Food Additives: Are You Playing Russian Roulette With Your Health?

Would you believe that the average American family spends a staggering 90 percent of their food budget on processed foods? And if you check the label of most processed foods, you’ll find a variety of preservatives, artificial food additives, flavor enhancers, and food coloring. Now, instead of farm-fresh foods, chemical additives in processed foods have become a major part of the American diet.

Food manufacturers include these additives to make their products more attractive in taste and appearance and to increase the shelf life of the product. After all, when you buy yogurt or strawberry ice cream, you expect it to be a reddish color, not a bland color. What we are not told is that some of the common food additives in everyday products can have long-term negative consequences for our health.

Below is a list of thirteen food additives that should be avoided whenever possible:

> Acesulfame K (potassium) – This artificial sweetener (200 times sweeter than sugar) is typically found in gelatin desserts, chewing gum, diet sodas, and baked goods. Testing for this relatively new additive has not been very extensive, but early indications indicate that it may cause cancer in laboratory rats.

> Artificial food coloring: Blue 1.2; green 3; red 3; Yellow 6 – These food colors are commonly found in many of the foods on supermarket shelves. Blue 1 and 2 have been linked to a small risk of cancer in mice. These are found in baked goods, candy, drinks, and even pet food. Green 3 has been linked to bladder cancer. It can be found in drinks and sweets. Red 3 has been found to promote the growth of thyroid tumors in rats. It is generally found in baked goods, candies, and fruit cocktails. Yellow 6 has been linked to tumors in the kidneys and adrenal glands. It is found in baked goods, candy, drinks, jelly, and sausage.

> Aspartame – This sweetener is typically found in sugar-free diet foods such as diet sodas, drink mixes, gelatins, and low-calorie desserts. It is also sold under the brands of Nutrasweet and Equal. Aspartame compounds can break down into a highly reactive chemical that damages cells. Some possible side effects include headaches, dizziness, fatigue, and breathing problems.

> BHA and BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydrozitoluene): These are preservatives typically found in everyday household foods, such as vegetable oils, chips, cereals, and chewing gum. They help slow fats and oils from going rancid. They have an oxidizing effect, which can cause potentially carcinogenic reactions in cells.

> Monosodium Glutamate (MSG): MSG is an amino acid used to enhance the flavor of foods such as French fries, salad dressings, frozen entrees, and soups. MSG allows manufacturers to reduce the amount of actual ingredients they put into their products. It has been found to cause damage to nerve cells in the brain in animal studies. In humans, nausea and headaches are possible side effects.

> Olestra – This synthetic fat is found in some brands of potato chips. It is not absorbed by the digestive system, so it has no calories. Possible side effects include abdominal cramps, gas, diarrhea, and loose stools. Olestra has been shown to inhibit the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids from vegetables and fruits.

> Potassium Bromate – This additive is used to increase volume in breads and rolls. Animal studies have linked it to cancer and may pose a potential risk to humans.

> Propyl Gallate: This preservative is sometimes found in chewing gum, meat products, vegetable oils, potato sticks, and chicken soup base. Helps slow down the deterioration of oils and fats. Results of animal studies suggest that it may cause cancer.

> Saccharin – This artificial sweetener is 350 times sweeter than sugar and is found in packets of sweeteners, sodas, diet products, and “no sugar added.” Animal studies have shown that it is linked to urinary bladder cancer. The diet food industry acknowledges that saccharin may be linked to cancer in rats, but believes that the same results would not occur in humans.

> Sodium Chloride: Commonly known as salt, this additive is used to enhance the flavor of foods. But using too much salt or eating foods high in sodium can lead to high blood pressure, kidney problems, heart attacks, and strokes.

> Sodium Nitrate (or Sodium Nitrite) – This additive is used to preserve, enhance color, and enhance the flavor of ham, luncheon meats, hot dogs, beef, and smoked fish. Meat processors use nitrate and nitrite because they stabilize the red color of meat (it would otherwise look gray) and help prevent the growth of botulism-causing bacteria. Studies have suggested that these additives may cause certain types of cancer.

> Trans fats: This additive is typically found in foods served at fast food restaurants and certain crackers, frostings, and microwave popcorn. Trans fats can cause heart problems.

> White sugar: Sugar is a common ingredient in baked goods, crackers, cereals, desserts, sauces, and many other processed foods. The average person consumes about 65 pounds of sugar per year. Too much sugar can lead to obesity and other unhealthy conditions.

Unfortunately, these food additives are present in many of the foods on supermarket shelves. Check the labels and if you see that one or more of these are present. If so, a health conscious shopper should consider other alternative products. If you see other additives that concern you, look them up online and you’ll likely find a description of the additive along with potential harmful side effects.

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