We all have to do it for survival; eat. With the coming of the Industrial Revolution came some great discoveries. The top of the list would have to be medical breakthroughs. But, unfortunately, the population of the world increased dramatically along with that change. No longer were people able to grow their own food as they flocked to big cities in search of work at the booming factories. More and more, Americans began depending on others for their food supply. As factories were turning out processed foods, new additives were being added to them.
Are they safe? “In the U.S. more than 3,000 substances can be added to foods…” (SixWise.com, nd). Additives are used for flavor, color, preservation and texture. But, at what cost to us? When we buy processed foods, we are exposing ourselves to the chemicals manufacturers are putting in our food supply.
I decided to start this research in my own cupboards. I chose certain products that contain additives hard to pronounce and then went on to find other sources to add to the list.
The first one is called Maltodextrin. Manufacturers use this chemical as a dietary fiber. It can be found in cereal, soups and prepared skillet dinners. Although considered safe, it can cause constipation. However, there is a possibility it can help lower blood sugar levels.
The next is Casein, which is a thickening and whitening agent. It can be found in ice cream, ice milk, sherbet and coffee creamers. It is a protein that has all of the essential amino acids. People who are allergic to casein should use caution and check labels carefully. They can be used in non-dairy and vegetarian foods.
These two seem relatively safe. However, there are a lot of them out there that are best avoided. Here are the top twelve to look for in the label ingredients:
Chemicals in Processed Foods
- Monosodium glutamate – Better known as MSG, this chemical is found in numerous foods, such as soups, salad dressings, meats, chips and many, many more. MSG is used mainly as a flavor enhancer. Many Asian foods contain it. Dr. Russell Blaylock (SixWise.com, nd), an author and neurosurgeon, claims that there are links connecting MSG with sudden cardiac arrest. It has been found to also cause
headaches, nausea and vomiting. Avoiding this ingredient is the best step to avoid the side effects. Using small amounts of salt instead is recommended.
- Aspartame – Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in many products to replace sugar. It is found in such products as Equal, Nutrasweet and soft drinks among other dietary foods. Scientific studies have shown that this chemical can cause cancer. In the 1970s it was proven to cause brain tumors in laboratory rats. Recently, (2005), it was “found that even small doses increase the evidence of lymphomas and leukemia in rats…(SixWise.com, nd)
- Sodium nitrate – Used to preserve, color and flavor meats, it is mostly added to bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, smoked fish and corned beef. Its main function is to prevent the growth of bacteria. Findings show it can cause various types of cancer. According to America Dietetic Association spokesperson, Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N., “This would be at the top of my list of additives to cut from my diet”. (Weiss, nd) In addition, when used in high cooking conditions, it can transform into a compound that promotes cancer. (Weiss, nd)
- Trans fats – These should be avoided at all costs. They are scientifically proven that they can lead “to heart disease, stroke, heart attacks, kidney failure, and limb loss due to vascular disease”. (Weiss, nd) We all know what trans fats are. They are in foods that contain any type of animal fat. Trans fats are abundant in restaurant and fast food places. Check labels to ensure that your foods do not contain this ingredient.
- BHA and BHT – Butylated hydroyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are antioxidants used for preservation. They are common in such foods as cereals, chewing gum, potato chips and vegetable oils. (Weiss, nd) They are not processed in any way in the
human body; they are just added to the waste. There is some concern that they may cause cancer.
- Propyl Gallate – This chemical is used to preserve fats and oils. It is sometimes found in meat products, chicken soup base and chewing gum. It “has not been proven to cause cancer, but studies done on animals suggested that ig could be linked to cancer”. (Weiss, nd)
- Acesufame-K – An artificial sweetener, this chemical is found in baked goods, chewing gum and gelatin desserts. It is about 200 times sweeter than sugar. Testing on this product has not been sufficient enough to decide whether it is safe.
- Olestra – This synthetic fat is found in some brands of potato chips. Although not harmful in itself, it prevents fat from being absorbed in the human body. Even though this sounds like a good thing, it’s good to know that it also prevents absorption of necessary vitamins (fat soluble) such as carotenoids.
- Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil – “The process used to make hydrogenated vegetable oil (or partially hydrogenated vegetable oil) creates trans fats, which promote heart disease and diabetes”. (SixWise,nd) I have seen this ingredient in lots of foods which include margarine, vegetable shortening, crackers, cookies, baked goods, salad dressings and many more. Avoid foods that have this ingredient.
- Foodcoloring –
- Blue1 – is used in candy, beverages and baked goods. May cause cancer. (SixWise, nd)
- Blue 2 – Used in pet food, candy and beverages, it “has caused brain tumors in mice”. (SixWise, nd)
- Red 3 – Found in fruit cocktail cherries, baked goods and candy, it has caused thyroid tumors in rats and may affect humans the same way.
- Yellow 6 – Used in backed goods, candy, gelatin and sausages, this food coloring has been found to contain “small amounts of many carcinogens”. (SixWise, nd)
- Potassium Bromate – Although illegal in all countries but the U.S. and Japan, this chemical normally breaks down into bromide, which is harmless. The bromate that does not break down has proven to cause cancer in animals. It is found in breads and rolls. California requires a cancer warning label on any product containing this ingredient. So you may want to avoid anything with potassium bromate.
- Sodium Chloride – We know this as simple table salt. Used in moderation it is not harmful. Actually our bodies require it. However, used in large amounts, it can lead to high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.
Since there are literally thousands of additives used in our foods today, it is impossible for me to research them all to find which ones are the most harmful. If in doubt about an ingredient, do your research. With allergens being of major concern of consumers, reading the label is that much more important. The labels I’ve seen have a “Contains” warning usually at the bottom of the ingredients list.
If you’re totally turned off by the possibility that your food may contain any of these additives, then the best alternative is to buy fresh foods. This means buying nothing in a can, jar, bag, cellophane or bottle. There are however, items you can purchase that are in glass jars (hopefully) that contain natural ingredients. Again, read the label.
In summary, we can all lead healthier lives just by becoming aware of what we are eating. The first step is to read labels. When in doubt, do your research. Hopefully, someday our government will put their foot down and make it illegal to use additives that have proven to cause diseases, whether in humans or animals. Until that day, we must be vigilant and pray that someday some genius will come up with a way to preserve our food without killing us.
And people wonder why I don’t chew gum! :)