Part 2: Nutrition & the Environment and what it all boils down to.

via The New Yorker

What are food additives and why are they used?

Food additives are chemicals added to our food. Reasons for use are to improve shelf life/storage time. To make food more available. To increase nutritional value. To improve the flavor of food. To make food easier to prepare. To improve customer acceptance. Scary fact: The average person may be eating up to 5 kg of artificial food additives per year!

Flavors- Artificial and “Natural: When “flavor” is listed as an ingredient, we have no idea what is in that product. The term refers to “flavor” but also covers any “incidental additives”, such as solvents, emulsifiers, and preservatives. It is sometimes a mix of up to 100 chemicals. An artificial flavor must be comprised of one of the nearly 700 FDA-allowed flavoring chemicals or food additives categorized as “genrally recognized as safe”, or any of 2000 other chemicals not directly regulated by FDA but sanctioned for use by an industry group, the Flavor and Extract Manufacturers Association of the United States.

Artificial colors: In Canada, eight artificial dyes are permitted in food, with the others for restricted use only, labeling only required to list “color”. Many are derived from coal-tar and petrochemicals. Studies have found links between artificial food additives and hyperactivity, allergies (eczema, asthma) and cancers. Many European countries ban them and brands make the same products free of these additives for their market.

Caramel: Caramel is derived from allergens (corn, soy, wheat, dairy) and source not listed in the ingredients list because it is used as a color. Found in Cola, brown bread, chocolate, vinegar, gravy, donuts etc. Has been linked to lowered immune function in rats. Four different processing methods, two of them use ammonia that caused cancer in rats. Ammonia-caramel coloring listed as a carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65.

Nitrates & Nitrites: Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are two food preservatives used to preserve meat, kill bacteria and give meat its characteristic pink color. These are compounds found naturally in some foods (like vegetables) but also added to processed foods (like bacon) as a preservative. Nitrates are relatively inert until they are turned into nitrites by bacteria in the mouth or enzymes in the body. Nitrites can either turn into Nitric Oxide (good) or nitrosamines (bad) depending on your microbiome. Nitric oxide is important to make blood vessels dilate and blood pressure lower. Nitrosamines are also more likely to form when exposed to high heat (meats). They are carcinogenic.

BHA & BHT (butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated bydroxytoluene): BHA and BHT are preservatives derived from petrochemicals used to prevent rancidity of fats in foods and cosmetics. BHA linked to cancer in animal studies, the European Union classifies it as an endocrine disrupter (hormones!). BHT causes developmental effects and thyroid change in animal studies. Commonly found in potato chips, gum, cereal, meats, and candy. Found in most processed foods. BHA banned in cosmetics in Europe and labeled in California as a suspected carcinogen.

Sulfites: Preservatives and antioxidants found in wine, dried fruit, fruit juice concentrate, and many pharmaceuticals to help preserve and prevent browning. Reduce levels of important nutrients, such as beta-carotene, B-complex and calcium. Can cause headache, nausea, diarrhea, irrigated membranes, abdominal pain, rashes, and trigger asthma. The average intake is 2-3 mg/day, wine & beer drinkers 10 mg/day, restaurant frequenters 150mg/day.

MSG (monosodium glutamate): Is a flavor enhancer. Sodium salt or glutamic acid found in many proteins. Can be labeled as “hydrolyzed protein”, “natural flavoring” or yeast extract. Acute reactions include headache, agitation, increased heart rate, numbness, tingling. Linked with obesity, diabetes, ADD, allergies, IBS and depression. Studies show varying results, however.

Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO): Is an emulsifier and clouding agent in soft drinks. It helps to suspend flavors in citrus-flavored beverages. Bromates used in flour to condition dough (not always listed). BVO is very poorly tested and safety concerns have led to a ban in EU, Japan, and India; many soft drink companies replacing it. BVO is the same chemical family as flame-retardants. Early studies suggest that flame-retardant chemicals disrupt normal hormone function, leading to problems with brain development in children, fertility, thyroid function, and possibly cancer. Some people have acute reactions, including food poisoning symptoms, memory loss, and neurological symptoms.

Is there anything that I can still eat? What about salt?

Ingredient Order: Ingredients are shown in descending order, except spices, seasoning, herbs (except salt!), natural and artificial flavors, flavor enhancers, food additives (except ingredients of food additives preparations), vitamins, soalts and derivatives of vitamins, mineral nutrients, salts of mineral nutrients.

This is a lot of information, I know. But maybe you keep some of it in mind when you shop for food. Read the labels and if you are not sure about some ingredients the EWG’S Food Score App may be helpful.

Part 3 about toxic exposure in cleaning and personal care products will be published soon.

Stay Happy. Stay Healthy.

2 Replies to “Part 2: Nutrition & the Environment and what it all boils down to.”

  1. Well, I'm so glad you didn't say anything bad about jujubes. I guess they're fine to eat. Just kidding. I don't even want to know what's in them.

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