Unless you only eat food that comes straight out of a pesticide-free garden, there is a good chance you will run into food additives. Food additives add flavor, color and shelf life to food, but they may also have negative affects on your body. Take time to familiarize yourself with common food additives, so you will know what to look for, and avoid, when shopping.
Mono-Sodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is a flavor-enhancer and preservative that is added to many packaged and canned foods. In fact, it is found in most packaged foods, from potato chips to soups to canned meats, but it is not always listed as MSG. It can also be disguised on the label as "natural flavoring" or "glutamic acid." According to a report on MSG by the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine, MSG promotes the growth, and spread, of cancer cells within the body, and can also be linked to "sudden cardiac death." In a study in the February-March, 2008 issue of the "Journal of Autoimmunity," researchers state that MSG is linked with obesity and inflammation within the body, particularly the liver. The researchers also call for it to be re-evaluated as a food additive, and suggested removing it from the food chain.
Acesulfame-K is an artificial sweetener that was at one time only allowed in sugar-free products. According to Center for Science in the Public Interest, or CSPI, it is now used in soft drinks and other products, along with glucose. Studies about the effects of acesulfame-K are mixed. A July 2008 study in "Preventive Medicine" states that the use of artificial sweeteners over a 10 year period encouraged the development of urinary tract tumors, while a report from the 2005 "National Toxicology Program" states specifically that acesulfame-K showed no evidence of cancer activity in rats. The CSPI states that it can be potentially dangerous, and is an additive that should be avoided.
Butylated Hydroxyanisole or BHA
BHA is a preservative that slows the rate at which fats become rancid. It is often found in cereal, chips and vegetable oil products. When BHA was tested in animals, it was found to cause cancer in the "forestomach." Those who argue the safety of BHA state that humans have no forestomach, therefore it should not be considered unsafe. CSPI states that if a substance has been found to cause cancer in three different species, in this case rats, hamsters and mice, then the United States Department of Health and Human Services considers it to be a carcinogen. The Food and Drug Administration still allows the use of BHA as an additive, as of 2009.
Aspartame is a well-known artificial sweetener, and it is found in many drinks, soft drinks, frozen, sugar-free desserts, gum and as individual packets. The June, 2009 issue of the "Clinical Journal of Pain" lists aspartame as a food trigger for migraine headaches, noting that many people are sensitive to it. The CSPI reports that aspartame can cause neurological problems, such as hallucinations, and that consumption of the artificial sweetener, over extended periods of time, increases cancer risks.
Cyclamate is another artificial sweetener, which the United States banned due to its cancer-causing potential. It is suspected that cyclamate may actually increase the cancer-causing activity of other substances, rather than causing cancer itself. According to a report on cyclamate from Elmhurst College in Illinois, it is still approved for use in more than 55 countries, so you may run into cyclamate in foods while traveling.
Olestra is a fat substitute that has no calories and cannot be absorbed by the digestive system, so it simply passes through it. It is often used in potato chips and in place of other fats. While it may sound like a miracle additive, olestra often has a negative affect on the digestive system. Aside from digestive troubles, the CSPI reports that olestra can interfere with the body's absorption of important compounds from plants such as lutein, lycopene and beta-carotene, all of which help protect the body from cancer and heart disease.
The trans fats in foods are partially hydrogenated vegetable oil and hydrogenated vegetable oil. Found often in margarine, donuts, frosting, microwave popcorn and numerous fried foods. The August 15, 2009 issue of "American Family Physician" states that trans fats should be avoided, as they are known to play a part in heart disease.
Propyl gallate is a preservative found in oils, soup bases, gum and meat products. It works much like BHA, listed above, and the two preservatives are often used together. Just as with BHA, the CSPI states that studies on the dangers of propyl gallate are mixed, but there is a chance that it can cause cancer, and should therefore be avoided.
Potassium bromate is a food additive that improves the action of flour. Its use has been banned in most countries, but not in the United States. A report in the July, 1990 issue of "Environmental Health Perspectives" states that potassium bromate is found to promote the onset of tumors in the kidney and thyroid.
Saccharin is another artificial sweetener, used as individual packets or in soft drinks. The CSPI states that, like other artificial sweeteners, it has been found to cause cancer in the urinary tract and bladder in rodents. Saccharin has also been found to cause cancer of the ovaries, as well as other organs, and increases the cancer-causing effects of other compounds.
Nitrites and Nitrates
Sodium nitrite and nitrate are preservatives that enhance the color and flavor of processed meats. The CSPI reports that while there are no definitive studies showing that nitrates and nitrites cause cancer, adding nitrites to food as a preservative can actually encourage the formation of chemicals that cause cancer within that food, and they list fried bacon as a chief example. Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate should be avoided, until future studies can prove their safety.
Food colorings, such as Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #6 and Red #3, are used in numerous food products, such as sodas, baked goods and candy. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that all four of the food colorings have been found to contain cancer-causing properties.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest: Food Additives
- Arizona Center for Alternative Medicine: MSG
- Journal of Autoimmunity: Monosodium Glutamate : A Villain and Promoter of Liver Inflammation and Dysplasia
- Truth in Labeling: Hidden Names for MSG
- Preventive Medicine: Artificial Sweetener Consumption and Urinary Tract Tumors in Cordoba, Argentina
- National Toxicology Program: NTP Toxicology Studies of Acesulfame Potassium (CAS No. 55589-62-3) in Genetically Modified (FVB Tg.AC Hemizygous) Mice and Carcinogenicity Studies of Acesulfame Potassium in Genetically Modified [B6.129-Trp53(tm1Brd) (N5) Haploinsufficient] Mice (Feed Studies) Mice
- Clinical Journal of Pain: Foods and Supplements in the Management of Migraine Headaches
- Elmhurst College: Cyclamate
- American Family Physician: Dietary Fatty Acids
- Environmental Health Perspectives: Toxicity and Carcinogenicity of Potassium Bromate -- A New Renal Carcinogen