In a world teeming with processed and pre-packaged food products, food additives are almost impossible to avoid these days. And while a great many of these are traditionally considered safe and even necessary to avoid spoilage and cases of food poisoning, some of them can be irritating or even harmful to the body. This means that the food we eat can be so much more wholesome if were just more discerning when it comes to choosing our meals and snack. This also makes the case for consuming mostly whole foods even stronger. Read on to find out some of the food additives that you might want to avoid and consume in moderation.
At the lower rung of our list are key food additives like food colors, as well as food gums that are used as emulsifiers, stabilizers, and thickeners. These products, more often than not, fall under the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s generally regarded as safe (GRAS) category of food additives. However, controversy still surrounds some of these food additives because of the possible effects they might have on our health. The yellow food coloring tartrazine (E102), for example, appears to be one of the most allergenic food dyes, particularly affecting people who are asthmatic and those with aspirin intolerance. Tartrazine is typically used in confectioneries, beverages, snacks, sandwich spreads, and many other food products.
Food gums are also under scrutiny because of their possible health effects. For instance excessive consumption of xanthan gum may cause bloating and nausea, while other types of food gums appear to interact with drugs as well. For instance, carrageenan appears to slow blood clotting and thus may interact with medications for high blood pressure (antihypertensive drugs) and medications that slow blood pressure (anticoagulant drugs).
Food gums are used in a variety of products, from soups, sauces, and salad dressings to ice cream, jellies, and milk products. If alternatives containing no food gums exist, you would be well advised to choose these instead. For instance, the New York-based nut and grain milk company Elmhurst uses a cold milling process to milk nuts and grains. This allows their products to have a naturally creamy and thick texture without having to use stabilizers and emulsifiers. There are also many gum-free dairy milk, ice cream, yogurt, condiments, and baked goods out there, so just be discerning when it comes to choosing what to buy.
High-Fructose Corn Syrup
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener derived from corn starch, synthesized via the breaking down of starch into a syrup made of sugar glucose. It is commonly found in many modern processed food products, including sodas, pancake syrups, candies and other sweets, and even some breakfast cereals. Because it is very cheap, many manufacturers use high-fructose corn syrup instead of regular table sugar to sweeten their products, although it is important to note that both HFCS and common table sugar are major contributors to public health concerns like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. As such, it is important to limit your intake of sugars, no matter the source.
Tran’s fat is really one of those more nefarious contents of modern processed food products since excessive consumption of it has been linked to an increased risk for cardiovascular diseases. This is because trans-fat contributes to the buildup of plaque inside blood vessels—something that puts a person at an elevated risk for heart attack. For this very reason, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration no longer classifies trans-fat under the generally recognized as safe category of food additives since 2013. When examining labels, look for partially hydrogenated oil (PHO) under the ingredients list since PHOs are a major source of industrially produced trans-fat in processed food products.
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate
Processed meats have long been popular because of their enhanced taste and their long shelf lives. Often, they are preserved with the compounds sodium nitrite (E250) and sodium nitrate (E251), which have been shown to be effective in inhibiting the growth of bacterial spores responsible for the eventual spoilage of meat products. However, excessive consumption of sodium nitrate puts you at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Sodium nitrite, on the other hand, naturally reacts with amines in meat to form nitrosamines, which are a known carcinogen. To avoid overexposure to these compounds, you should only eat processed meats once in a while. Instead, choose lean, fresh meat products.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Butylated hydroxyanisole (E320) are also used as preservatives, thanks to their antioxidant properties. They are derived from petroleum, and are sometimes used in the preservation of food products like beer, butter, cereals, crisps, and candies. However, butylated hydroxyanisole has been shown to be carcinogenic in scientific studies involving animals, so some scientists warn about its use in food products for human consumption.
When it comes to additives in food products, remember that the dosage makes the poison. Although, food products like processed meats might not make you sick if you eat them just once in a while, you’re most likely increasing your risk for cardiovascular disease and cancer if you eat them every day. That’s why it is important to eat fresh, wholesome food most of the time.