7 Common Additives to Avoid and Why

How often do you read the labels of the foods you buy at the grocery store?Did you know that there are more than 6,000 additives that are approved by the FDA for consumption. It would be wonderful to believe that the food manufacturers have the consumer’s best interest at heart, but that’s often not the case. Many companies are more concerned with monetary gains through longer shelf life and better tasting food even if it isn’t natural, than with the consumers health. They use many additives to make our food look and taste better, but these chemicals come with a hefty price tag that we pay with our health. 

Here are the seven most common additives in foods you should aim to avoid. 

1. Sodium Nitrite

Sodium nitrite is a salt and antioxidant used to cure processed meats and to prevent the growth of bacteria while also adding the reddish-pink color and salty flavor. It’s most common in canned meats and sausages. The research shows that sodium nitrite might be to blame for higher risk for gastric cancers, which cause most deaths of all cancers in the US. Also, many other studies have linked a higher intake of nitrites to a higher risk of bladder, breast, and colorectal cancer. 

2. Sodium Benzoate

Sodium benzoate is often added to acidic foods (fruit juices, pickles, and salad dressings) and carbonated drinks. Our body clears this chemical by combining it with glycine to form hippuric acid which is then excreted. But despite being labeled as “safe” by the FDA, some studies show that sodium benzoate can be harmful to one’s health. When combined with Vitamin C, it can be converted into benzene which associates with cancer development. This study which analyzed a variety of foods found that some carbonated drinks had over 100ppb of benzene, which is 20 times more than the maximum level set by the EPA. Quite scary especially if you want to heal or maintain a healthy body!

3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Found in many different processed foods, MSG (monosodium glutamate) is used as an artificial flavor enhancer in processed foods like soup, chips, fast food and in some Chinese foods and restaurants. It is recognized safe by the FDA, but there were many reports of adverse reactions to foods that contain it. Heart palpitations, facial numbness, swelling, weakness and nausea. MSG builds up in the brain leading to impaired memory, cognition, and motor skills.  Furthermore, research shows that MSG may increase the risk for metabolic syndrome. A study (8) showed that every 1g increase in MSG intake significantly increased the risk for metabolic syndrome which is associated with cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes development. MSG is also added into many different products including carrageenan, derived from seaweed and used as a preservative, emulsifier, and thickener in different food products. Coffee creamers, ice cream, cottage cheese, almond milk, and vegan cheese are common sources of carrageenan. It is associated with the formation of intestinal growths and ulcers and is believed to impact digestive health negatively. The research on carrageenan is limited and more studies are required to understand its effects but it is best avoided along with MSG whenever possible.

4. Trans Fat

One of the most dangerous substances you can consume, trans fat is used to extend and enhance the shelf life of food products. A process called hydrogenation makes trans fats, and it’s most commonly found in processed foods made with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils or margarine and deep-fried fast foods. Trans fats are associated with increased heart disease risk, and can have adverse effects on glucose and insulin function (10). Due to the harmful effects of these fats, the use of trans fat has come down in recent years, but can still be found in fast foods, baked goods, chips and crackers, and margarine and are naturally found (not as additives) in all animal products. If you care for your body, best avoid trans fats.

5. BHA and BHT (E320)

BHA and BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene) are used as preservatives in foods like vegetable oils, potato chips, chewing gum, candy, frozen sausages, potato chips and cereals. They keep foods from becoming rancid, changing the flavor, or changing color. When taking more than a recommended daily dose, these preservatives have been found to promote tumors and have a negative effect on liver and kidney tissues. (11, 12)

6. Aspartame 

Aspartame is neurotoxin and carcinogen. It is known to decay brain function and impair short-term memory. Aspartame has been associated with brain tumors, diabetes, Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, emotional disorders like depression and anxiety attacks. (13, 14)

Not so sweet…

This sweetener is found in sugar-free sodas, boxed desserts, sugar-free chewing gum, sugar-free cereals, ice-tea, and toothpaste so read the labels when choosing such products.

I recommend drinking natural water with a dash of lemon, or a herbal tea blend instead. When choosing toothpaste, look for natural toothpastes such as those made by Weleda also for children.

7. High-Fructose Corn Syrup

A cheap highly refined artificial sweetener. HFCS is primarily used for sweetening beverages. These beverages, including all soft drinks, are identified as the primary source of unnatural sugars in our diet that lead to weight gain, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and metabolic syndrome. Research shows that HFCS promotes insulin resistance, raises liver fat, raises bad cholesterol levels and causes cancer cells to metastasize. (15)

But that’s not all of the story, HFCS is made from Genetically modified corn which causes inflammation and as been proven in a recent study on rats to lead to serious damage to the surface mucous membranes of the small intestine. Another previous study showed that GMO corn led to degeneration of liver cells, congestion of blood vessels in kidneys, and death of the intestinal villi and may harm male fertility. (16, 17) Not a very good thing to put into yours or your child’s body.

 

So to summarize: All seven of these food additives are used to help manufacturers with the packaging, processing, and long-term storage of foods but are not beneficial to our health. If you or your children regularly consume processed foods as snacks, you should consider how safe these additives are. My advice, of course, is to try and avoid processed foods as much as you can. Replace processed grains (white flour, white rice, etc.) with whole grains, avoid canned and boxed foods, check the labels and don’t buy foods with an unclear label. Instead focus on consuming fruits, dried fruits, plain nuts, seeds or vegetable sticks as snacks. These are filling, nutritious and support a healthy lean body.

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References:
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  2. Alessio Crippa, Susanna C. Larsson, Andrea Discacciati, Alicja Wolk, Nicola Orsini. European Journal of Nutrition, 2018, Volume 57, Number 2, Page 689
  3. Anderson, Jana J. et al. Red and processed meat consumption and breast cancer: UK Biobank cohort study and meta-analysis. European Journal of Cancer , Volume 90 , 73 – 82
  4. Chan DSM, Lau R, Aune D, et al. Red and Processed Meat and Colorectal Cancer Incidence: Meta-Analysis of Prospective Studies. Tomé D, ed. PLoS ONE. 2011;6(6):e20456. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0020456.  
  5. Salviano dos Santos VP, Medeiros Salgado A, Guedes Torres A, Signori Pereira K. Benzene as a Chemical Hazard in Processed Foods. International Journal of Food Science. 2015;2015:545640. doi:10.1155/2015/545640.  
  6. Mary Ellen Fleming-Jones and and Robert E. Smith. Volatile Organic Compounds in Foods:? A Five Year Study Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry 2003 51 (27), 8120-8127 
  7. Appaiah K.M. Monosodium Glutamate in Foods and its Biological Effects  (2010)  Ensuring Global Food Safety, , pp. 217-226.  
  8. Tonkla Insawang, Carlo Selmi, Ubon Cha’on, Supattra Pethlert, Puangrat Yongvanit, Premjai Areejitranusorn, Patcharee Boonsiri, Tueanjit Khampitak, Roongpet Tangrassameeprasert, Chadamas Pinitsoontorn, Vitoon Prasongwattana, M Eric Gershwin and Bruce D Hammock. Nutrition & Metabolism20129:50 https://doi.org/10.1186/1743-7075-9-50
  9. Iqbal MP. Trans fatty acids – A risk factor for cardiovascular disease. Pakistan Journal of Medical Sciences. 2014;30(1):194-197. doi:10.12669/pjms.301.4525.
  10. 10.  Angelieri CT, Barros CR, Siqueira-Catania A, Ferreira SRG. Trans fatty acid intake is associated with insulin sensitivity but independently of inflammation. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research. 2012;45(7):625-631. doi:10.1590/S0100-879X2012007500071.
  11. 11.Kahl R, Kappus H. Toxicology of the synthetic antioxidants BHA and BHT in comparison with the natural antioxidant vitamin E]. Z Lebensm Unters Forsch. 1993 Apr;196(4):329-38.
  12. 12.Jayalakshmi CP, Sharma JD. Effect of butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) on rat erythrocytes. Environ Res. 1986 Oct;41(1):235-8.
  13. 13. Maher TJ, Wurtman RJ. Possible neurologic effects of aspartame, a widely used food additive. Environmental Health Perspectives. 1987;75:53-57.
  14. 14. Azad MB, Abou-Setta AM, Chauhan BF, et al. Nonnutritive sweeteners and cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials and prospective cohort studies. CMAJ?: Canadian Medical Association Journal. 2017;189(28):E929-E939. doi:10.1503/cmaj.161390.
  15. 15. George A. Bray; Energy and Fructose From Beverages Sweetened With Sugar or High-Fructose Corn Syrup Pose a Health Risk for Some People, Advances in Nutrition, Volume 4, Issue 2, 1 March 2013, Pages 220–225, https://doi.org/10.3945/an.112.002816
  16. El-Shamei ZS, Gab-Alla AA, Shatta AA, Moussa EA, Rayan AM. Histopathological changes in some organs of male rats fed on genetically modified corn (Ajeeb YG). J Am Sci. 2012;8(10):684–696.
  17. Ibrahim MA, Okasha EF. Effect of genetically modified corn on the jejunal mucosa of adult male albino rat. 2016 Nov;68(10):579-588. doi: 10.1016/j.etp.2016.10.001. Epub 2016 Oct 18

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