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Most Unhealthy Foods: Dangerous Additives In Food, Natural And Artificial Additives to Avoid to Maintain Good Health

Updated on February 20, 2014

One of the biggest reasons foods are unhealthy today is because of the additives they contain. According to the National Cancer Institute 1 in 4 deaths are caused by cancer and 1 in 3 Americans will get cancer at some point in their lives. The Center of Disease Control and Prevention reports that more than 80 million Americans suffer from some form of cardiovascular disease.

The typical American diet consists of mostly processed foods containing carcinogenic and/or heart threatening additives. According to industry estimates around ninety percent of the food budget is spent on processed foods. Research shows that a high percentage of cancers and cardiovascular diseases are caused by the foods we eat. Unfortunately, millions of Americans believe they eat a fairly healthy diet and are not a high risk for cancer or heart disease.

A ham sandwich made with whole wheat bread served with a side of low fat potato chips may seem fairly healthy but is it? The bread may be made with potassium bromate, the chips with olestra and ham with sodium nitrate. If these foods were purchased at a U.S. Supermarket they usually contain some type of additive or preservative unless purchased from the health section. The purpose for these additives is to improve flavor, color, texture and shelf life. In the United States over 3000 additives are approved for use in food.

Here is a list of the 12 most dangerous food additives:

1) Sodium Nitrate - Nearly all processed meats contain sodium nitrate. Food companies use it to preserve food and improve the appearance and flavor. It is found in foods such as canned soup products, smoked fish, ham, hot dogs, lunch meats, bacon, and breakfast sausage. A Hawaiian studied revealed that students who ate the most processed meats had a sixty seven percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer over those who consume little or no processed meat. In the seventies, the U.S. department of agriculture attempted to have sodium nitrate banned but was unsuccessful due to resistance from the meat industry.

2) Potassium Bromate - is a bleaching agent and dough conditioner. The International Agency for Research on Cancer states that it may lead to cancer. The World Health Organization recommended that it be removed from all foods. Today it is banned in many countries but is still allowed in the United States. It is used by bread companies and a number of fast food restaurants according to the Center for Science in the Public interest.

3) Olestra - A fat Substitute recently approved by the FDA in spite of the objections by many leading scientists. Although olestra is effective at reducing calorie intake it has unhealthy consequences. Olestra binds to several essential nutrients, including cancer protecting vitamins and carotenoids, and flushes them from the body. According to the Harvard School of Public Health “ long-term consumption of olestra snack foods might therefore result in several thousand unnecessary deaths each year from lung and prostate cancers and heart disease...”

BHA and BHT - These preservatives are used to prevent oils and fats from becoming rancid. They are commonly used in potato chips, cereals, beer, butter, meats, dehydrated potatoes and chewing gum. Studies show that BHA and BHT may be a precursor to cancer. Check the labels because not all manufacturers use these preservatives.

4) Propyl Gallate - Like BHA and BHT, this preservative may cause cancer. It's used in meat products, vegetable oils, chicken soup base, potato sticks, chicken soup base and chewing gum.

5) High-fructose Corn Syrup - This sweetener is very popular with manufacturers because it is inexpensive, mixes easily with other ingredients and is very sweet. It is hard to find a food at the supermarket today with added sweetener that does not contain high fructose corn syrup. It is even found in products which don’t need to be sweetened such as bacon, spaghetti sauce, beer, english muffins, whole wheat bread and hamburger buns in order to give them a soft texture. The average person consumes sixty three pounds of high fructose corn syrup per year.

New research is revealing that this sweetener may interfere with metabolism, increasing the risk of heart disease. It seems to cause the liver to overload the bloodstream with heart destructive triglycerides. Researchers found that the chemical structure of high fructose corn syrup increases food cravings. The sweetener robs the body of chromium which regulates blood sugar, insulin and cholesterol levels. Avoid products with the words high fructose corn syrup, corn sweetener, corn syrup or corn syrup solids on the label.

6) Acesulfame-K - is an artificial sweetener which is used in gelatin desserts, baked goods, soft drinks and chewing gum. Studies show this additive may cause cancer and interfere with normal thyroid function.

7) Artificial colors - Most artificial colors used in foods are synthetic dyes. It has long been believed that these dyes are carcinogenic and many have been banned. Quality foods do not need food coloring. The natural color is all that is needed. These colorings are usually used in foods that are unhealthy and need better coloring. 

8) Monosodium Glutamate - is used in many foods including soups, dressings, hot dogs and potato chips. According to Dr. Russell Blaylock, a neurosurgeon, MSG is linked to sudden cardiac death, especially in athletes. Over the years the FDA has received many reports about reactions caused by MSG. These reactions include nausea, chest pain, weakness, sweating, headaches, numbness, tingling, burning, facial tightness and pressure, rapid heartbeat and palpitations.

9) Aspartame (Equal, NutraSweet) - is an artificial sweetener found in low calorie foods and diet sodas. It is linked to brain tumors, lymphomas and leukemia.

10) Hydrogenated oils - Nearly all margarines sold at the supermarket contain hydrogenated oil which produce trans-fats. Commercially produced baking goods, processed foods and fast foods are high in trans-fats. Trans-fats are the number one cause of heart disease.

Reading labels is important. Memorizing or having a list of these dangerous additives on hand at the supermarket is a good idea. Making sure the foods you buy do not contain these additives will significantly reduce the risk of cancer and cardiovascular disease to you and your family.

11/12) BHA and BHT - These preservatives are used to prevent oils and fats from becoming rancid. They are commonly used in potato chips, cereals, beer, butter, meats, dehydrated potatoes and chewing gum. Studies show that BHA and BHT may be a precursor to cancer. Check the labels because not all manufacturers use these preservatives.


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    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 

      5 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      The big players in the food industry have too much power. They don't care about our health, all they want to do is get us addicted to unhealthy foods, so we keep buying them over and over again. The pharmaceutical industry isn't any better, because they don't want to develop any kind of medication that might actually cure a disease, they just want us to take prescription meds that we'll have to take forever to stay alive, and most of them cause other ill-effect such as liver damage. Thanks Steve for a great article. Voted up!!!

    • jiro profile image


      8 years ago from India

      Thanks for the genuine information

    • profile image

      Karen Lewis 

      8 years ago

      Karen Lewis.

      Steve - Thank you so much for caring enough and for sharing info on the chemicals the Food Industry is using to peddle death and sickness to us by using toxic chemicals in our food chain. So many people may be uninformed about this and the poor health statistics and earlier death rates in America and other Westernized countries speak for themselves regarding this.

    • charu7_2000 profile image


      8 years ago from india

      great advice!!

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      thks for telling me im never going to tuch a noodle soup again

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      Thanks for listing these items. Some other thoughts to add: All the chemicals added to chicken to keep it on the shelf longer (a few types of sodium something); chemical added to beef to make it last longer (natural beef last 1-2 days, not a week in a pillow package); stablizers in crackers that make them last years; and chemical added to lettuce in bags or at when eating out. All of these have cause me and my family problems so we search out true natural or organic products.

    • ocbill profile image


      9 years ago from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice

      good ol' FDA approving questionable chemicals. I never heard of Olestra, well, it is in processed foods so I'll be safe for the most part. Can people sue the govt. (FDA) for approving seriously unhealthy ingredients?

    • Ms Dee profile image

      Deidre Shelden 

      9 years ago from Texas, USA

      I'm posting this on my Facebook, Steve, as I know a number of friends who want this kind of information.

    • Dim Flaxenwick profile image

      Dim Flaxenwick 

      9 years ago from Great Britain

      Scary !!!! But definately something we all need to know. Thank you.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      stevemark122000 – I cannot disagree with you. You are right and I am too lazy – no, too busy to focus on other issues – no, too foolish - to take care of my own health. I am surrounded by people who are fanatic about health issues - they exhaust me daily, for I can offer them almost nothing to eat or to drink. On top of this they disagree – one regards this or that as poison, while the other has just read an article which state that that specific ‘this’ has just been proofed as not poison. As Koray stressed, even (unnatural) vitamins can be dangerous. Where does one draw the line? But yes, perhaps it is time for me to be more careful... stop using products with the ingredients you have mentioned in your hub. This effort may be my 1st step nearer to my health-conscious friends. (Swimming stream-up is one of my bad habits!) Thank you! You have fertilized some seeds in my mind.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      its as simple as this guys, you want to incorporate mostly whole foods, like fruit and veggies, even though those have genetic misleads to now, u also need to be careful for vitamin supplements and protein powders, u need to keep natural.

    • Tamarajo profile image


      9 years ago

      Super interesting information. The corn syrup artificial sweetners and the hydrogenated fat I have been good at avoiding the best I can but haven't paid much attention to the others. I will be reading my labels more carefully.

    • Joni's Corner profile image

      Joni's Corner 

      9 years ago from Fort Worth, Texas

      Steve, excellent article! I was aware of the high fructose corn suryp issue and have stopped using products with that. But I was unaware that beer contained BHA and BHT. Guess, I get to drink more home brew with nothing but good old grain, hops, yeast and water!

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California

      SteveO, we really need to compare apples with apples when looking at history. 100 years ago 1 in 4 people weren't dying of cancer and 1/3 of the country didn't have some form of cardiovascular disease. People in those day who were able to eat a balanced nutritional diet and were fortunate enough not to meet an early demise through non-diet related causes lived long lives. Americans back then were no more knowledgeable about nutrition and its benefits than americans today. Inadequate nutrition due to ignorance or poverty played a role.

      Today the life expectancy may be 78.4 but most people going into their 60's and 70's are not healthy. 1/3 of the country has cardiovascular disease. And many of them have a number of other health conditions. What is keeping them alive are drugs with all their nasty side effects creating more problems. They don't make the body well they just sustain it in its sickness.

      At Trader Joes you can get luncheon meets without Sodium Nitrate, chips without olestra or any other chemicals and bread products free from additives. And they are not any more expensive than going to a regular supermarket. In fact, I find that they are much more reasonable than going to the health section at the regular supermarket and getting the same product.

    • fred allen profile image

      fred allen 

      9 years ago from Myrtle Beach SC

      So sad that with everything that there is to fear in the modern world i.e. terrorism, crime, etc. the food we eat everyday may be the most overlooked and most dangerous threat. Gonna go eat some potato chips while I process this info.

    • SteveoMc profile image


      9 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      The year is 1910

      >One hundred years ago.

      >Here are some statistics for the Year 1910:

      >The average life expectancy for men was 47 years.

      Today it is 78.4.

      I am a proponent of eating healthy and want to eat as healthy as I can, but I do not want to add and subtract on fear based reasons. For me, it is better to try to find healthy things to add to my diet rather than avoiding everything under the sun. My formula is avoid as much as possible sodium, fat, high calorie foods. This alone makes me feel a hundred per cent better. I seek out fruit and vegetables and try to make them at least 1/2 of every meal or more. This means eating an apple instead of a candy bar.

      And you can find some unhealthy things at TJ's, but I shop there anyway because I can find lots of stuff that is healthy including no salt added nuts and dried fruits.

    • cyn791 profile image


      9 years ago from Davie,Florida

      Thanks, Steve. One of the problems is that in the 1920's, people used about 20% of their household budgets for food. Now they spend half that, or less. Quality food costs money. But dying slowly cost more...

      this is a great article.

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California

      Marie, it isn't difficult to avoid foods that cause disease, it just takes a little effort.I know because I've been doing it for many years. Does eating toxic foods in moderation really make sense? You are still at increased risk for disease. For example, any more than one percent trans-fats in the diet has been found to put people at high risk for heart disease. Your statement about your grandparents says to me that you are not convinced that eating wholesome foods protect against disease but there are countless studies that show that they do. Because we may know some one who ate healthy who got sick is not an excuse to eat poison even in moderation. Everytime we buy foods made with toxic additives we are voting for the companies that made them and keeping them in business.

    • MartieCoetser profile image

      Martie Coetser 

      9 years ago from South Africa

      Thank you for this important information. It seems to me that we should eat as in ages ago - only fresh, directly harvest/killed. No canned or otherwise preserved products. Back to vegetable gardens, fruit groves and some live stock in the back yard. But this is how my grandparents lived, and they died of cancer. ? I find it so much easier to follow only one rule: Keep in moderation!

    • stevemark122000 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Southern California

      Trader Joes is great place to shop. You don't need to read the labels. Or check out the local health market nearest you.

    • Minnetonka Twin profile image

      Linda Rogers 

      9 years ago from Minnesota

      I really appreciate this great information. What is depressing is it seems most food is bad for us. I need a list of what is not bad for me. Great job on this.


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