What I have learned from writing these posts:
1. Some of the chemicals I thought were evil, are actually not so evil (MSG).
2. Some of the chemicals I thought were not so evil, are actually very evil (Nitrates/Nitrites).
3. There are too many chemicals in foods for me to possibly research and list all of them. (Thousands, I tell you!)
4. Not all the experts agree on what we should forbid and what we should avoid. (Do your homework, make informed decisions for yourself.)
5. I hate highly processed foods even more than I did yesterday. (Yes, hate!)
Last week, I shared with you my Forbidden List: The chemicals I never allow myself of my kids to eat, except when it’s out of my control. And you know, as a mom, “never” means “mostly never,” right?
This week, I’m sharing The Highly-Discouraged List: The chemicals that I prefer not be in my mouth or the mouths of my babes, but because I live in a fallen world, full of conventional, yet convenient and (mostly) nutritious foods, they show up at the Cooper house from time to time. Usually, this is in the form of BHT in Rice Crispies or Nitrates/Nitrites in turkey bacon. And, of course, there are 3 baskets full of Halloween candy atop my fridge this very moment.
Forgive me, for I have sinned.
Remember, if you have sensitivities or allergic reactions to any of these chemicals, they should be on your Forbidden List.
Food manufacturers put about 15 million pounds of artificial colors into our food every year (a few of those pounds are currently atop my fridge.) They appear, not only in neon-colored yogurt, but also hidden in foods you might never expect–like tortilla chips or pickles! The most common are FD&C Blue No. 1, FD&C Blue No. 2 , FD&C Green No. 3 , FD&C Red No. 3 , FD&C Red No. 40 , FD&C Yellow No. 5 , and FD&C Yellow No. 6
Why they are bad: Dyes have been linked to allergic reactions, hyperactivity in children, and cancer. The FDA itself has even recognized Red 3 as being a carcinogenic dye, but has yet to take it off the market. The FDA has banned artificial colors in the past, however. In 1950, they banned Orange No. 1 after numerous children fell ill after eating Halloween candy (gulp.) Next, they banned Red No. 2 in 1976 after it was suspected to be carcinogenic.
In Europe foods with artificial colors must have the following label: “Consumption may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children.” This is why all your favorite conventional foods appear without dyes in Europe, but the exact same foods are sold to you, in the U.S. with dyes! Makes me so angry!
The U.S. Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has campaigned for the FDA to adopt similar labeling practices, to no avail.
Today there are over 1,700 artificial flavors approved by the FDA. Various chemicals such as benzyl isobutyrate, ethyl acetate, ethyl methylphenylglycidate (a petroleum derivative), methyl benzoate (also a petroleum derivative),and hydroxyphenyl-2-butanone are combined in any number of ways to mimic natural flavors. Companies are not required to reveal the individual ingredients in their flavors, only that they list them under the umbrella of “artificial flavors.” So, basically, you never know what chemical you are ingesting when you see “natural and artificial flavors” on the label. And you likely never will.
Why they are bad: Some individuals are sensitive to artificial flavors, experiencing headaches, nausea, and drowsiness.
The intent of preservative use is well-meaning: by preventing botulism, mold and bacteria, preservatives give products a longer shelf life and protect people from illness. Unfortunately, many preservatives have dangerous side effects that cause cancers, hyperactivity, nervous system damage and other problems. I’ve listed the most common ones here.
BHA: Butylated Hydroxyanisole. A chemical preservative added to fats to keep them from going rancid.
Why it’s bad: It is a carcinogen, a neurotoxin and a hormone disruptor. It may also cause hives, hay fever, wheezing, fatigue, and asthma, as well as affect kidneys, thyroid, liver, stomach and reproduction problems. The CPSI cites studies which show that BHA causes cancer in animals.
BHT: Bytylated Hydroxytoluene. A chemical preservative used in cereals and snack foods.
Why it’s bad: Jury is still out on this one. The CSPI asserts that the safety of BHT is unproven.
Propyl Gallate: An antioxidant preservative which retards the spoilage of fats and oils. It is often used with BHA and BHT because of the synergistic effects these preservatives have. It is most commonly used in vegetable oil, meat products, potato sticks, chicken soup base and chewing gum.
Why it’s bad: Studies on rats and mice suggested that this preservative may cause cancer.
Sodium Benzonate: A chemical preservative most commonly found in acidic foods like salad dressings, carbonated drinks, fruit juices and condiments.
Why it’s bad: This chemical can damage mitochondria in cells, which leads to neuro-degenerative diseases.
After flour is milled, it is bleached white with chemicals like Calcium Peroxide.
Why it’s bad: Not only does the processing of the white flour strip it of most of its whole grain nutrients, but then a bleaching agent is added to change the color (see the dangers of calcium peroxide below).
A chemical used to bleach flour and improve dough strength, grain and texture. (It is also used as a bleaching agent in non-food items like paper and shampoos, or in agriculture as a fertilizer and in healthcare as an antiseptic. Yummy!)
Why it’s bad: Calcium peroxide has an NFPA health rating of 2, which means that it may be harmful when inhaled or ingested. When it comes into contact with skin it may not cause any harm, but any ingestion or inhalation of the product should prompt one to seek help from the local poison facility. (But you can eat it in your bread!?)
This additive has long been used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb structure. Used in bread, white flour, and fast food buns.
Why it’s bad: It is a carcinogen and mutagen. It leads to kidney, stomach, and thyroid tumors in animal tests. In 1993 the World Health Organization (WHO) recommended its removal from all foods, and has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States. In 1999, the CSPI petitioned the FDA to ban bromate in the U.S. Since then, numerous millers and bakers have stopped using it, but it is still legal to do so.
Nitrates and Nitrites:
A flavoring agent, food coloring and preservative which prevents the growth of the bacteria clostridium botulinium, the cause of botulism. Used in canned, cured, and processed meats, bacon, potted meat, frankfurters, smoke cured tuna, salmon and shad.
Why it’s bad: These are carcinogens and neurotoxins. Once heated up, either cooked or in the gastrointestinal tract, sodium nitrates/nitrites can form cancer causing agents called N-nitrosamines. Nitrites can cross the placenta, so should be avoided by women and children. Meats with nitrites may cause lung disease, headaches, dizziness, vomiting, migraines, cardiovascular and respiratory problems. According to a study done by the U.S. National Toxicology Program, there is link between pancreatic and lung cancers and an increased consumption of meats containing sodium nitrate. (Okay…rethinking that turkey bacon in the fridge.)
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and Disodium Guanylate:
Flavor enhancers commonly found in Chinese food, canned vegetables, soups and processed meats.
Why it’s bad: MSG’s ability to inhibit appetite suppression, causing you to feel hungry despite eating large amounts of food. MSG may cause headache, flushing, sweating, facial pressure, numbness, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea and weakness, although no definitive scientific link exists.
Polydextrose is made by combining dextrose (corn sugar) with sorbitol. The result is a slightly sweet, reduced-calorie (only one calorie per gram because it is poorly digested) bulking agent.
Why it’s bad: It can cause digestive problems. The FDA requires that if a serving of a food would likely provide more than 15 grams of polydextrose, the label should read “Sensitive individuals may experience a laxative effect from excessive consumption of this product“.
It’s a bit overwhelming, no? It is for me, too. There are hundreds more chemicals I could have listed here. Basically, I chose to stop at the most common.
Again, you can avoid all these chemicals altogether by
- Buying whole, fresh fruits, veggies, grains, beans and meats,
- Shopping at Whole Foods Market (or other health food stores with similar standards), or
- Buying organic.
Next week, I’ll talk about the Mystery Ingredients that are safe. Yes, there are a few.
Q4U: Was any of this info surprising to you?
Linking up with Jill Conyers this week!
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