Food manufacturers have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves to get us to crave their products. Like adding flashy colors and intense flavors, so we find it nearly impossible to say no.
And then there are the downright dodgy additives used to extend the shelf life or increase the amount of their processed products. Some of them are so bad that nutritionists have banned them from their own homes.
Avoid this “worst of the worst” food additives
Following are ten of the worst offenders. Which ones are still in YOUR kitchen?
1. Sodium nitrite & sodium nitrate:
What they are: These two closely-related chemicals are used to preserve meat.
Why they’re bad: When added to meat, the nitrates easily convert to nitrosamines, which are associated with an increased risk of certain types of cancers. This chemical reaction occurs most readily at higher temperatures.
In a 2007 analysis, The World Cancer Research Fund revealed that eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat every day could increase your cancer risk by 20 percent.
And according to Harvard research, a single serving of processed meat a day—such as a hot dog or a couple slices of lunch meat—is associated with a 42 percent increased risk for heart disease and a 19 percent increased risk for diabetes. While unprocessed red meats didn’t have any negative heart effects.
AKA: Soda niter, Chile saltpeter
Found in: Lunch meats, cured meats, bacon, ham, salami, corned beef, hot dogs, pate, canned meat (Vienna sausages, deviled ham), smoked salmon, dried fish, and some jerky.
2. Monosodium glutamate (MSG):
What it is: MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor-enhancer in processed foods (one of the most common food additives).
Why it’s bad: It’s a known excitotoxin, which some experts say could harm nerve cells— overexciting them, sometimes to the point of cell death. Regularly eating foods laced with excitotoxins such as MSG may destroy brain cells triggering serious health consequences including contributing to neurological disorders. Plus MSG can stimulate the appetite causing cravings, overeating and unwanted weight gain.
AKA: MSG goes by many aliases, including hydrolyzed vegetable protein, hydrolyzed plant protein, vegetable protein extract, yeast extract, glutamate, glutamic acid, sodium caseinate, textured protein, soy protein isolates, barley malt, calcium caseinate and malt extract.
Found in: Processed foods such as salad dressings, low-fat yogurt, canned meats, frozen entrees, potato chips, canned soups and flavored crackers.
3. Recombinant bovine growth hormone (rBGH):
What it is: Produced by Monsanto, rBGH is a genetically-engineered version of the natural growth hormone produced by cows. Factory farms use it to boost milk production in dairy cows.
Why it’s bad: “rBGH milk “contains high levels of insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) which have been implicated as major causes of breast, colon and prostate cancers. rBGH milk isn’t required to be labeled.
rBGH has been shown to increase the incidence of mastitis a painful infection in the breast tissues of the cows. When a cow has mastitis traces of pus and blood end up in the milk.
Dairy cows are often dosed up on antibiotics to avoid these infections which contributes to antibiotic resistance and the spread of dangerous infections such as MRSA. And hormones in food are associated with early puberty in girls.
Consumer feedback spurred megabrands such as Dannon and General Mills,Wal-Mart, Starbucks, and Publix to phase out products with hormones rBST and rBGH.
AKA: Recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST)
Found in: Dairy products which aren’t specifically labeled “No rGBH or rBST.”
4. BHA and BHT:
What it is: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are preservatives used in many foods to prevent oxidation and extend shelf life.
Why it’s bad: BHA and BHT are oxidants, which can form potentially cancer-causing reactive compounds in the body. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, considers BHA to be “possibly carcinogenic” to humans, and the State of California has listed it as a known carcinogen.
Found in: Packaging materials, cereals, sausage, hot dogs, meat patties, chewing gum, potato chips, beer, vegetable oils, cosmetics, and animal feed.
5. Refined vegetable oil:
What it is: There are many different kinds of commercially-refined vegetable oils, including soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil and peanut oil.
Why it’s bad: Refined vegetable oils are made using intensive mechanical and chemical processes which extract the oil from the seeds. During refining, chemical solvents and high temperatures are used. And deodorizing and bleaching are common too.
The refining process strips out many of the the natural vitamins and minerals from the seeds. And it creates oils which become rancid and oxidize easily, causing damaging free radicals to form.
Refined vegetable oils are high in inflammatory omega-6 fatty acids. They trigger inflammation leading to DNA damage elevated blood triglycerides and impaired insulin response.
Found in: Many processed foods including crackers, granola bars, and baked goods. They’re also available as stand-alone products such as cooking oils and margarine spreads.
What it is: One of the most widely-used artificial sweeteners.
Why it’s bad: Like MSG, aspartame is an excitotoxin. It may be carcinogenic, and in some folks can trigger headaches, dizziness, blurry vision and gastrointestinal disturbances.
Aspartame is 10-percent methanol, which is broken down by the body into the toxic by-products formic acid and formaldehyde. Formaldehyde is a potent nerve toxin and carcinogen, which may explain why aspartame accounts for more reports to the FDA of adverse reactions than all other foods and food additives combined.
Avoid its pals Splenda (Sucralose) and Sweet ‘n’ Low (saccharine) too.
AKA: NutraSweet, Equal, Canderel, Spoonful, Natrataste, AminoSweet, plus others.
Found in: Over 6,000 products contain it, including diet and sugar-free sodas and drinks, sugar-free chewing gum, yogurt, breath mints, instant breakfasts, frozen desserts, juice beverages and gelatins.
7. High fructose corn syrup (HFCS):
What it is: A highly-refined sweetener produced by separating corn starch from the corn kernel. The corn starch is then converted into corn syrup through a process called acid hydrolysis.
Why it’s bad: Nearly all HFCS is made from genetically-modified corn. It’s the number-one source of calories in the US diet, and contributes to weight gain and the development of diabetes. It’s also is a major contributor to heart disease, arthritis, insulin resistance, and elevated triglycerides and raised LDL cholesterol.
The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy found mercury in nine of 20 samples of commercial HFCS. The samples came from three different manufacturers including popular brands such as Quaker, Hunts, Kraft, Yoplait, Nutri-Grain, and Smuckers. Mercury is a heavy metal and potent brain toxin.
On average, Americans consume 12 teaspoons of HFCS per day.
AKA: Corn sugar, glucose/fructose (syrup), high-fructose maize syrup inulin, iso-glucose and fruit fructose.
Found in: Soda, salad dressings, breads, cereals, yogurt, soups, lunch meats, pizza sauce and condiments.
8. Agave nectar:
What it is: This highly-processed sweetener is extracted from the agave (cactus) plant. Most agave sold in the US comes from Mexico.
Why it’s bad: Many consumers believe agave syrup is a healthy sweetener, but it’s far from it. Agave nectar contains the highest amount of fructose (55-97 percent) among all the commercial sweeteners, including HFCS (which averages 55 percent fructose).
Concentrated fructose increases insulin resistance, the precursor to type 2 diabetes. It’s mainly broken down in the liver and then converted to fat. Excessive fructose, when consumed in quantities greater than 25 grams a day, elevates uric acid levels. This causes chronic, low level inflammation throughout the body and is a main cause of fatty liver disease.
Fructose leads to weight gain, elevated blood sugar and triglycerides, and high blood pressure.
AKA: Agave syrup
Found in: Ice cream, energy bars, cereals, ketchup and other sauces. Agave is also sold as a stand-alone sweetener.
9. Artificial food coloring:
What it is: If your food isn’t naturally colorful, these additives tint them much like the dyes that color clothing.
Why it’s bad: Artificial food dyes are made using petroleum. They’ve long been controversial, and are one of the most widely used additives in food products today. Many dyes have been banned because of their adverse effects on laboratory animals. Studies have confirmed that nine dyes currently approved for use in the US raise the following health concerns.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s (CSPI) study on food dyes, “The three most widely used dyes, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6, are contaminated with known carcinogens. Another dye, Red 3, has been acknowledged for years by the Food and Drug Administration to be a carcinogen, yet it is still in the food supply.”
According to CSPI these nine food dyes are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions.
A large-scale British government study published in the journal Lancet found that a variety of common food dyes, as well as the preservative sodium benzoate, were associated with hyperactivity and decreased the attention spans of children. The additives had adverse effects on both children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and those with no prior history of behavior problems.
The European Union (EU) has put labeling regulations in place to inform consumers of the health risks, but the US has not.
AKA: Caramel color, FD&C Blue #1, Brilliant Blue FCF, Bright blue, Blue # 2, Ingtotine, Royal Blue, Red Number 3, Erythrosine, FD&C Red No.40, Allura Red AC, Yellow 5 and 6, FD&C Green Number 3, Fast Green, Sea Green, to name a few.
Found in: Beverages, candy, baked goods, cereal, energy bars, puddings, jams, bread, macaroni and cheese, deli meat, frostings, condiments, fast food, ice cream, sherbet, sorbet, meats and fish (to make them appear “fresher”).
10. Potassium bromate:
What it is: A form of bromide, used as an additive to increase the volume in some breads, rolls, and flours.
Why it’s bad: Research has found it causes cancer in animals. It’s already banned in the EU, Canada, and several other countries. The FDA, has requested that bakers voluntarily stop using it. It’s rarely used in California because a cancer warning is required on the label.
AKA: Bromic acid, potassium salt, bromated flour, “enriched flour.”
Found in: Many commercial baked goods in the US, including Wonder Bread, Sunbeam, Home Pride (but not in Pepperidge Farm, Arnold, Entenmann’s and Orowheat brands). It’s also common in refined flour and occurs in some toothpaste and mouthwash brands as an antiseptic.
This is far from a complete list of all the bad news ingredients you’ll find in processed foods today. But these are some of the worst offenders. Nutritionists won’t let these additives into their kitchens and you shouldn’t let them into yours either.
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