction can occur even with small amounts.[i] Few additives have any nutritional value.
The food industry is able to put additives in our foods because we let them. In most cases, we don’t know what the additives are doing to our health, and (in some cases) we don’t care. For example, consider product labeling that says “natural flavorings.” This deceptive term is used on many packaged and frozen foods. “Natural” to most people means that the substance contains no chemicals or man-made elements. “Natural” to the food industry means the substance was derived from a natural source. After the natural sources are processed, they often have the same chemical composition as artificial substances.
Additives to Avoid
Some additives neither harm nor help you, but quite a few additives exist that have been proven to cause problems.
The following ingredients should be avoided:[ii]
- Artificial food coloring has many carcinogenic (cancer-causing) properties and has been linked to allergies, asthma, and hyperactivity.
- Artificial flavors are closely related to food colorings in their negative aspects. Many people have allergies to commonly used artificial flavors.
- Hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils and fats are known to contribute to cardiovascular disease and obesity. (See the Fats section for more on this topic.)
- Preservatives, such as BHA, BHT, EDTA, and so on, are linked to allergic reactions and hyperactivity. They may also contribute to cancer, toxicity of the liver, and nervous system damage.
- Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are two closely related chemicals used for centuries to preserve meat. Nitrate is harmless, except that it is readily converted to nitrite. Nitrite forms nitrosamines, which are extremely powerful carcinogenic chemicals. This chemical reaction occurs when foods are fried. Nitrite has long been suspected as being a cause of stomach cancer.
- Sulfites found in many foods, including wine and beer, may trigger allergies and asthmatic reactions.
- MSG is a neurotoxin, which means it damages the nervous system. [iii]
- BHA & BHT are two closely related chemicals that are added to oil-containing foods to prevent oxidation and to keep the oils from going rancid. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, considers BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans. Some studies show the same cancer causing possibilities for BHT.
- Formaldehyde is used to slow corpse decomposition and to disinfect frozen vegetables.
- Propylene glycol is a component of antifreeze and paint remover. It is used to produce ice cream.
- Carboxymethylcellulose is a stabilizer; used in ice cream, salad dressing and cheese spreads. When laboratory rats are injected with this substance 80% of them produce tumors.
- Policyclic aromatic hydrocarbons are chemicals that color food. They are suspected carcinogens.
[i] Caffeine Addiction, Can You Quit?, www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=43492
[ii] Haas, Elson MD, The Staying Healthy Shopper’s Guide, Celestial Arts Publishing, California, 1999.
[iii] Schwartz, George MD, and Arthur Coleman, MD, In Bad Taste: The MSG Syndrome, Health Press, New Mexico, 1999.