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How Safe are Food Additives

Additives have been around for hundreds of years; the most widely used being salt, sugar, spices, and sulfates for preserving meats, fruits/vegetables, and the making of wine. Unfortunately, manufactured foods has become so sophisticated there are over 3000 ingredients listed as additives within the FDA database. It would be prudent to assume most additives are not safe for the long-term, as they have a cumulative effect in the body: they serve to tax and exhaust the liver when it comes to breaking down these genetically engineered chemicals and the job of detoxing becomes a neverending process.

To be on the safe side, avoid processed foods as much as possible, but when you must, read nutrition labels religiously. Watch for what the manufacturer has listed or what is being hidden behind slogans and marketing ploys. Once you get the hang of certain ingredients to look out for, zero in on the semantics of terminology being used, and you can make an informed decision whether to purchase the product.

Fortified with Vitamins and Minerals

Watch out for processed foods which claim to be fortified with vitamins and minerals. Consumers often believe fortified foods are a better purchase, but in reality, the motive behind this marketing technique is to hide the fact the food has been so overly-processed, the manufacturer saw fit to put back some of the “”goodness”” it had taken out. Ready-to-eat cereals are notorious for the fortification factor. As an alternative, opt for buying whole, rolled oats and have breakfast with a hot bowl of oatmeal, sweetened with fresh fruit and milk or milk subsitutes.

Weight Gain

Additives are not safe when they contribute to weight gain, having the potential to add on hidden calories. Many people think that “fat-free, sugar-free” products are a healthier choice, but do not realize, to make a product tastier, they must replace the fat and/or sugar with other ingredients like natural/artificial flavorings/sweeteners/coloring to enhance the taste. A fat-free product must use other additives such as cornstarch, emulsifiers, and thickeners to give the desired texture; often the result is more calories and carbohydrates which the consumer has not taken into account.

Artificial Sweeteners

A great deal of controversy exists with the prolific use of artificial sweeteners to replace sugar and reduce caloric intake. People assume they are safe, however, many have experienced symptoms of headaches, dizziness, difficulty breathing, blindness, memory loss, even death from consuming artificial sweeteners.

These symptoms often mimic serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s, chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy or severe depression. When lab rats are given a dosage of artificial sweetener equal to an amount a human normally consumes, cancer is the result. Spoonful for spoonful, artificial sweeteners are just as bad, if not worse than a high consumption of sugar.

Watch out for foods sweetened with Aspartame (also named Equal, Nutrasweet, Spoonful). Beware of Splenda (same as Sucralose), which is actually chlorinated sugar, and can be partially absorbed by the body as sugar. Frequent use of Splenda has the potential to shrink thymus glands, enlarge the liver/kidneys, or bring about miscarriage. It is being used widely in the marketplace because up to 2006, few studies have been done, and none on children nor pregnant women, so buyer beware. The sweetener “Stevia” appears to be a better replacement for sugar as it claims to be a natural food product.

As an alternative to buying juices, jams, and canned fruit flavored with artificial sweeteners, opt instead for products sweetened with fruit juices such as grape or pear. A product listed as a beverage or cocktail will definitely contain sugar or sweetener, so go for the 100% fruit juice product as a healthier and safer choice.

Taste Enhancers

MSG (monosodium glutamate), has long been known as a Chinese food taste-enhancer. In inner circles, it is often referred to as “rat poison”. However, MSG is found many frozen food entrees, in chips, etc. People who are sensitive to MSG report symptoms of tingling in the body, facial flushing, or even chest pains. This writer will often see her fingers swell up after eating MSG.

Because informed consumers are very aware of this adverse additive, manufacturers have hidden this ingredient from prying eyes by using other terminology on the nutrition label. Therefore, look for words on the packaging like hydrolyzed or textured protein; calcium or sodium caseinate, protein isolate. In addition, beef and chicken bouillon frequently contain MSG as do soup and broth seasonings.

Food Coloring

Food colors are chemical dyes, recognizable on the nutrition label as a name with a number. Watch for Citrus Red No.2 and FD&C Citrus Red. No.2, as these are often used to color orange skins or peel. These are cancer-causing chemicals and should be avoided. Choose organic oranges instead, and do not use orange peels or zest in your baking. You should be aware of Yellow #5, as this food coloring can cause itching or hives.

Nitrates or Nitrites

Americans love their cured/processed/smoked meats which are great for lunches and snacks, but are full of preservatives called nitrates or nitrites. These additives are carinogenic: pregnant women are often warned not to eat processed meats during this vulnerable period.

Sulfates or Sulfites

The making of wine; the drying of fruits; even fresh vegetables are often sprayed with sulfites to keep them fresh and prevent browning. Grocery stores and restaurant buffets frequently use this additive in their salads, fresh fruits and vegetables to keep them as vibrant as possible. Some people have developed adverse reactions to sulfites and asthmatics may react to this additive.

In conclusion, to minimize accidental contaminants on foods, be sure to rinse or scrub fruits and vegetables before eating. Take off skins and fat from meat and poultry; always throw out rendered fat. Even though the FDA does its best to study, monitor, and regulate food additives, the onus is still on the individual to vigilantly read food labels and avoid questionable ingredients.