Food Additives To Avoid

Christina Carreau BA, ND

While I don’t want to be alarmist, I do want to remind you that the food industry does not prioritize health. Their focus is to make money. Short-term safety of food is closely monitored to ensure that it is not contaminated with bacteria or other toxins that can cause immediate illness. However, long-term safety and the risks associated with repetitive consumption is not something that the food industry spends a lot of money on and even when evidence suggests that additives do pose health risks, this is often not made public by companies. So once again, read your labels and be an informed consumer. We need to be proactive about our health!

1) Artificial sweeteners – Aspartame also known as Nutrasweet and Equal, is found in a number of foods labeled ‘diet’ or ‘sugar-free’.  It is a known carcinogen (a substance that causes cancer) and has been implicated in a number of diseases including lymphoma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue, as well as emotional disorders like depression and anxiety attacks, dizziness, headaches, nausea, mental confusion, migraines and seizures. Bottom line – aspartame is NOT good for you. So you may want to rethink some of the sugar free items that you opt for.

2) High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – is a highly-refined artificial and addictive sweetener. It is found in a large percentage of processed food. It is both sweeter and cheaper than sucrose (the form of sugar made from sugar cane). Sweeter than sugar – why on Earth would we need anything sweeter than sugar? HFCS contributes to the development of diabetes and  obesity and has also been shown to drive LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels up. And yet another great reason to ‘drop the pop’.

3) Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)  is used as a flavor enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, crackers, frozen entrees, and many restaurant foods. Studies show that regular consumption of this flavor enhancer can lead to a number of health issues, including fibromyalgia, obesity, fatty liver, high insulin and blood sugar, high cholesterol, liver toxicity, metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, disturbance to the gut-brain connection, neurological and brain damage. Why would anyone want this in their food if it has such a long list of side effects and risks associated with it? There are a number of other names used for MSG so be on the lookout for hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein, hydrolyzed soy protein, yeast extract and/or autolyzed yeast extract.

4) Trans Fat is used to extend the shelf life of food products. Found in margarine, fast foods, chips, crackers and baked goods. Numerous studies show that trans fat increases LDL cholesterol levels while decreasing HDL (“good”) cholesterol, increases the risk of heart attacks, heart disease and strokes, and contributes to increased inflammation, diabetes and other health problems.  Read your labels and avoid trans fat when you can. A lot of money has gone into marketing margarine as a heart healthy alternative to butter but contrary to popular belief, margarine is NOT good for your health as it contains trans fats. Olive oil is far superior to both margarine and butter when it comes to promoting heart health. The general rule of thumb is that the less processed a food is the healthier it is.

5) Common Food Dyes Artificial food colorings have been banned in a number of European countries as studies have linked food colorings to cancer, adrenal and kidney tumours, behavioral problems in children and brain-nerve transmission problems. Found in cereals, sodas, sport drinks, candy, salad dressings, fruit juice,  cheese, pet food, etc. Some common dyes to look for on labels include Blue #1 (brilliant blue), Blue #2 (indigotine), Red #3 (erythrosine), Red #40 (allura red), Green #3 (fast green), Yellow #6 (sunset yellow), and Yellow #5 (tartrazine). Unfortunately, in North America the Food and Drug Administration are not as strict regarding what goes into our food. Also just because a label says ‘natural color’ doesn’t always mean that it is good for you health.

There are a number of other additives to watch out for including sodium sulphite, sodium nitrite and nitrate, BHA and BHT, sulphur dioxide and potassium bromate.

The point of this article is not to instill fear but rather to promote awareness. I am not advocating that all food additives are evil and will make you sick right away, but rather that you need to know what you are putting into your body. Over time your food choices can and will impact your health. So the goal is always to reduce the amount of waste that you expose your body to. We, the consumers, drive the market. So if we stop buying a lot of the processed crap that is out there, over time the industry will change to meet our demands. This has happened in Europe and I know in time it will happen here too. Avoid unhealthy food additives when and if you can, your body will thank you for it.