When you eat processed, pre-packaged foods, you can guarantee that you’re also consuming a large amount of food additives.
Additives are often used in food processing to slow spoilage, prevent fats and oils from going bad, prevent fruits from turning brown, to improve taste, texture and appearance and even to enrich the food with synthetic man-made vitamins and minerals to replace the natural ones that were lost during processing.
Unfortunately, many of these additives have been linked to health concerns, while others have been granted “Generally Recognized as Safe” (GRAS) status without any approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
12 Worst Food Additives to Avoid
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is a great resource to help you sort through the questionable compounds on food labels, as well as many other products we use on a daily basis such as shampoo, toothpaste, etc.
Please visit their website for more information and receive up-to-date facts on your favorite foods and products: http://www.ewg.org/
1. Nitrates and Nitrites
Sodium nitrite is a synthetic preservative added to meats like hot dogs and deli meat to help them maintain their color. In the presence of heat, chemical reactions occur which can damage cells and are very harmful to your health. Nitrates are present in many vegetables, which has led to some confusion. Nitrites and nitrates are not naturally bad for you, they can actually help to lower blood pressure and have anti-inflammatory effects. It is when nitrates are heated and form nitrosamines that they become dangerous.
2. Potassium Bromate
Nearly every time you eat commercial breads you are consuming bromide, an endocrine-disrupting chemical commonly used in flours. Commercial baking companies use it because it makes the dough more elastic. Studies have linked potassium bromate to kidney and nervous system damage, thyroid problems, gastrointestinal discomfort, and cancer. It is banned for food use in Canada, China, and the European Union (EU).
3. Propyl Paraben
Propyl paraben is an endocrine-disrupting chemical used as a food preservative. It’s commonly found in tortillas, muffins, and food dyes and may also contaminate foods via packaging. Research has shown that 91 percent of Americans have propyl paraben in their urine, and is found in approximately half of beverages, dairy products, meat, and vegetables. It has been found to accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells, impair fertility in women, and reduce sperm counts and testosterone levels.
4. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a preservative that affects the neurological system of your brain, alters behavior, and has the potential to cause cancer. It can be found in breakfast cereal, nut mixes, chewing gum, butter spread, meat, dehydrated potatoes, popcorn, chips, and beer, just to name a few. BHA may also trigger allergic reactions and hyperactivity. It is banned from infant foods in the UK and is banned from use in all foods in certain parts of the EU and Japan. In the US, the FDA considers BHA to be a GRAS (“Generally Recognized as Safe”) additive.
5. Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHT is chemically similar to BHA and the two preservatives are often used together. While BHT is not considered a carcinogen like BHA, it has been linked to tumor development and thyroid changes in animals. In the US, BHT is given GRAS status.
6. Propyl Gallate
Propyl gallate is a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from going bad. It’s often found in sausage, frozen pizza, and other processed foods that contain edible fats. Propyl gallate is associated with tumors, including rare brain tumors, in rats.
Theobromine is an alkaloid found in chocolate. It has effects similar to caffeine, and is the reason why chocolate is so highly toxic to dogs. Theobromine was granted GRAS status, without the approval of the FDA.
8. Natural and Artificial Flavors
What’s particularly alarming when you see a word like “artificial flavor” or even “natural flavor” on an ingredients label is that there’s no way to know what it actually means. For example, strawberry artificial flavor can contain nearly 50 different chemical ingredients. Most people assume that a natural flavor describes something natural like strawberries, garlic, or chili pepper used to naturally season food. In reality, most natural flavors are created in a laboratory, just like artificial flavors. In the end, natural flavors often have little resemblance to the natural product they came from. One exception is certified organic natural flavors, which must meet more stringent guidelines and cannot contain synthetic or genetically engineered ingredients.
9. Artificial Colors
Every year, food manufacturers pour 15 million pounds of artificial food dyes into US foods. Nine of the food dyes currently approved for use in the US are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions. For example, Red # 40, which is the most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of tumors in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children. Blue # 2, used in candies, beverages, pet foods and more, was linked to brain tumors. And Yellow # 5, used in baked goods, candies, cereal, and more, may not only be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals, but it's also linked to hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and other behavioral effects in children. Even the innocuous-sounding caramel color, which is widely used in brown soft drinks, may cause cancer.
The artificial flavoring called diacetyl is often used as a butter flavoring in microwave popcorn. It’s also used to flavor dairy products, including yogurt and cheese, and exists in some “brown flavorings,” including maple, strawberry, and raspberry flavors. Research shows diacetyl has several concerning properties for brain health, respiratory damage, inflammation and may trigger Alzheimer’s disease.
Phosphates are added to more than 20,000 products, including fast food, baked goods, and processed meats. Phosphates have been linked to some concerning health conditions, including heart disease.
12. Aluminum Additives
Sodium aluminum phosphate, sodium aluminum sulfate, and many other aluminum additives are found in processed foods as stabilizers. This metal can accumulate and persist in your body, especially in your bones, and animal studies show aluminum may cause neurological effects, including changes in behavior, learning, and motor response.