By Amanda Scott
Most of us lead busy lives, grabbing food on the go without thinking too much about what’s in it and mistakenly assuming because it’s being sold on a shelf, it’s infused with healthy and consumable ingredients. In actual fact, it may surprise you to know what kinds of additives and chemicals are allowed in some food you eat regularly, that too, legally. Chemical additives are found in many foods you eat especially fast foods and the pre-packaged foods. Now, what makes it an additive? Because pre-packaged food must have a long shelf life to make it from the processing plant to the store, and finally to the consumer, chemical preservatives are added to keep the food fresh longer and also in some cases, enhance its shelf appeal. This includes additives like colourings and flavours and lots of subtle chemicals that affect texture, moisture or shelf life. For obvious reasons, the use of these chemicals is kept quiet and they have been associated with a number of negative health and behavioral conditions. While the ingredient labels can be filled with unfamiliar words, if you wish to be health conscious, you should start by educating yourself on what additives are added to the food you purchase. A little research goes a long way. Here are some of the most common chemicals added to foods; chances are you ate one or many of them sometime today.
Emulsifiers are made from vegetable fats, glycerol, and organic acids to extend the shelf life of bread products and also allow liquids that normally wouldn’t mix like oil and water to mix easily. Emulsifiers are often added in reduced-fat or low-calorie products like low-calorie butter, salad dressings, margarine etc. Emulsifying agents used in foods include agar, albumin, alginates, casein, egg yolk, glycerol monostearate, xanthan gums, Irish moss, lecithin, and soaps.
- Potassium Sorbate:
This is one of the most common food additives. It is used to restrain the growth of mold and yeast in cakes, jellies, yoghurt, jerky, bread, salad dressing etc. While for most products, the health risk from potassium sorbate is lower than the health risk from ingesting mold, it is better to ignore both. If you are eating products free of potassium sorbate, the best way to protect it against yeast and mold is to refrigerate it, although that may change the texture of your food.
This anti-foaming agent derived from silicon is found in a number of foods including cooking oil, vinegar, chewing gum and chocolate. It stops oil from bubbling up when frozen ingredients are added, this improving the safety and life of the product. The risk of toxicity is considerably low, but it’s a chemical you’d not consider being “food”. For instance, it’s also found in putty, shampoo, and caulk which are products that are certainly not edible.
- Brominated Vegetable Oil:
Brominated vegetable oil is used in beverages to keep ingredients evenly suspended in liquid and also to impart a cloudy appearance to some. Commonly found in soft drinks and energy drinks and non-food products like hair colouring and pesticide, consumption of multiple products a day (for example, several beverages a day) can cause health problems.
- Artificial Flavouring:
Artificial flavouring is a cover term referring to man-made chemicals created to taste similar to natural flavours such as vanilla, strawberry, lemon, raspberry etc. It is cheap and common in most of the products. Studies suggest that consumption of too much artificial flavouring can result in behavioral changes.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup:
This sweetener is made from corn, popular with food manufacturers because of its cheap price and sweetness more intense than cane sugar. It also maintains moisture, while preserving freshness. This is extremely common in processed foods. High fructose corn syrup is believed to contribute to heart disease, acceleration of the aging process, rising of the cholesterol and triglyceride fats in the blood which makes it more prone to clotting.
This artificial sweetener is commonly used in diet drinks and some food products. It has been controversial for years being reported to cause seizures, headaches, mood disturbances and even cancer. You may find them in the brand names such as Equal or NutraSweet.
- Colour Additives:
Colour additives are found in almost every kind of processed food and drink and widely thought to contribute to increased hyperactivity in children. In the 1970’s, Red#2 was banned when proven to have caused cancer in lab rats. Yellow#5 is undergoing tests for relation to anxiety, migraines, hyperactivity and cancer. Yellow #6 had caused adrenal tumors during animal testing, and occasional hypersensitivity responses.
- Sodium Caseinate:
Sodium Caseinate is a biochemical commonly found in dairy products. Many suspects it to contribute to causing mill-based allergies resulting into skin rashes, stomach upset or respiratory arrest. Ingestion of large quantity of Sodium Caseinate can also harm the kidneys.
This chemical sneaks its way into fizzy drinks, bread and even homemade cakes. It not only affects the health, there are over million-peer-reviewed papers that describe the harmful effect it has on our environment. If we don’t stop producing it, then we are heading for a global disaster.
- Butylated Hydroxytoluene:
This is a common additive used to prevent oxidation in a wide range of cosmetics and foods. It has been listed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in 2005 as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” on the basis experiments done on animals. In addition, it is used in jet fuels rubber petroleum products, transformer oil and embalming fluid.
Dangerous food additives are lurking in our so-called “healthy” foods that we devour every day. They need to be spotted and replaced with simple yet delicious alternatives that wont sabotage our overall health.
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