In Part I, I told you about some surprisingly good, non-harmful food additives that are in many of the foods that you may currently enjoy. The good news is that you don’t have to give those foods up. On the flip side of that coin, though, there are some bad food additives that I recommend you stay away from. Here’s what you should know…
Does Your Favorite Food Contain These Bad Additives?
You may have been eating a particular food for so many years that you never really stopped to read the label of what it actually contains. Now, some food additives don’t pose a risk to your health while others do. It’s frustrating that sometimes both types of additives can actually be combined in one food.
For example, sugar-free packaged yogurts. They may be made with non-harmful stabilizers like carrageenan and yet contain the artificial sweetener aspartame or sucralose. To be sure that your favorite processed/packaged food doesn’t also contain food additives you don’t want, be sure to read the label and look for these common “bad” food additives.
1. Artificial flavoring. Though this particular food additive is not hazardous to your health, it can cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals. They are often derived from MSG – monosodium glutamate – or HVP (hydrolyzed vegetable protein) – to which some people may be sensitive.
2. Aspartame (NutraSweet, also called AminoSweet). Linked to many neurological disorders (headaches, dizziness, hallucinations, fetal neurological damage), as well as joint, muscular aches and chronic urinary tract infections. It has also been linked to lymphoma, breast cancer, and leukemia and is present in many bottled diet sodas and sugar-free mixes like Crystal Light, etc. Keep in mind that store brand sweeteners that contain aspartame may have different names. Read labels.
3. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole). An antioxidant in gum, certain oils, and cereals to inhibit rancidity. Research claims that it is carcinogenic to humans.
4. BVA (brominated vegetable oil). Basically, a vegetable oil that bromine has been added to. Bromine is also present in fire retardant products and has been found to collect in fat cells, possibly contributing to reproductive problems and behavioral issues.
5. Casein. A milk protein, casein can cause allergic reactions in people with milk protein sensitivities. If you don’t have this sensitivity, it’s fine for you to consume it. It’s present in muscle-building protein powders and some processed dairy products.
6. Cochineal/Carmine. A red food coloring used in syrups, beverages, candy, ice cream, etc. Carmine is derived from cochineal which is insects that have been dried and pulverized into a powder. Although they have been FDA approved as “safe” and are found in many food products, because cochineal/carmine is derived from an “animal protein”, they can cause severe allergic reaction in sensitive individuals, even anaphylactic shock/death. The World Health Organization has found this an asthma-provoking substance. If you frequent Starbucks and other places that make “naturally” colored red/strawberry drinks, products, beware it likely contains cochineal. I’d say just leave this additive alone.
7. Corn Syrup/HFCS. Although this product is naturally derived from corn sugars, it can really jack up your blood sugar levels so badly it can also up your risk for type 2 diabetes. It also promotes tooth decay and has no nutritional value. It’s in many food products so buyer beware.
8. Fructose. Literally, “fruit sugar”, it doesn’t seem that it should be on the bad food additive list. Yet, foods that contain high amounts of fructose, a concentrated sugar, can raise blood sugar levels and contribute to obesity, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.
9. Maltitol/mannitol. An artificial sweetener found in many sugar-free products, it can have a severe laxative effect in some individuals. If it doesn’t bother you this way, you could enjoy these products in smaller amounts.
10. Olestra (Olean). A “fake” fat, with severe side effects like diarrhea, cramping. Also may contribute to weight gain because of the tendency for people to eat more. Present in “fat free” chips mostly, and some other fat free products,
11. Partially Hydrogenated Oils. A “trans fat” used in some packaged baked goods (pies, cookies, cakes etc) and may also still be found in some margarines or shortening. Research shows trans fat raises bad LDL cholesterol and contributes to heart disease.
12. Polydextrose. “Many sugars”, this agent is used in baked goods, candy, frozen desserts. May also have a severe laxative effect in some people.
13. Saccharin. A man-made artificial sweetener present in some foods but not many currently. Prior research had indicated cancer in lab animals but subsequent research cleared the cancer aspect in humans. Still, I’d say steer clear.
14. Salt. Though salt is a natural mineral that your body needs to survive, too high levels of it from the foods you eat can be detrimental to your health. Many foods, especially lower sugar foods, contain more salt for flavor. It can up your blood pressure by causing you to retain water.
15. Sorbitol. A sweetener derived from fruits like apples, pears, prunes, and peaches. In a concentrated form in candies, jams, jellies, etc, it can have an extreme laxative effect. If it doesn’t bother you that way, you may consume sugar-free products that contain it.
16. Sucralose (Splenda, et al). Interestingly, this artificial sweetener is FDA approved and deemed noncarcinogenic and safe because it’s made from sugar. It’s even on a “good” additive food list. I disagree with that ruling though. Sucralose also contains chlorine which is a caustic, inflammatory substance that can irritate kidneys and other internal organs, and over-stimulate the parathyroid glands. Even though in specific amounts it helps balance your fluid system and control your body’s acid/alkali balance, too much of it circulating in your blood stream can wreak havoc. We just don’t know the full implications of all that added chlorine on a constant basis. Let’s face it, people who use artificial sweeteners don’t just use a packet here and there, they use several of them a day, everyday, in coffee, tea, and eat it in other “diet” foods like yogurt, ice cream, candy etc. The amount of chlorine taken in could be significant. I recommend switching to Stevia or even Lo Han Guo (monkfruit).
Well, there you have it, some non-harmful food additives, those that could cause you harm, and those well-known to cause harm. As I stated earlier, I think eating as much fresh, unprocessed foods as possible is the best way to maintain good health. But you have to be realistic too.
In our busy world, most of you simply don’t have the time to make your own pickles, yogurt, baked goods, etc, from scratch without any preservatives. The best way you can choose processed/packaged foods is to buy organically made foods that don’t contain bad additives. Buying your processed foods from known healthy food retailers can also help you get good value foods. Read labels carefully and be sure they don’t contain bad food additives like those mentioned here – especially things like ground bug derivatives. Yikes!
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Starbuggs? Strawberry Frappucino Colored by Insects, http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/business/2012/03/starbuggs-strawberry-frappuccino-colored-by-insects/
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly, http://www.schwartzlabs.com/food-additives.html