Are Food Additives Subtracting From Your Health?

by Nicholas Medeiros on March 24, 2014

In a health-conscious world where dieting trends are everywhere we turn, one would think the foods we eat are safe for consumption.  If we scratch a little below the surface however, it seems these foods are anything but safe.  The news is littered with headlines of recalls for a variety of food products.  There are about as many chemicals and food additives as there are new diet trends.  While these additives were originally created to preserve food, they may be endangering our own bodies more than we know.

bread-with-caution-tape-300What exactly is a food additive?  A food additive is any substance intentionally added to food to modify its taste, color, texture, nutritive value, appearance, and resistance to deterioration.  Some additives have been used for centuries – think salt, sugar and spices.  These additives come from natural sources.  Some vitamins are factory made due to the low cost of production, and these are generally fairly healthy as well.  However, a significant number of chemicals are used as food additives for cosmetic purpose and have been shown to be toxic or carcinogenic.  An example is sulfites added to meat to maintain the red color.  Sulfites do not help preserve the meat or deter spoilage; they simply keep the meat red and looking fresh even though it is not.  The FDA has since banned the use of sulfites.  In 1958, the FDA created its Food Additives Amendment to regulate additives and their effects.

The FDA regulates additives so we have no cause for concern, right?  Wrong.  A recent investigation has reveled that Azodicarbonamide (ADA), a chemical used in the production of rubber has been found in a variety of bread products including Subway’s sandwich bread, and bagels, breads, and danishes produced by both Sarah Lee and Pillsbury amongst others.  ADA was found in a total of 500 food products from 130 brands.  The chemical was used to soften the texture of these breads.  These brands are now rushing to remove ADA from the products on their shelves.  If ADA is so harmful why is it not banned?  In 1962, the FDA approved ADA as a food additive in quantities as large as a half-ounce for every 100 pounds of flour.  When ADA is baked in breads, two chemicals are released: urethane and semicarbazide.  Semicarbaziede causes cancers of the lung and blood vessels in mice.  ADA is banned in both Australia and Europe.  Former associate commissioner for food at the FDA recently stated, “It’s good that we are asking questions.  The Science of 50 years ago is not current today” (Bloomberg Business Week).  The FDA has a history of reversing decisions that were made in decades past.  If there is any question of the carcinogenicity of a product, (regardless of what dose the FDA deems appropriate) it is best to avoid this product.


In addition to ADA, other essential food additives to avoid include artificial food dyes such as Blue No. 2, which is banned in parts of the world for it is believed to cause cancer.  Brominated vegetable oil contains bromine, which is a compound found in flame-retardants and is linked to memory loss.  Caramel coloring is added to a number of foods by heating sugars with ammonia and sulfites under high pressures and temperatures.  The state of California has deemed caramel coloring a carcinogen.  I recently visited the George Sherman Union to grab a bottle of chocolate milk distributed by Nesquick.  Using a popular iPhone application called Fooducate, I scanned the barcode and the results were horrifying.  A seemingly healthy and natural drink had industrial caramel coloring and a number of other additives.  In government-conducted studies, this caramel coloring caused lung, liver, and thyroid cancers and leukemia in laboratory mice and rats (Fooducate).  The FDA does not require this brand of milk to include this on their label because they recently reduced the amount to smaller doses.  However, small doses over time surely cannot have positive effects.  Industry pressure on FDA regulators and lack of conclusive evidence are mainly responsible for the continued use of additives in our foods.

While the debate continues concerning controversial additives and the FDA, the fact remains that we know these additives exist and are potentially dangerous – some more than others.  So how can we avoid them?  First, identify what you are eating.  This may be harder than you think especially considering many things may be excluded from the label.  Reading labels is good, but smartphone apps such as “Fooducate,” “Substitutions,” and “True Food” can make this process easier.  Secondly, record what you are eating either in a notebook or on apps such as “MyFitnessPal.”  Keeping track of what foods you are eating and how often you are eating processed foods can help to reduce your intake.  Next, buy organic.  Whole Foods has a large variety of organic products, and several chains of supermarkets are starting to include organic sections in their stores.  However, often times these products can be expensive, so start your own garden.  This can be a great activity (especially if you have children).  This will help them to learn where food comes from and you can enjoy all natural fruits and vegetables such as apples, tomatoes, carrots, and cucumbers.  Not to mention this will save money in the long run.   Take charge of your diet now, your health will thank you later.  needleorange










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