One of the most important aspects of eating healthy or what makes food “real” is avoiding dangerous food additives. The 7 most dangerous food additives in my research are: artificial sweeteners, artificial food colouring, carrageenan, MSG, Trans fat, sodium nitrate/nitrite, and fructose.
Food Additives to Always Avoid
Aspartame (Nutra-Sweet, Equal) and Saccharin
These are used as a sugar substitute in “low sugar” foods. Aspartame has been linked to cancers in lab studies on rats. At least one such study found aspartame to be linked to the development of lymphomas/leukemias and mammary cancer at a levels “close to acceptable daily intake for humans.” The study also found increased carcinogenic effects if exposure began as a fetus. Another study looked at the diets of thousands of healthcare professionals for 22 years and found a small increased risk in non-Hodgkin lymphomas in men that drank one or more diet sodas a day. Another study examined more than 2,000 Japanese men and found a “strong association” between the consumption of diet soda and an increased risk of type 2 diabetes. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23097267 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17805418 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23575771
Artificial food colouring
Artificial food colouring has been linked to a variety of issues from cancer in mice to hyperactivity in children. Researchers at the University of Southampton studied more than 1800 children aged three years and found that, across the board, children behaved better without artificial food colouring and worse with them. Many of the worst artificial dyes have been discontinued in France, Germany, and the UK, but not in the U.S. or Canada. So you can get your Lunchables, M & Ms, and Kellogg’s fruit snacks WITHOUT artificial dyes in the London, but they are only available WITH them here.
This seemingly healthy ingredients is used to thicken or stabilize certain foods and its found in many infant formulas, dairy products, and icecreams. It’s part of a family of molecules that can’t be digested, although because it comes from seaweed many people think it is natural. Small amounts in food are thought to be safe for adults, but the WHO said it is inadvisable to use carrageenan in infant formula as it might be absorbed by the gut and affect the infant’s immune system. Similarly, feeding to young children in their soy or almond milk or yoghurt or other is not proven safe.
The naturally occurring sugar in fruits and vegetables, but added fructose (which also comes from sucrose and high-fructose corn syrup) increased bad cholesterol levels in blood, increase triglycerides (fat), and increases liver fat. It is linked to the growing risk of Type 2 (formerly called adult-onset) diabetes, obesity, and distorting the hunger sensation.
MSG is the most prevalent of the food additives and nearly impossible to totally avoid. It’s used as a flavour enhancer that works not by changing the taste, but by over-exciting brain cell receptors. The main ingredient in MSG is free glutamatic acid, which is considered “natural” because it is an amino acid. Therefore, this additive is very sneaky and can hide-out under many different names, including glutamate, autolyzed yeast, yeast extract, sodium caseinate, hydrolyzed proteins, sodium caseinate, calcium caseinate, plant protein extract, soya sauce, and even in some items that say “natural flavourings,” “does not contain MSG,” and “organic.” It’s found in almost every processed and packaged food item, including many infant formulas and vaccines. MSG has been linked to a variety of short-term reactions such as headaches and chest pain and has been linked in numerous animal studies to obesity. It’s also used in labs to “prepare” the test subjects (usually rats) by making them obese, pre-diabetic, or by giving them seizures.
Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil (transfat)
Partially hydrogenated oils are found in things like margarine or vegetable shortening and is often used to make fried restaurant foods and microwave popcorn. Hydrogenated oils may be the deadliest of all food additives: Harvard School of Public Health researchers estimate that trans fat had been causing about 50,000 premature heart attack deaths annually. Because small amounts of transfat can naturally occur in products like milk and beef, it is considered GRAS by the FDA. After it was discovered in the mid-1990s that Canada was estimated to have one of the highest intakes of transfats in the world, the Canadian government participated in encouraging the food industry to voluntarily reduce their transfat use. Canada, however, still hasn’t come close to reaching the WHO’s recommendation of less than 1% of overall energy intake per person.
Found in some food preservatives, in drinking water as a result of nitrogen fertilizers, and in cured meat products such as hot dogs, lunch meats, smoked products, and bacon. Once again, because it can naturally occur in some vegetables, like celery, it’s considered “natural,” thus nitrates can still be found in meat products claiming to have all “natural ingredients” and “no added preservatives.” This is the food additive I consider to be most troubling. There is research linking processed meat consumption to pancreatic cancer, to brain tumors in children (even when eaten by mom when she was pregnant), and a study linking consumption of nitrates to a 700% increase in chances of developing leukemia. Even the Canadian Cancer Society says it may be linked to cancer. http://www.preventcancer.com/press/petitions/april25_95.htm http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8167261 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/7999971 http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8167265
Here’s why artificial food additives can be so dangerous.
There are more than 10,000 chemicals allowed in food items according to The Pew Charitable Trusts’ Food Additives Project. Some of these food additives are intentionally added to food, while others end up in our food through processing. The FDA and Health Canada are required to assess the safety of food additives before they are used in food, however Pew estimates that only one in five of the chemicals allowed to be directly added to food have ever received even the most basic lab animal testing; 3,000 of the “approved” chemicals never received any government review; and at least 1,000 of these chemicals are entirely unknown to the FDA and the public. Ironically, the reason that many of these food additives get so little testing is that the companies that manufacture them have decided they are too safe to test: “Trust us, it’s safe,” they say to the government, without even saying what “it” is or having done their own lab testing. These ingredients that are too safe to test are declared “GRAS” or Generally Recognized as Safe in the U.S. and are considered common ingredients or food ingredients (not food additives) in Canada. These too-safe-to-test substances are getting the least scientific review and they don’t need to the labeling standards of other food additives. These ingredients include flavourings, seasonings, MSG, amino acids, and many of the additives on my “Must Watch” list below.
Once the FDA and Health Canada have said a food additive or food substance is “safe” there is little incentive, funding, or demand for adequate research to happen. Thanks to a number of doctors, researchers, and scientists who have spearheaded their own research, we do know some of the more suspicious additives.