Ever wondered how come the shelf life of some processed foods is so long? Or what makes packaged potato chips taste so good? Food additives and preservatives are commonly used to prolong shelf life and enhance the appearance and flavor of food. But do these additives add any health benefits to your food? Actually – no. In fact, they can wreak havoc on your health. Processed and packaged foods are also bad for the environment because they add to waste, increase the carbon footprint in the pre and post consumer phase (think packaging waste, fuel waste during transportation, and the over production of food itself to keep shelves stocked up).
The ideal thing to do is to eat only fresh foods that are sourced locally. But we understand that giving up on packaged foods entirely is not practical. Therefore, here is a quick list of 5 most common chemical food additives, so you should definitely avoid – for your own sake, and for that of the planet.
- Artificial Colors: While sweets and cakes with eye popping rainbow colors look tempting in their many hues, the artificial colors can have harmful effects. Synthetic colors are nothing but chemical dyes used to color food and beverages. According to a study published in the journal “The Lancet”, consuming artificial coloring and preservatives in food can increase hyperactivity in children. Research by the US Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has also found that food colorings cause cancer, hypersensitivity reactions and behavioral problems.
- Aspartame: Many people use artificial sweeteners such as aspartame (sold under brand names Equal / Sugar Free Gold) to cut down calorie intake. But is aspartame really a healthy substitute to sugar? The “Clinical Journal of Pain” reports that aspartame triggers migraine headaches. As per the CSPI, aspartame can cause neurological problems such as hallucinations, and its long-term consumption increases cancer risks. If you’re trying to lose weight, avoiding sugar is one of the best options.
- Mono-sodium glutamate (MSG): Mostly used as a flavor enhancer and preservative in soups, chips, cookies, canned meat, Chinese food and seasonings, MSG has been linked to nausea, headaches, obesity and inflammation, in addition to Cancer. If you want to avoid MSG, you will need to remove foods with either of these ingredients listed on the label: monosodium glutamate, glutamic acid, free glutamate, hydrolyzed proteins or natural flavoring.
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT): BHA / BHT are common preservatives and antioxidants that prevent foods from changing their color or flavor, or becoming rancid. They are used in cereals, chewing gums, potato chips, candies, and vegetable oils. Based on findings of animal studies, it has been concluded that BHA is a potential human carcinogen.
- Sodium Nitrate or Sodium nitrite: Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite are used as a preservative and coloring / flavoring agent in processed meats. While these chemicals are approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for use as additives, large portions of processed meats containing sodium nitrite have been linked to increased risk of cancer. Sodium nitrate has also been associated with colon cancer, especially in case of meat that has been barbecued at high temperatures.
The next time you go shopping for groceries, remember to read labels and buy more natural or organic foods that do not contain artificial flavors, colors, preservatives or chemicals.
Know about more food additives to add to this list? Do share with us.