Food Additives

By Rose Reisman

Food additives have been used for centuries to improve the appearance, flavour and texture of food, as well as extending its shelf life. There are over 300 food additives found in 50% of the food we purchase. Not all are detrimental to our health and all of them have been passed by our government. Even though they have been deemed safe, there are certain additives I would avoid or keep to a minimum in our diets, as over time they add up in our bodies and can cause disease.

1. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (HFCS)

* This is a cheaper form of sugar that is highly processed and extends shelf life. It is the number one source of calories in our foods. HFCS is processed differently than sugar in our body – it doesn’t tell the brain when we’re full, leading us to eat more. It can damage cell tissue and increase the risk for obesity, diabetes type 2, high triglycerides and heart disease.

* Common foods that contain HFCS include: ketchup, salad dressing, cereal, soda, yogurt, granola bars, bread, boxed mac and cheese, honey roasted peanuts, canned fruit, sweetened apple sauce, jam, and juice cocktails.

2. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)

* Often found in hydrolyzed vegetable protein, textured vegetable protein and yeast extract.

* It affects the neurological pathways of the brain so you no longer can tell when you’re full, leading to weight gain which can have long term effects such as obesity and diabetes type 2.

* It damages nerve cells and can cause tingling and numbing sensations, headaches, chest pains, sweating, and depression.

* You will find MSG in canned or dried soups, packaged sausages and smoked meats, hot dogs, salad dressing, potato chips,  Asian food, diet foods, gravies, packaged food, soy sauce, and pretzels.

3. BHA AND BHT

* These are antioxidant preservatives used to prevent foods from going rancid. They maintain the colour, flavour, and smell of foods. 

* They have been banned in the U.K., Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and much of Europe, because they are thought to be carcinogenic.

* Both can impact your sleep and appetite and are associated with liver and kidney damage, behavioural problems, cancer, and fetal abnormalities. 

* You will find BHA and BHT in potato chips, certain oils, cereals, cookies, gum, candy, Jell-O, rice, baked goods, and dehydrated potatoes.

4. FOOD COLOURING

* We’re always told to follow the rainbow when eating, but not in this case! There are five times the amount of dyes in our food today than there was 50 years ago.

* These dyes may cause Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in children and may affect their I.Q. Food colouring can cause chromosomal change and thyroid tumors.

* When reading labels, avoid the colours Blue 1 and 2, Citrus Red 2, Green 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and 6.

* Look for natural dyes including beta carotene which gives an orange colour to foods and can be harmful to smokers.

* You will find food colouring in candy, baked goods, drinks, desserts, dog food, boxed mac and cheese, cake mixes, Hamburger Helper, and even yogurts.

5. SODIUM NITRITE, SODIUM NITRATES

* These preservatives add flavour, colour, and shelf life to our foods, specifically cured meats. They prevent bacteria from forming and stabilize the red colour in smoked meat to prevent it from turning grey.

* Sodium nitrite can produce cancer-causing chemicals which increase the risk of colorectal, pancreatic, and stomach cancer.

* These foods are also high in fat and sodium and lead to obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and diabetes type 2.

We cannot completely avoid food additives, but here are ways to minimize our intake:

  1. Eat as little processed or packaged food as possible. Go for fresh, wholesome foods cooked in your kitchen.
  2. Look for preservative-free packaged food or read the labels for the more harmful preservatives listed above.
  3. Natural preservatives include ascorbic acid, citric acids, vinegar, salt, and sugar. Still keep an eye on the amounts.
  4. Select nitrate-free meats or, better yet, bake your meats in your oven!


Rose ReismanRose Reisman is a renowned expert in improving the way Canadians live through diet, nutrition, and lifestyle.

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