Five Common Food Additives to Avoid

Photo credit: Service photo, photot / Flickr
Photo credit: Service photo, photot / Flickr

If you buy a lot of packaged, processed foods, you may be concerned about the multitude of food additives you see listed on the ingredient label. Manufacturers have the option of adding thousands of potential food additives to products that they sell to the public, many of which can cause food allergies and health problems. Convenience may dictate that you buy some pre-packaged foods so it’s important that you be aware of what you’re purchasing before you serve it to you and your family. Here are some common food additives that are best avoided:

1. Sodium nitrite

Nitrates are known carcinogens found in highest quantities in processed and smoked meats. Nitrates exert their carcinogenic effect when their converted to nitrosamines by the acidic environment of the stomach. Cooking meats at high temperatures also produces an environment that encourages the formation of nitrosamines. To avoid these known cancer causing agents, steer clear of packaged, processed meats and avoid eating meats cooked at high temperatures.

2. Hydrogenated Oils

Hydrogenated oils are another term for trans fats. Trans fats are of such concern from a health standpoint that they’re banned in the state of New York and it’s likely that other states will follow its lead. The way to avoid them is to carefully read the ingredients on the labels of packaged foods. If you see hydrogenated oils or fractionated oils listed as an additive, choose an alternative.

3. BHT and BHA

These two additives are found in a variety of packaged products and have the function of preventing foods from becoming rancid by serving as antioxidants.  These food additives have been classified as potential carcinogens in humans and have been banned in several countries. Strangely enough, these additives are being studied as possible treatment for certain types of cancer so the verdict is still out on their health effects. They’re probably best avoided until further studies are available.

4. Food colorings

Various types of food colorings have been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals. Plus, these additives serve no real purpose except to make the food look more appealing. Is this a good trade off?

5. Monosodium glutamate (MSG)

This additive is commonly used as a flavor enhancer. You may have heard of the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” where a diner at a Chinese restaurant develops flushing, sweating, and headache. These symptoms are thought to be related to the MSG frequently added to food at Asian restaurants. Sensitivity to MSG seems to vary from individual to individual. MSG is found not only in Asian restaurants but also in a variety of packaged foods including frozen dinners, soups, and snack foods. To avoid this additive, read ingredient labels carefully.

By becoming more savvy at reading ingredient labels on packaged items at the grocery store, you can reduce your exposure to these common food additives that may cause future health problems.

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