When you consider the 5,000 additives actually added to food along with the additional 5,000 that leech into food from packaging, we are regularly exposed to 10,000 food additives in the US—the bulk of which have never undergone any safety testing. And, almost none have been tested for the way in which they impact the body in combination. Given these factors, it is difficult to choose the 12 worst food additives to avoid, but here are my selections:
Since the medical journal the Lancet first published a study on the effects of artificial colors being linked to hyperactivity, groups like the Center for Science in the Public Interest—a consumer advocacy group—has called for a ban on the use of artificial dyes in food. Yellow 5 or tartrazine, is derived from coal tar, and blue dye number 1 and 2 have been linked with cancer in animal tests, while red dye number 3 causes thyroid tumors in rats. Green dye number 3 is linked to bladder cancer, and yellow dye number 6 is linked to tumors of the kidneys and adrenal glands. Check out my blog “The Dark Side of Food Colors.”
Not only has aspartame been linked to headaches, according to Lynne Melcome, author of Health Hazards of White Sugar, aspartame’s effects can be mistaken for Alzheimer’s disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, epilepsy, Epstein-Barr virus, Huntington’s chorea, hypothyroidism, Lou Gehrig’s disease, lyme disease, Meniere’s disease, multiple sclerosis, post-polio syndrome and sensitivity to mercury amalgam fillings. Aspartame is now known as Neotame or NeoTame. It is considered a cancer-causing ingredient that is added to many foods, particularly diet foods. It has also been linked to premature puberty in girls and blood sugar imbalances that lead to obesity.
BHA is an artificial flavor. It stands for butylated hydroxyanisole and is a suspected carcinogen and hormone disruptor.
According to research at the Georgia State University Institute for Biomedical Sciences, this emulsifier alters microbes in the gut, which contributes to the risk for colorectal cancer. Dr. Viennois, head of the study identified that a key feature in colorectal cancer is the presence of altered intestinal microbes that create conditions for the tumors to develop.
While it is difficult to pin our overweight and obesity problem on just one food additive, high fructose corn syrup would be it. That’s because HFCS has been linked a wide variety of serious health concerns, many of which are linked to weight gain, including: diabetes, fatty liver disease, reproductive disorders, cancer, obesity, cellular energy depletion (adequate cellular energy is essential to all bodily functions), chronic inflammation, learning impairment and high blood pressure and heart disease. Check out my blog “9 Reasons to Avoid High Fructose Corn Syrup like the Plague.”
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This chemical is a well-established neurotoxin, meaning that it is damaging to the brain and nervous system. Most fast food companies simply list “Spices” in their ingredients as they are not required by law to actually list this harmful ingredient outright. As a result, there is no way of knowing which companies use MSG or not based on their ingredient lists. Because the ingredient is so ubiquitous it is highly likely that most fast food burgers contain MSG. Monosodium glutamate is frequently used in laboratories to create obese animals for testing. Here are two examples of this practice. Additionally, research links MSG consumption to initiating or aggravating fibromyalgia symptoms.
Nitrites and Nitrates
The World Health Organization classified bacon and other processed meats as “Group 1” carcinogens, along with cigarette smoking and asbestos. Group 1 carcinogens are those that have what the WHO describes as “sufficient evidence” on humans that the consumption of processed meat causes colorectal cancer. The common link between bacon and processed meats are the presence of the preservatives known as nitrites and nitrates.
It sounds like a harmless mineral, but don’t be fooled: this ingredient is added to most of the commercially-prepared baked goods and breads, including many “freshly-baked” breads available in grocery stores and some bakeries. It has been linked to cancer in animal studies.
Potassium sorbate has been shown in human studies to be both genotoxic and mutagenic, meaning that it damages our genetic material which can lead to genetic mutations that are linked with disease. It is also a suspected carcinogen.
These nanoparticles are associated in animal studies with brain cell death and brain inflammation and have been shown to, not only gain access to the brain, but to deposit themselves in the frontal cortex of the brain. It has been linked to liver damage when used in medications.
The Lancet also found that a commonly-used preservative, sodium benzoate, is linked to hyperactivity in children, suggesting the chemical has neurological effects. Sodium benzoate is known to form benzene in the body in the presence of vitamin C. Benzene has been linked to leukemia.
TBHQ is a petroleum-based, butane-like (yes, that’s lighter fluid!) ingredient used as a preservative in vegetable oil used for frying. I think it goes without saying that maybe we shouldn’t be eating lighter-fluid-like chemicals.
Keep in mind that there are many other chemicals to avoid but these are my top picks for the dirty dozen to avoid at all costs.
Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-news World’s Healthiest News, president of PureFood BC, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: Be Your Own Herbalist: Essential Herbs for Health, Beauty & Cooking.