Milken Institute School of Public Health
Gillings School of Global Public Health
There have been great advances in food preparation in the last century. These days, well over half of the foods that we can buy in a typical supermarket are pre packaged or prepared. They need either no or minimal preparation before being ready to eat. However, there is a dark side to this convenience. Most of the foods on our shelves also contain chemicals and additives that are known to harm either the human body or laboratory animals. If they harm animals, they can harm you too. Most of the ingredients that you should avoid fall into one of three areas: food additives, artificial sweeteners and artificial colors. More and more experts are agreeing that you are wise to try to avoid as many chemicals in your foods as possible. By shopping in mostly the produce, dairy and meat sections of your grocery store, you can avoid many of the harmful food additives listed below. However, all of us need to be on our guard, because some of these ingredients also are used in meats, dairy products and even produce. What does this have to do with Public health? The health of our country is determined by the things we consume. This ultimately adds massive costs to our healthcare system as more and more people experience disease from eating processed foods and additives.
Food Additives to Avoid
While FDA generally recognizes most additives on this list as ‘safe,’ there are growing concerns about the safety of many common food additives, if consumed in large quantities.
- Sodium nitrate: Added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth. Linked to cancer in humans. (Worst Offender)
- Sulfites: Used to keep prepared foods fresh. Can cause breathing difficulties in those sensitive to the ingredient.
- Azodicarbonamide: Used in bagels and buns. Can cause asthma.
- Potassium bromate: Added to breads to increase volume. Linked to cancer in humans.
- Propyl gallate: Added to fat-containing products. Linked to cancer in humans
- BHA/BHT: A fat preservative, used in foods to extend shelf life. Linked to cancerous tumor growth.
- Propylene glycol: Better known as antifreeze. Thickens dairy products and salad dressing. Deemed ‘generally’ safe by FDA.
- Butane: Put in chicken nuggets to keep them tasting fresh. A known carcinogen.
- Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Flavor enhancer that can cause headaches. Linked in animal studies to nerve damage, heart problems and seizures.
- Disodium inosinate: In snack foods. Contains MSG.
- Disodium guanylate: Also used in snack foods, and contains MSG.
- Enriched flour: Used in many snack foods. A refined starch that is made from toxic ingredients.
- Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Geneticially-engineered version of natural growth hormone in cows. Boosts milk production in cows. Contains high levels of IGF-1, which is thought cause various types of cancer.
- Refined vegetable oil: Includes soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. High in omega-6 fats, which are thought to cause heart disease and cancer.
- Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in salad dressing and carbonated beverages. A known carcinogen and may cause damage our DNA.
- Brominated vegetable oil: Keeps flavor oils in soft drinks suspended. Bromate is a poison and can cause organ damage and birth defects. Not required to be listed on food labels.
- Propyl gallate: Found in meats, popcorn, soup mixes and frozen dinners. Shown to cause cancer in rats. Banned in some countries. Deemed safe by FDA.
- Olestra: Fat-like substance that is unabsorbed by the body. Used in place of natural fats in some snack foods. Can cause digestive problems, and also not healthy for the heart.
- Carrageenan: Stabilizer and thickening agent used in many prepared foods. Can cause ulcers and cancer.
- Polysorbate 60: A thickener that is used in baked goods. Can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
- Camauba wax: Used in chewing gums and to glaze certain foods. Can cause cancer and tumors.
- Magnesium sulphate: Used in tofu, and can cause cancer in laboratory animals.
- Chlorine dioxide: Used in bleaching flour. Can cause tumors and hyperactivity in children.
- Paraben: Used to stop mold and yeast forming in foods. Can disrupt hormones in the body, and could be linked to breast cancer.
- Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose: Used as a thickener in salad dressings. Could cause cancer in high quantities.
- Aluminum: A preservative in some packaged foods that can cause cancer.
Artificial Sweeteners to Avoid
Artificial sweeteners are regulated by FDA, just as food additives are, but this does not apply to products ‘generally recognized as safe.
- Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats. (Worst Offender)
- Aspartame: An excitotoxin and thought to be a carcinogen. Can cause dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and stomach problems.
- High fructose corn syrup: Sweetener made from corn starch. Made from genetically-modified corn. Causes obesity, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and insulin resistance.
- Acesulfame potassium: Used with other artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and ice cream. Linked to lung and breast tumors in rats.
- Sucralose: Splenda. Can cause swelling of liver and kidneys and a shrinkage of the thymus gland.
- Agave nectar: Sweetener derived from a cactus. Contains high levels of fructose, which causes insulin resistance, liver disease and inflammation of body tissues.
- Bleached starch: Can be used in many dairy products. Thought to be related to asthma and skin irritations.
- Tert butylhydroquinone: Used to preserve fish products. Could cause stomach tumors at high doses.
Artificial Food Colorings to Avoid
Food colorings are used to give foods a more attractive appearance, but some experts believe they cause serious health problems, including asthma and hyperactivity in children.
- Red #40: Found in many foods to alter color. All modern food dyes are derived from petroleum. A carcinogen that is linked to cancer in some studies. Also can cause hyperactivity in children. Banned in some European countries. (Worst Offender)
- Blue #1: Used in bakery products, candy and soft drinks. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer.
- Blue #2: Used in candy and pet food beverages. Can cause brain tumors
- Citrus red #1: Sprayed on oranges to make them look ripe. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer.
- Citrus red #2: Used to color oranges. Can cause cancer if you eat the peel.
- Green #3: Used in candy and beverages. May cause bladder tumors.
- Yellow #5: Used in desserts, candy and baked goods.Thought to cause kidney tumors, according to some studies.
- Yellow #6: A carcinogen used in sausage, beverages and baked goods. Thought to cause kidney tumors, according to some studies.
- Red #2: A food coloring that may cause both asthma and cancer.
- Red #3: A carcinogen. that is added to cherry pie filling, ice cream and baked goods. May cause nerve damage and thyroid cancer.
- Caramel coloring: In soft drinks, sauces, pastries and breads. When made with ammonia, it can cause cancer in mice. Food companies not required to disclose if this ingredient is made with ammonia.
- Brown HT: Used in many packaged foods. Can cause hyperactivity in children, asthma and cancer.
- Orange B: A food dye that is used in hot dog and sausage casings. High doses are bad for the liver and bile duct.
- Bixin: Food coloring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.
- Norbixin: Food coloring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.
- Annatto: Food coloring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.
- Avoid fast foods
- Avoid soda and sugary drinks & juice
- Eat more fruits, vegetables and grains
- Eat hormone free meat
- Drink hormone free milk
- Know what you’re eating!
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