February 24, 2016
One of the simplest choices you can make in support of your health is to eat real food. Real food refers to vegetables, meats and wild-caught seafood, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits and raw grass-fed dairy; foods that are in their whole, primarily unaltered form.
Such foods will not only reward you with rich concentrations of vitamins, minerals, fiber and antioxidants, but they’re also beneficial for what they do not contain — food additives.
If you eat processed foods, you’re consuming a chemical cocktail with each bite. Even seemingly simple foods like bread, processed cheese, salad dressing or pasta sauce are typically loaded with preservatives, emulsifiers, flavorings, colorings and other “enhancers.”
9 Top Food Additives to Avoid
Since the 1950s, the number of food additives allowed in U.S. food has grown from about 800 to more than 10,000. We’re not talking only about simple natural ingredients like vinegar and table salt anymore, but countless chemical concoctions that are putting Americans’ health at risk.
What little risk assessment done on such chemicals is typically done on individual chemicals in isolation, but mounting research suggests that when you consume multiple additives in combination, the health effects may be more serious than previously imagined.
One assessment by the National Food Institute at the Technical University of Denmark found that even small amounts of chemicals can amplify each other’s adverse effects when combined.1
Really, the only way to avoid this chemical cocktail is to avoid processed foods. But at the very least, you’ll want to read food labels carefully and avoid those that follow.
- High-Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)
It’s often claimed that HFCS is no worse for you than sugar, but this is not the case.
Because high-fructose corn syrup contains free-form monosaccharides of fructose and glucose, it cannot be considered biologically equivalent to sucrose (sugar), which has a glycosidic bond that links the fructose and glucose together, and which slows its breakdown in your body.
Fructose is primarily metabolized by your liver, because your liver is the only organ that has the transporter for it.
Since all fructose gets shuttled to your liver, and, if you eat a typical Western-style diet, you consume high amounts of it, fructose ends up taxing and damaging your liver in the same way alcohol and other toxins do.
And just like alcohol, fructose is metabolized directly into fat — it just gets stored in your fat cells, which leads to mitochondrial malfunction, obesity and obesity-related diseases.
The more fructose or HFCS a food contains, and the more total fructose you consume, the worse it is for your health.
For example, female mice fed a diet that contained 25 percent of calories from corn syrup had nearly twice the death rate and 26 percent fewer offspring compared to those fed a diet in which 25 percent of calories came from table sugar.2
As a standard recommendation, I advise keeping your TOTAL fructose consumption below 25 grams per day, which is very difficult to do if you eat processed foods.
For most people it would also be wise to limit your fructose from fruit to 15 grams or less, as you’re virtually guaranteed to consume “hidden” sources of fructose if you drink beverages other than water and eat processed food.
Fifteen grams of fructose is not much — it represents two bananas, one-third cup of raisins, or two Medjool dates. The average 12-ounce can of soda contains 40 grams of sugar, at least half of which is fructose, so one can of soda alone would exceed your daily allotment.
- Artificial Sweeteners
Experiments have found that sweet taste, regardless of its caloric content, enhances your appetite, and consuming artificial sweeteners has been shown to lead to even greater weight gain than consuming sugar.
Aspartame has been found to have the most pronounced effect, but the same applies for other artificial sweeteners, such as acesulfame potassium, sucralose and saccharin. Yet, weight gain is only the beginning of why artificial sweeteners should generally be avoided.
Aspartame, for instance, is a sweet-tasting neurotoxin. As a result of its unnatural structure, your body processes the amino acids found in aspartame very differently from a steak or a piece of fish.
The amino acids in aspartame literally attack your cells, even crossing the blood-brain barrier to attack your brain cells, creating a toxic cellular overstimulation, called excitotoxicity, similar to monosodium glutamate (MSG).
Further, inflammatory bowel disease may be caused or exacerbated by the regular consumption of the popular artificial sweetener Splenda (sucralose), as it inactivates digestive enzymes and alters gut barrier function.3
Previous research also found that sucralose can destroy up to 50 percent of your beneficial gut flora.4 While you certainly don’t want to overdo it on sugar, there’s little doubt in my mind that artificial sweeteners can be even worse for your health than sugar and even fructose.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
This flavor enhancer is most often associated with Chinese food, but it’s actually in countless processed food products ranging from frozen dinners and salad dressing to snack chips and meats.
MSG is an excitotoxin, which means it overexcites your cells to the point of damage or death, causing brain dysfunction and damage to varying degrees — and potentially even triggering or worsening learning disabilities, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, Lou Gehrig’s disease and more.
Part of the problem is that free glutamic acid (MSG is approximately 78 percent free glutamic acid) is the same neurotransmitter that your brain, nervous system, eyes, pancreas and other organs use to initiate certain processes in your body.
Although the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) continues to claim that consuming MSG in food does not cause these ill effects, many other experts say otherwise.
- Synthetic Trans Fats
Synthetic trans fats, found in margarine, vegetable shortening, and partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, are known to promote inflammation, which is a hallmark of most chronic and/or serious diseases.
These synthetic fats have been linked to stroke, cancer, diabetes, decreased immune function, reproductive problems, heart disease and more.
Fortunately, in June 2015 the FDA announced partially hydrogenated oils (a primary source of trans fat) will no longer be allowed in food due to their health risks, unless authorized by the agency.
According to the FDA, this change may help prevent around 20,000 heart attacks and 7,000 heart disease deaths each year.
The new regulation won’t take effect until 2018. In the interim, food companies have to either reformulate their products to remove partially hydrogenated oils or file a limited use petition with the FDA to continue using them.
- Artificial Colors
Fifteen million pounds of artificial food dyes are added into U.S. foods every year — and that amount only factors in eight different varieties.3 As of July 2010, most foods in the European Union (EU) that contain artificial food dyes were labeled with warning labels stating the food “may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.”
The British government also asked that food manufacturers remove most artificial colors from foods back in 2009 due to health concerns. Nine of the food dyes currently approved for use in the U.S. are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions — and these results were from studies conducted by the chemical industry itself.5
For instance, Red # 40, which is the most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children. Blue # 2, used in candies, beverages, pet foods and more, was linked to brain tumors.
And Yellow 5, used in baked goods, candies, cereal and more, may not only be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals, but it’s also linked to hyperactivity, hypersensitivity and other behavioral effects in children. Even the innocuous-sounding caramel color, which is widely used in brown soft drinks, may cause cancer due to 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), a chemical byproduct formed when certain types of caramel coloring are manufactured.
Some U.S. companies are moving ahead of regulatory agencies to get these controversial additives out of their products. Mars, Inc., for instance, announced in February 2016 that it will be removing synthetic food dyes from its entire line of food products, including M&Ms candies.6