The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has a list of over 700 food additives that it deems to be safe. Why does the food industry need such an incredible array of additives to put in foods that you’re going to consume? The answer lies in the need to keep foods on the shelf longer and to produce products that have both a pleasing look and texture.
These food additives are capable of doing just about everything to the foods you routinely buy at the grocery store. They change the color of meat and add sweetness to cookies. They preserve foods so that they retain their shape and “freshness” for longer periods of time. Food additives are used to enhance the flavor of a food and can act as an anti-caking agent (a process that helps sugar, for example, remain free of clumps and mixable in baking recipes).
Are all of these food additives good for you? Probably not. In fact, some could be downright harmful, though that’s not what you’re going to hear from the FDA. There are claims that many of these additives have never been tested for their safety. In its defense, the FDA says that while it knows that some food additives are toxic, these are only allowed to be used at 1/100th of the amount that would cause any harm. It makes you wonder why these additives are allowed in foods at all. We only end up eating them, after all.
It may be true that as consumers, we are a little spoiled. We want our salt to pour freely from the salt shaker and we want our processed meat to look—well, red—not greyish. There are also many of us who want our grocery items to last at least a few weeks. It can be expensive to feed a whole family. Having to throw out food before it can be eaten can become a financial burden.
However, limits should be set. If these food additives are truly causing harm to our bodies, then they should be banned. This has happened in the past with other food additives that were found to be “unacceptably” toxic. In the 1960s, cyclamate was used as an artificial sweetener. Eventually, however, it was found that this food additive upped the risk for getting cancer.
To help you out in your quest to eat healthier foods, here is a list of eight food additives to avoid:
- Aspartame: Aspartame is an artificial sweetener used in gum, beverages, and low-calorie foods. Aspartame has been linked to adverse effects in the brain, including cognitive problems and tumors. The sweetener may also cause fatigue and play a role in the onset of multiple sclerosis and fibromyalgia.
- Olestra: Olestra is used as a fat substitute. It can cause problems with the digestive system’s ability to absorb nutrients as well as triggering bouts of diarrhea. Olestra has been banned in Canada and the U.K.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil: This oil was created to retain flavor in pop and other carbonated drinks. It has already been banned in over 75 countries due to claims that it causes nerve problems and memory lapses.
- Caramel coloring: This one is found in all kinds of foods. It is a coloring agent and is now being linked to the onset of certain cancers.
- MSG: Monosodium glutamate is used to boost the flavor of a food. It has been blamed for causing headaches and nausea.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup: This sweetener can raise your caloric intake to dangerous levels, upping your risk for getting diabetes and/or heart disease.
- Sodium Nitrate: This preservative may be carcinogenic. It can cause adverse effects in the pancreas and liver due to its toxicity.
- Blue #1 and #2, Red #3 and #40 and Yellow #6: These food dyes, used to give foods a “pleasing” color have been linked to behavior problems especially in kids.
- “Overview of Food Ingredients, Additives & Colors,” U.S. Food and Drug Administration web site, Nov. 2010; http://www.fda.gov/Food/IngredientsPackagingLabeling/FoodAdditivesIngredients/ucm094211.htm#types, last accessed Nov. 6, 2013.
- “Food Additives,” MedlinePlus web site; http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/002435.htm, last accessed Nov. 7, 2013.
- McKiernan, J., “Top 16 Chilling Food Additives,” Natural News web site, Nov. 5, 2013; http://www.naturalnews.com/042788_food_additives_harmful_substances_bodily_contamination.html, last accessed Nov. 5, 2013.
Victor Marchione, MD received his Bachelor of Science Degree in 1973 and his Medical Degree from the University of Messina in 1981. He has been licensed and practicing medicine in New York and New Jersey for over 20 years. Dr. Marchione is a respected leader in the field of smoking cessation and pulmonary medicine. He has been featured on ABC News and World Report, CBS Evening News and the NBC Today Show and is the editor of the popular The Food Doctor newsletter. Dr. Marchione has also served as Principal Investigator in at least a dozen clinical research projects relating to serious ailments such as bronchitis, pneumonia, asthma, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).