Warning: Food Additives
If you are consuming a diet high in processed foods you are consuming food additives. Some are dangerous to your health and you should be avoiding them completely, while others you may just need to minimize your exposure to.
Eating a healthy, whole food, liver friendly diet is the best way to stay away from unsavory additives, but, assuming you do include some processed foods in your diet (and most of us do sometime), the following additives are ones you surely want to stay away from. Look for them on ingredient labels and if you see them put it back.
My initial inclination when I began writing this article was to go on a rant about food manufacturers and food additives, but we are responsible for our food choices, so I decided to give you the information you need to make an informed choice when shopping for food for you and your family.
I figure if we all stop buying products with toxic chemicals in them, they will come up with more healthful choices, right?
There are some types of food additives that are listed by The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) that should be absolutely avoided. The CSPI website separates food additives into five categories:
- Cut Back
- Caution (Try to avoid until further research proves safe.)
- Certain People Should Avoid
Our main focus in this article is the additives to be avoided, and the cautionary additives. I recommend you make yourself familiar with the food additives on all of the lists on the CSPI website. The fewer additives you consume, the less work for your liver.
Danger: Avoid These Food Additives
For more in-depth information on each of these chemicals additives you can refer to the CSPI website link.
- Arificial sweeteners Acesulfame-K, Saccharin, and Aspartame. All three of these sweeteners have been linked to cancer. Children especially need to avoid these. Be aware that Acesulfame-K may also be listed as Acesulfame Potassium.
- Food dyes or artificial colors. Blue 2, Green 3, Orange B, Red 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6 are on the "avoid" list, with three other colors on the "caution" list. Food dyes pose risks of cancer, allergies, and hyperactivity in children, and should be banned.
Food dyes are such a serious matter that the British Government asked companies to phase out most dyes by December 31, 2009.
- BHA (Butylated hydroxyanisole). Often found in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and oils. These additives have been found by some studies to cause cancer in various animal studies. Residues of BHT occur in human fat. If a brand you commonly buy uses these additives, look for a different variety, as not all manufacturers use these preservatives.
- Caramel coloring. Caramel coloring, when produced with ammonia, contains a contaminant, 4-methylimidazole. (That chemical is also present in cigarette smoke.) It would be worth avoiding colas and other beverages colored with caramel coloring, because the serving sizes—and amounts of 4-methylimidazole— are so large.
The State of California has proposed that a warning notice be required on food and non-food products.
- Olestra. Olestra can cause diarrhea and loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Those symptoms are sometimes severe. Afflicted consumers can file reports with the Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- Trans Fats. Harvard School of Public Health researchers estimate that trans fat had been causing about 50,000 premature heart attack deaths annually, making partially hydrogenated oil one of the most harmful ingredients in the food supply. For more information about trans fats, please read the article Trans Fats, aka Hydrogenated Oils.
- Potassium Bromate. This additive has long been used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb structure. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States. It is rarely used in California because a cancer warning might be required on the label. In 1999, the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the FDA to ban bromate.
- Propyl Gallate. This preservative, used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling, might cause cancer. It's used in vegetable oil, meat products, potato sticks, chicken soup base and chewing gum, and is often used with BHA and BHT.
- Sodium Nitrate and Sodium Nitrite. Meat processors love sodium nitrite because it stabilizes the red color in cured meat (without nitrite, hot dogs and bacon would look gray, yuk!) and gives a characteristic flavor. Sodium nitrate is used in dry cured meat, because it slowly breaks down into nitrite.
Adding nitrite to food can lead to the formation of small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals (nitrosamines), particularly in fried bacon. Companies now add ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to bacon to inhibit nitrosamine formation, a measure that has greatly reduced the problem. While nitrite and nitrate cause only a small risk, they are still worth avoiding.
Caution: Try to Avoid These Food Additives
The following additives are listed on the CSPI website as cautionary food additives that you should "try" to avoid:
- Food Dyes or Artificial Colorings. Blue 1, Citrus Red 2, Red 40. These are used alot in junk foods.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil or BVO. BVO keeps flavor oils in suspension and gives a cloudy appearance to citrus-flavored soft drinks. Consuming BVO leaves small residues in body fat. Fortunately, BVO is rarely used.
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene or BHT. Used in cereals, chewing gum, potato chips, and oils. BHT retards rancidity in oils. Residues of BHT occur in human fat. BHT is unnecessary or is easily replaced by safe substitutes. Avoid it when possible.
- Diacetyl. Low levels are present in butter, including unsalted butter, to prolong shelf life and add flavor. Much higher levels have been used in butter-flavored popcorn, margarine, and butter-flavored cooking oils and sprays.
The low levels are safe, but workers in factories that produce microwave popcorn learned the hard way that long-term exposure to diacetyl causes obstructive lung disease, which is potentially fatal. Widespread publicity around 2005 to 2007 and several lawsuits persuaded most major American food manufacturers to protect their workers, and restaurant cooks, by switching to safer ingredients.
- Heptyl Paraben (short for the heptyl ester of para-hydroxybenzoic acid). Used in Beer and non-carbonated soft drinks, heptyl paraben is a preservative. Studies suggest that this rarely used additive chemical is safe, but it, like other additives in alcoholic beverages, has never been tested in the presence of alcohol.
- Stevia, aka Rebiana. Also called rebaudioside A and sold under brand names Truvia and PureVia. Stevia sweetener can also be purchased at most health food stores. Some animal studies have suggested cancer risks and reproductive health risks.
I really hate to see this product on the list. Stevia has been use for hundreds of years as a natural herbal sweetener. I only list it to be fair because it is on the cautionary list on CSPI's website. I recommend you research stevia beginning with the stevia.net website and decide for yourself.
On a personal note: I will use it and recommend it until there is absolute proof it is harmful. If you need a quality source for stevia, click on the banner below. Mountain Rose Herbs is a reputable and affordable source for stevia and other natural health products.
There is one other food additive that I believe should be on the "avoid" or at least the "caution" list. That additive is high fructose corn syrup. For more information about the dangers of high fructose corn syrup be sure to read the article on Liverguru.com about sugars and the sugar-cancer connection.
So What Are We Supposed to Eat?!
Don't worry, there are plenty of foods out there without these chemicals that you can enjoy. If you are following a liver cleansing diet or a Mediterranean style diet then you are going to get plenty of healthy food without food additives.
The key point to remember is moderation.
If you keep these food additives to a minimum and, for the most part, eat a healthy, whole foods diet, then you are ahead of the game already. Way ahead, actually! Just keep up the good work.
You can also lower your exposure to chemicals if, when possible (and affordable), you choose organic products, not only for your health but to support the industry. Also consider organic (non-factory-farmed) meats when possible.
Just don't stress about all this. It's bad for your digestion:)
Please continue exploring the Liverguru.com website to learn more about keeping your liver running smoothly, and be sure to check out the recipe page (which is growing weekly) for healthy cooking ideas.
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