Good food is a well-known weakness of every individual on this planet. People go to lengths to find food that clicks with their taste but often neglect their nutritional value. As such, the market is flooded with processed and packaged foods loaded with additives to improve the flavor and appearance of dishes.
While you might be aware of the fact that such food additives add no nutritional value to your food, it is essential to know that some of these are even worse for your health.
Studies found that over 90% of the food budget of an average American is spent over-processed foods which means you are taking a lot of those additives. Though all food additives are not dangerous and some can be consumed with minimal risk, there are a few that can affect your health adversely. Read on to learn about food additives you should avoid.
What are Food Additives and What Purpose do they Serve?
Food additives are substances added to the food during their production or preparation to serve a specific purpose. They can be added to:
- Enhance the flavor or appearance of the food.
- Increase the shelf-life or storage life of the food.
- Maintain the nutritional composition of the food and keep it edible for long.
- Improve the nutritive value of the food.
- Aid in manufacturing or processing food.
Types of Food Additives
Based on their source, food additives are of three types:
- Natural additives that are extracted from natural food sources
- Natural identical substances which are synthesized copies of substances occurring naturally
- Artificial additives which are synthesized chemically
Based on the purpose they serve, additives can be categorized as:
- PH control agents: Some ingredients like sodium citrate(1), citric acid, and acetic acid are added to the food to maintain its alkalinity or acidity.
- Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers like sodium stearoyl lactylate are added to water or oil-based mixtures to increase their shelf life.
- Anti-caking substances: Silicon dioxide, calcium phosphate, and numerous other ingredients are used in powdered products like egg mixes, baking mixes, milk powder, etc. to prevent their lumping.
- Thickeners or gelling substances: Gum Guar, Xanthan, etc. are the thickeners used widely in various recipes to improve their viscosity.
- Humectants: Humectants are found in baked products, candies as well as salad dressings. These include sugar polyols, glycerin, etc.
- Leavening agents: Leavening agents are substances such as beer, whey protein concentrate, baking powder, etc., added to batters and doughs to improve the shape, texture, and volume of the baked products.
Are Additives Bad for Health?
Food additives are common in modern diets for the numerous ways they influence our food and make it much more appealing, stable and appetizing. At present over 400 additives are used in various recipes of which those that occur naturally are safe for consumption. However, chemically synthesized ones can affect your health and cause adverse reactions. Hence one must avoid consuming them in large quantities.
Harmful Effects of Food Additives
Some food additives are likely to affect your health and cause allergic reactions. Following are the disadvantages of consuming such additives.
- Damage your heart: Certain substances when added to your food are known to stimulate the production of FGF23 hormone(2) that can put excessive strain on your heart and result in heart failure.
- Cause allergic reactions: Food additives can also cause allergic reactions like digestive disorders, diarrhea, hyperactivity, insomnia, irritability, respiratory issues or skin problems like rashes, hives, swelling, etc.
- Result in hormonal imbalance: Studies reveal that substances like propylparaben disrupt the functioning of the endocrine gland and can affect fertility.
Lists of Food Additives to Avoid
To remain in the best of your health, it is essential to eliminate substances may harm you. Switch to healthy eating by avoiding foods that contain harmful additives. Before adding a product to your food basket, check on its label to know what additives it includes.
Listed below are the most harmful food additives and bad ingredients present in your food. Check for them before buying a product. If the product’s ingredient label enlists them, be wise and put the product back in its place.
Artificial Food Colorings
Artificial colorings are used widely in fruit juices, candies, salad dressings, etc. to enhance their appearance. But lately, studies have shown that these drastically affect your overall health. Some food colorings are known to promote hyperactivity in children while others can cause a significant reduction in the IQ level.
Red 3 dye is known to cause thyroid cancer, and thus its usage has been banned from the past eight years while the other colorings like Red 40, Blue 1, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 cause allergic reactions.
Though promoted to be a safe and healthier choice, most of the artificial sweeteners are bad for your health. Found in sugar-free foods, Aspartame, a popular sweetener has a harmful carcinogenic effect on your body. Studies state that consuming Aspartame can reduce your intelligence and affect short term memory.
The components present in it can also result in diabetes, brain tumor, depression, anxiety attacks, nausea, headaches, migraines, and other disorders. Another sweetener, Acesulfame-K found in baking goods and gums is said to cause kidney tumors.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
MSG is used in savory dishes to enhance their flavor. From frozen dinners to canned soups and salty snacks, several foods that you consume daily are laden with MSG which contains a substance called excitotoxin that overexcites cells and results in their death or damage. Studies reveal that consumption of MSG can lead to headaches, depression, fatigue, sweating, etc. in some people. MSG consumption is also linked with weight gain and obesity.
Trans fats also come in the food additives to avoid list as these can prove to be quite dangerous for your health. Trans fat formed by a process known as hydrogenation is added to various edible substances to increase their shelf life.
Studies reveal that consuming fried foods or products made using margarine or hydrogenated vegetable oils results in an increase in bad cholesterol level in your body making you vulnerable to heart diseases, strokes, diabetes, and other health issues.
Guar gum is a thickening agent used to bind food and increase its viscosity owing to its long carbohydrate chain. The additive is used widely in ice-creams, soups, sauces, and salad dressings. Being rich in fiber, Guar gum is known to benefit you by increasing your satiety and reducing cholesterol and blood sugar levels.
However, studies reveal that excessive consumption of it can result in gas, bloating and cramps. It may also result in the obstruction of the esophagus or small intestine.
Sodium nitrite is a common preservative and coloring agent used in bacon, corned beef, smoked fish, hot dogs, etc. It is known to have a harmful carcinogenic effect which can lead to numerous disorders. The components present in sodium nitrite can enter the bloodstream and disrupt the functioning of various vital organs especially pancreas and liver.
Though harmful, it is still used in the food packaging industry for it gives a rich color to meat products and makes them look fresh and tempting. You can limit its consumption by switching to unprocessed meat and other sources of proteins.
High Fructose Corn Syrup
High fructose corn syrup is a highly-refined sweetener used in almost all processed foods such as cookies, snacks, lunch meats, etc. It is known to contain a high amount of empty calories and can increase your weight quickly. Consumption of high fructose corn syrup is also associated with an increase in bad cholesterol levels in your body which may damage your tissues, lead to diabetes and other health problems.
[Read: 10 Bad Healthy Foods]
Sodium benzoate added as a preservative in carbonated drinks, fruit juices, pickles, and other acidic foods also comes in the list of harmful chemicals in food. The substance is known to have many side-effects on your health and hence should be avoided. Studies reveal that when combined with food colorings, sodium benzoate can result in hyperactivity in children.
Also when used along with Vitamin C, sodium benzoate converts into benzene which is associated with the development of cancer. Thus, for good health, you must check the label of the packaged food for the presence of sodium benzoate, benzene or benzoic acid
Artificial Flavoring Agents
Packaged and processed food manufacturers use numerous artificial flavoring agents in their products that are synthesized to imitate the taste of other ingredients. These chemically synthesized ingredients are not less than toxic chemicals in food. They can mimic the taste of fruits, caramel, popcorn, etc. are added to enhance the flavor of dishes so that they appeal to your taste buds.
However, studies reveal that these ingredients have some severe side-effects on your health. Research done on animals found that regular consumption of artificial flavorings can reduce the production of red blood cells. Further, synthetic flavorings of strawberry, chocolate, plum, orange, and grapes had a toxic effect on the cells of the bone marrow.
Sodium sulfite is used as a preservative during wine manufacturing along with numerous other processed foods. Studies reveal that people sensitive to sulfite may develop various respiratory issues and breathing problems like asthma.
It can also result in headaches and rashes. Sodium sulfite can, in some cases, cause complete closure of the airway resulting in cardiac arrest. Thus, you should avoid consuming products that contain sodium sulfite.
Sulfur Dioxide (E220)
Sulfur dioxide found in dried fruits, soft drinks, beer, wine, potato products, and vinegar is another harmful substance for your body. Sulfur additives are known to be toxic and can cause serious bronchial troubles to those suffering from asthma, hypotension and cardiovascular issues. The compounds are known to destroy vitamin B1 and E in your body and thus should be avoided.
Xanthan Gum is another thickening agent used in salad dressings, sauces, soups, and syrups. It is also used in gluten-free products to improve their textures. Xanthan Gum has been associated with several benefits like low levels of blood sugar and cholesterol and increased satiety level. However, recent studies done have revealed some harmful effects associated with the consumption of Xanthan Gum.
Taking in too much of Xanthan Gum may result in digestive troubles like gas, increased stool, etc. Hence, if you experience such symptoms after consuming products containing Xanthan Gum, then it is wise to eliminate them from your diet.
BHA and BHT (E320)
Cereals, chewing gums, vegetable oils, etc. are known to contain preservatives like BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) which maintain their composition and color and prevent them from getting spoiled.
These ingredients might benefit the food but are not at all suitable for your health as studies state that they affect your neurological system and alter its behavior. BHA and BHT being oxidants can also result in the development of cancer-causing compounds in your body.
Potassium bromate is also come in the list of food ingredients to avoid. It is found in white flour, bread, rolls, etc. is a food additive that you should avoid owing to its harmful effect on your body. Used during food processing to increase the volume of flour and bread, potassium bromate can result in cancer in animals.
Even a small amount of it can be troublesome for human beings. Thus, if a food label shows the presence of potassium bromate in it, you must avoid buying it.
Carrageenan is used in varied food products like almond milk, coffee creamers, cottage cheese, ice-cream, etc. as a preservative, emulsifier, and a thickener. However, researchers have remained concerned about the safety of this product derived from red seaweed.
Consumption of carrageenan along with high-fat diet is associated with an increase in levels of fasting blood sugar and glucose intolerance. It can also hamper your digestive health and result in the development of intestinal ulcers.
There are numerous food additives used today, but all of them are not dangerous. It is better to learn about the harmful food additives you should avoid like those mentioned above and eliminate them from your diet for improved health.
Start reading the ingredient label from now on and be wise about your food choices. A general tip would be to cut back on processed foods and swap them with fresh ingredients that do not contain such additives.