So, like many of you, I want to know what food is best for my family (and myself!), but sometimes get overwhelmed with all of the information out there. In my professional and educational experience, I have learned that there are always multiple sides to an issue. You could find numerous sources to back up whatever you want to believe. Kind of frustrating, right?
Well, there are still some guidelines I follow. I have tried all sorts of "diets" over the years, trying to eliminate symptoms that cause me distress. I have gone gluten free (even while pregnant - no take out pizza!), vegan, vegetarian, raw and even followed a specific blood type diet (to name a few...). And what I learned is how complicated our bodies are, and it's not simply a matter of only eating (or not eating) certain foods. But that doesn't mean we need to stick our heads in the sand about what we are putting into our body.
Below is a list of 5 food additives that are commonly found in processed food. The point is not to cause fear. The idea is to be aware of the ingredients that are in the foods we eat, our children eat and our families eat. Ask questions about what is being allowed into your food and learn what these ingredients are and how they have been studied with regard to human health.
1. Sodium Benzoate – Used as a preservative in margarine, bottled soft drinks, maraschino cherries, fruit juice, pickles, and jams. Nontoxic for external use, moderately toxic by ingestion. Caused birth defects in animal experiments. When combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C), can form benzene, a known carcinogen. Can also form depending on heat, light, and shelf life. More on this chemical.
2. Benzyl Acetate – A synthetic flavoring (ie: butter, cherry, etc.) additive for beverages, ice cream, candy, baked goods, and chewing gum. Can be irritating to the skin, eyes, and respiratory tract. Ingestion causes intestinal upset, including vomiting and diarrhea. Noted brain damage in rats and mice.
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – Used to intensify flavor in meats, condiments, pickles, soups, candy and baked goods. Causes brain damage in young rodents and brain damage effects in rats, rabbits, chicks, and monkeys. Depression, irritability, and other mood changes have been reported. On the FDA list of additives needing further study for mutagenic (causing cells to mutate), teratogenic (birth and developmental defects), and reproductive effects.
4. FD & C Colors (Food Drug & Cosmetic Colors) – Various color additives linked to cancer, tumors, infertility to name a few. Specific colors have different reports of risk. Some linked to hyperactivity in children. Many have been banned due to health risks and further studies are underway to determine safety of remaining allowed colors. Here is more info on the concerns with artificial colors in our foods. Looking for recipes with natural colors? Check them out here!
5. Butylated Hydroxyanisole/Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHA/BHT) – Preservatives found in beverages, ice cream, soup bases, potatoes, breakfast cereals, chewing gum, and baked goods. BHA affects liver and kidney functions. Serious concerns over carcinogenicity and estrogenic effects. Banned in Japan. BHT chemically similar to BHA with similar health concerns. BHT is banned in the UK.
Of course there are more chemicals, and new ones are created all of the time. Hydrogenated oils (trans fats), BPA and others are now getting attention as to the dangers of consumption. Keep yourself informed and yet, don't give in to fear mongering. Yes, many of these chemicals can be hazardous to your health. However, most of the dangers come in over an extended period of exposure. Mix up your diet, too. Even too much kale can be hazardous to your thyroid. Just don't have it every day.
Also, be wary of absolute claims and just do your research from reputable sources (which is getting harder and harder these days). Investigate who (what company or institution) is backing a certain study. This doesn't make it false, but just look at the whole picture. Books and peer-reviewed journals are always a great resource! They require editing and aren't subject to page views and advertising as are many Internet sites. Remember, just because it's on the Internet, doesn't make it true! And yet, there is a lot of great information readily available online at our fingertips.
My point is, there are some basic things I do avoid as much as possible. If I do consume these, I just make a point to eat a little "cleaner" the days following. Our body can process and detoxify a lot on its own. But we can't overwhelm it, and need to keep up the fresh fruits, vegetables, proteins, healthy fats and plenty of water. Taking care of our physical body (exercise) and our mental/spiritual body (meditation, prayer, affirmations) also keeps the balance, because these, too, are things we are putting "in" our body.
References: Winter, Ruth. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives. Three Rivers Press: New York. 2004.
*Updated December 4, 2016.