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Top Ten List of Food Additives to Avoid

Updated on August 1, 2019

An American Farm

An ideallyic childhood memory
An ideallyic childhood memory

Why does our food require food additives? Or does it? What are food additives? I would like to take a look at this topic and find some answers to these questions and share information concerning the top ten that should be avoided.

I have a wonderful childhood memory of visiting my best friends grandparent's farm. They lived in rural Illinois, where the corn stalks grew high into the mid-western sky. Everything we ate and drank for dinner was fresh food from their farm. I can still taste and smell the fresh green beans and corn on the cob, the biscuits and fresh butter, the potatoes and roasted chicken, fresh tomatoes and lemonade (the real thing) and fresh strawberries for dessert. Yum. Then we went out and jumped from the hayloft into the hay and played outdoors all day and into the evening. What has happened to this picture?


Food Inc. Documentary with Michael Pollan

The Omnivore's Dilemma; What are Additives?

Now there are so many pesticides and hormones used in farming, it's questionable how much of our food is ever in a natural, organic state unless organically grown on organic soil. If you've ever read any of Michael Pollan's books about food in America, you know the severity of this situation. If not, I highly recommend any of his books, specifically In Defense of Food, The Omnivore's Dilemma and Food Rules. He has written numerous books concerning food and is interviewed in the documentary, Food, Inc. He supplies a comprehensive, journalistic look into the problems with America's food industry. The documentary is a must see for anyone who cares about the quality of food in our country.

A great beginning to understand our food industry crisis is understanding why food additives are added to our food. An additive is a substance that is intentionally added to food to provide longer shelf life, enhance flavor and texture, enhance appearance and attractiveness, to make us want to buy that bright orange orange that doesn't look like that picked from the tree.

Unintentional additives may find their way into our foods by way of processing, packaging and storage. How do we really know what is in that box of macaroni and cheese that has a very long shelf life? Why do we need flavor enhancers? These are legitimate questions we should be asking.

Nothing 'sweet' about these drinks

'Can' the diet sodas
'Can' the diet sodas

Please, don't take my chips...

BHA or BHT on the list of ingredients?
BHA or BHT on the list of ingredients?

Pretty Poisons

Good bye lollipops...
Good bye lollipops...

No More Ramen Noodles

Always ask at take outs and restaurants.
Always ask at take outs and restaurants.

Just say NO.

Sodium nitrite is an ingredient
Sodium nitrite is an ingredient

Baker, baker, bake no more

Loaves with potassium bromate
Loaves with potassium bromate

Did you know that...

Zero does not equal zero?
Zero does not equal zero?

Top Ten Food Additives to Avoid

There are all kinds of top ten lists, but this list is one to post in your kitchen and memorize if you want to avoid unnecessary additives in your daily diet. I have listed them in alphabetical order (teacher genes), not in any order of one being more dangerous than another. I have listed the food colorings separate as I think each one of them is important to recognize as a separate and not simply grouped together as colorings.

  • Aspartame- (Nutra-Sweet, Equal)- A combination of two amino acids and methanol may lead to methanol poisoning. Found in 'diet' food such as low calorie desserts, soft drinks, jello, gum, cereal, breath mints, kool-aid, chewable vitamins, toothpaste. It is a sweet tasting neuro-toxin which not only causes weight gain, but its unnatural structure requires the body to process the amino acids differently. Eliminate it from your diet.
  • BHA and BHT- A preservative to help prevent foods from oxidation and helps to preserve color, flavor and prevents rancidity. It may promote cancer. Found in chips, gum, cereal, frozen sausages, enriched rice, shortening, candy, jello. They affect the neurological system of the brain which can alter behavior.
  • Food colors Blue #1, Blue #2- Can cause cancer in mice and chromosomal damage. Not always listed on US labels. Banned in France and Norway. Found in beverages, baked goods, candy and pet supplies.
  • Food color Citrus Red #2- The dye is a carcinogen injected into the skin of some Florida oranges which is said not to penetrate into the pulp. It makes the oranges a brighter orange to enhance appearance. Eating the skin may cause cancer and chromosomal damage.
  • Food colors Red #3, (Red #40) and Green #3- Red #3 is used to dye candy, fruit cocktail, cherries, pet food. It is proven to cause thyroid cancer. Banned in 1990 in US, but still in use until supplies run out! Green #3 can be linked to bladder cancer in lab animals and is found in candy and beverages.
  • Food color Yellow #6- An increase of tumors in adrenal glands and kidneys have been found in lab animals. It is banned in Sweden and Norway. It is found in candy, lemonade, carbonated beverages, macaroni & cheese, American cheese. {sigh}
  • MSG- An amino acid used as a flavor enhancer. it can cause headaches, migraines, tightness of the chest, nausea. Found in Asian foods, snacks, seasonings, most Campbell Soup products, lunch meats, frozen dinners.
  • Sodium Nitrite - used to color and preserve and flavor meat products. "This would be at the top of my list of additives to cut from my diet." Christine Gerbstadt, M.D., M.P.H., R.D., L.D.N. American Dietetic Association. Found in ham, bacon, lunch meats, hot dogs, smoked fish, corned beef. Cooked over high temperatures creates a compound which can promote cancer.
  • Potassium Bromate- Rare, but still legal in US. Used to increase volume in white flour, breads and rolls. It is known to cause cancer in lab animals and even in small amounts can cause risk.
  • Transfat- A hydrogenated fat made from adding hydrogen to vegetable oil is used to help extend shelf life and foods have a less greasy feel. Proven to cause heart disease, can cause kidney failure and limb loss due to vascular disease. Found in commercial baked goods and some fried foods such as french fries and doughnuts and can be found in shortening and margarine.

Dangers of Food Additives & Preservative -You're Eating What?

What Does The Food and Drug Administartion Regulate?

After reading the top ten list, you may wonder, how did this happen? Why are we allowed to put additives in our foods that are not healthy? The answer could produce an entire article or book by itself. Many foods are manufactured and no longer grown or produced as they were 50 years ago. The agriculture giants do things to our food that we have every right to know. The FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has the oversight of deciding what additives are safe and may be added to our foods. There is a lengthy process in order for an additive to be approved. Manufacturers test the additives and prove its effectiveness and safety. A public hearing is granted for both experts and consumers to voice opinions as to why an addictive should or shouldn't be approved.

The FDA then regulates by stating what amount, purpose and in which foods the additive may be used. If an additive is found to cause cancer in animals or humans, it is not supposed to remain on the list. Every US citizen has a right to know what is being regulated and may comment or sign petitions concerning specific regulations. The FDA has a comprehensive website and a section where the public may be advised on how to comment on proposed regulations. We owe it to ourselves and our families to be educated about the foods we eat and make our voice heard. I hope this article has helped in some way to give information concerning ten food additives that we should avoid or monitor closely in our food choices. Happy, healthy eating. Read labels, shop the periphery of grocery stores, frequent local farmers markets, grow a garden.

(As with anything regarding health and medical conditions, always seek the advice from your physician or a registered dietitian concerning your dietary needs.)

Does the FDA even know what's in our food?

In 1958 an exemption was added to a law which allows common food ingredients 'generally recognized as safe', to be added to our food without FDA approval. Back when this was added, it referred to ingredients such as vinegar and oil and other food substances commonly known. Now thousands of chemicals/additives are imported and added to our food without FDA approval. Watch this NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) video to learn more.

NRDC Report on Chemicals in Food


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