Earlier this week, we talked about the hows and whys of avoiding Hydrogenated and Partially Hydrogenated Oils and High Fructose Corn Syrup in your food. Now, here are the other 3 additives that are on my Top 5 Food Additives to Avoid.
3. Artificial colors and dye.
These have names like Blue 2, Green 3, Yellow 5 and Red 40 – basically any color with a number after it is artificial coloring. Although the FDA restricts the use of food dyes, there are some artificial colors that have already been banned because they were proven to be carcinogens, which shows that just because they are deemed safe for consumption right now, that does not mean they will not later be shown to be harmful or toxic to our bodies. That’s why I’m trying (Easter candy is not helping me in this area right now!) to keep foods with artificial colors and dyes out of our home. Other effects of food dyes include increased hyperactivity in children (we all know we don’t need our kids to be any more active!), increased allergies and asthma, and possible cancer. Also, most of these dyes are specifically not recommended for children, but how often are they found in food items that children love – like candy, soda, sugary drinks, jello, etc.? And on top of all that, the source of these dyes does not make them something that I want to be eating – Red 40 is made from petroleum, and Yellow 5, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 are made from coal ta – blech!
How to avoid artificial colors and dyes? I think the real answer for avoiding all of these food additives is to eat real food, not fake, processed, edible food-like substances. Candy – not food, chips – not food, soda – not food – and especially do not feed them to your children.
Here’s an example, just to be honest, and to show that I don’t always completely avoid these for my family, and just note that I don’t make a habit of using my own children as testing grounds for my blog. Tuesday for dinner my daughter ate some decidedly not food – food. We were going to a softball game with our small group and had a to-go dinner that included juice, Cheetos, cookies and popcorn – all things that she doesn’t normally eat. About 45 minutes or so after eating – she became this crazy little monster girl. I literally had to restrain her on my lap to keep her from hurting someone or having a complete meltdown. Now it may be that she was tired, but I’m highly suspicious that it also had a lot to do with some of the food that she ate and the ingredients in them – including dyes and artificial coloring. I don’t endorse trying this on your kids, but the next time they happen to have food with artificial dyes make a note of how they act and see if there’s a link between their behavior and the food they have eaten. I’m just sayin’, if you and I can observe it on a small scale in our own families, that is reason enough to get the artificial dyes and colors out of our homes.
4. Artificial sweeteners – Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal), Saccharin (Swee-n-Low), Sucralose (Splenda) and others.
To begin with, if we are trying to eat a more whole foods diet and less processed food, then it would follow that we would want to eliminate chemically processed, fake sugar from our diets. But, in case you need more convincing here’s a few things I found in my reading. Aspartame has 92 documented side effects – everything from migraines to seizures, irritability to severe PMS, nausea and diarrhea, and worse. The FDA proposed a ban on Saccharin in 1977 because of it being linked to cancer in rats, but Congress overruled the ban, as long as foods with saccharin had a warning label (cigarettes anyone?). Then in 2000, because of pressure by the diet food industry, saccharin was removed from the list of cancer causing chemicals and the warning labels were removed from the foods. Sucralose (Splenda) is a relatively new sweetner, it was introduced in the U.S. in 1998, and there is just no way of knowing how safe it really is. Splenda is made by chemically reacting sugar with chlorine, and chlorine is not exactly on my “approved to eat” list either. Also, in recent research, most artificial sweeteners have been linked to cancer. To top it all off, studies have also shown that people who consume artificial sweeteners (often because they are on a diet), actually increase their chances of gaining weight, so they don’t even do what they’re supposed to do in helping people eat sweet foods without the added calories (and weight) that goes along with regular sugar. Artificial sweeteners, don’t sound so sweet anymore, do they?
How to avoid artificial sweeteners? Use regular sugar, and even better, work toward replacing your white sugar with more natural sweeteners like honey, maple syrup and sucunat/rapadura. Take baby steps – first and foremost get the artificial sweeteners out. Don’t buy diet pop, or really pretty much any diet product. I just started reading In Defense of Food by Michael Pollan and he suggests staying away from any kind of food that makes health claims on the package – good advice I think. Satisfy your sweet tooth with real, naturally sweet foods like fruit.
5. MSG – Monosodium Glutamate
You’ve seen the Chinese Restaurants claiming “No MSG”, but is it really that big of deal? Monosodium Glutamate is a flavor enhancer – it’s added to foods to make them taste better. My question – why does it taste bad to begin with, and why do I need it to taste better? Well one of the reasons that it might not taste as good without MSG is that adding MSG means that the actual real food can be removed. So food processors can make low-quality food more appealing. Hmmm, I’m looking for more real food in my food, not less. MSG also has a pretty long list of side effects, like headaches, nausea, and difficulty breathing, but the side effects seem to be found in only people sensitive to MSG. I don’t know if I am one of those people or not, but there’s really no reason for me to eat a food additive that tastes good when I can just eat the real food that tastes just as good, and most likely even better!
How to avoid MSG? I feel like a broken record here, but processed food is what it is because of all of the additives in it, so again, avoid processed food. MSG is a hard one for me though because it keeps showing up in things that I thought were “safe” and healthy like my jar of roasted peanuts, and others that I can’t think of right now. That’s why it is so important to read the ingredients labels on everything – even things you think you know what they’re made of (aren’t roasted peanuts made of peanuts?) – and you know there’s a problem when your peanuts have a list of 7 or 8 ingredients! And again, make things from scratch. Homemade chicken stock is so much better (and cheaper) than store bought, same with seasoning mixes like taco seasoning or onion soup mix.
Really pretty much everything that I make at home cannot compare to it’s store bought, processed alternative, in my humble opinion. Probably because it actually has food in it; real, good, wholesome, nourishing, and tasty food! And that’s the key, to avoiding these, and other, food additives of questionable impact on our bodies and our health, isn’t it? Eat real food, not processed imitations of food.
Sources and Further Reading
Center for Science in the Public Interest – a great list of food additives and where they come from and if they are safe or something that should be avoided.
List of Aspartame Side Effects
Planet Green – Why Artificial Sweeteners are Bad for You and the Planet
Artificial Sweeteners Increase Weight Gain Odds
FDA – Everything Added to Food in the United Sates – this list is just shocking!
Dangers of HFCS
Avoiding Products with Artificial Coloring
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