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The Top 10 Food Additives To Avoid

The Top 10 Food Additives To Avoid
by Sally Hughes
Founder of Planet Shark Fitness / Certified Fitness Trainer & Nutritionist
Leading nutritionists agree that consuming whole foods is the most effective approach to overall good health, maintaining your ideal weight and preventing many diseases. To this end, the more whole, natural foods you eat, the better off you'll be. Yet, if we're to avoid foods that are processed and contain preservatives, chemicals, fillers, and/or artificial flavors and colors, where do we begin?

With so much conflicting information on the internet - not to mention all those misleading food labels! - the average consumer is understandably at a total loss when it comes to food additives.  Truth is, chemicals used as weed killer, flame retardant and sunscreen are increasingly common in your local grocery's food aisles. You'll nonetheless never find words like "carcinogens," "paint chemicals," or "beaver anal gland juice" on the back panel of your fave products - much less in the produce section. To the contrary, they'll be hidden under names like "Butylated HydroxyAnisole" (BHA), "natural flavoring," and quite possibly even "organic".

So if you're ready to discover what you're really eating, then check out this list of the top 10 worst food additives (in my humble opinion).

1. Artificial Sweeteners: AKA: Aspartame (i.e. Equal and NutraSweet), Saccharin, Sweet’n Low, Acesulfame-K, Sucralose, Splenda & Sorbitol. These highly-processed, chemically-derived, zero-calorie sweeteners actually increase your sweet tooth, impair you metabolism and have been linked to cancer, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson's, headaches, dizziness and emotional disorders like depression and anxiety attacks. Instead, enjoy a little real sugar, fresh fruit or honey and avoid diet sodas and other diet beverages, sugar-free jello, artificially sweetened cereal, sugar-free gum and breath mints, and most brands of chewable vitamins.

2. Carrageenan: This thickener has no taste or nutritional value and could easily be replaced with safer ingredients that do the same 'thickening' job. Although it’s well established that Carrageenan causes harmful gastrointestinal inflammation in MOST people, it continues to be used by food companies in various items such as infant formula, yogurt, ice cream, cream cheese, bottled protein drinks, cottage cheese (aside from Daisy and Friendship - the only 2 brands I endorse!), certain meats and even pet food for the profitable role it plays in giving products a nice texture and tempting appearance.

3. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate): This is one devious 'flavor enhancer' that's most commonly found in Chinese food, lunch meats, salad dressings, low-fat yogurt, chips, frozen entrees, canned soups and most crackers. Because MSG also lends added flavor to meat, fish, poultry, many vegetables, and sauces, it's still considered to be a spice or seasoning on many grocery shelves. Since it's a well-known appetite stimulant that's linked to headaches, nausea, eye damage, wheezing, depression, irregular heart beat, and eye damage, is MSG really something you want to ingest?

4. Anything GMO: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) are plants or animals created via gene splicing biotechnology known as genetic engineering. The most common culprits are Amino Acids, Aspartame, Ascorbic Acid, Sodium Ascorbate, Vitamin C, Citric Acid, Sodium Citrate, Ethanol, Flavorings (“natural” and “artificial”), High-Fructose Corn Syrup, Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Lactic Acid, Maltodextrins, Molasses, MSG, Sucrose, Textured Vegetable Protein, Xanthan Gum, and Yeast Products. I also take issue with certain products labeled as 'natural' or 'organic' including milled corn products,  milled soy products and soy protein isolates. While certified organic products can not intentionally include GMO's, it's still possible to find them in your so-called organic foods due to the lack of "Non-GMO Project" verified seals. The primary adverse health effects include severe allergic reactions, increased toxicity, decreased nutritional value, antibiotic resistance, liver problems and immune dysfunctions to non-GMO foods.
5. Glyphosate: Let's hear it for the active ingredient found in the weed killer - 'Roundup!' As a super close cousin to all things GMO, it's primarily used on corn and soy crops genetically engineered to withstand its heavy dousing. Since most non-organic packaged foods contain corn and soy-derived ingredients and Glyphosate is a herbicide that's forever stored in these plants, when you consume these products, YOU'RE EATING WEED KILLER! Because glyphosphate exposure poses serious health hazards and is linked to obesity, endocrine disruption, DNA damage, cancer, birth defects, neurological disorders and infertility, it's best to avoid it.  Just sayin' :)

6. Trans Fat: If you're not already educated about trans fat, then it's time to get your trans fat knowledge game on! Trans fat is used to extend the shelf life of food and is among the most dangerous substances you can consume.  Like saturated fats, trans fats raise LDL "bad" cholesterol and increases the risk of heart disease and strokes. But unlike saturated fats, trans fats lower HDL "good" cholesterol and may do even more damage.  While small amounts naturally occur in beef, lamb and full-fat dairy products, most come from processing liquid vegetable oil into solid fat. Therefore, you'll find plenty of them in snack foods like chips, candy, and microwave popcorn plus fast food, frozen dinners, margarine and certain baked goods.

7. Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) and Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow): Banned in Sweden and Norway, these two dyes increase the number of kidney and adrenal gland tumors in lab animals and may cause chromosomal damage. While most commonly found in American cheese, packaged mac & cheese, lemonade, cereal, pudding, bread mix, carbonated beverages, chips, cookies, and condiments, it may also pop up in canned soups, frozen foods and pet food. Basic rule of thumb? If you need to 'color' your food, you're eating the wrong foods! Instead, opt for a colorful nutritional plan that includes naturally vibrant healthy greens and red, blue, orange and yellow fruits and veggies.

8: Sodium Nitrate: This highly carcinogenic ingredient is used as a preservative, coloring and flavoring in processed meats including bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, corned beef, and smoked fish. If you absolutely can't resist these foods, make sure those you choose are clearly labeled 'nitrate free.' While its name might sound harmless, making foods that contain sodium nitrate part of your daily diet dramatically raises your risk of developing heart disease. And according to the Harvard School of Public Health, eating sodium nitrate on a regular basis puts you at a 19% increased risk for developing Type 2 diabetes. Since it's a proven link to prostate cancer in men, it's also not a wise choice for women who may fall prey to stomach cancer, pancreatic cancer and more.  

9. High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): As you may know, high-fructose corn syrup is an increasingly common sweetener found in sodas and fruit-flavored drinks plus marinades, flavored yogurts, ketchup, breads, salad dressings, BBQ sauce and more. While research shows that high-fructose corn syrup is chemically similar to table sugar, some controversy still remains as to whether or not the body processes HFCS differently than real sugar. Studies also reveal that it's become the number one source of calories in America and contributes to the development of diabetes, tissue damage, and obesity. Because it is so prevalent in processed foods, avoiding it completely will be a challenge. Best bet until further studies? Rise to the challenge and avoid it anyway!

10. BHA and BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) are preservatives used in many foods to preserve fats and extend shelf life. Banned in nearly every country worldwide (except the U.S.) they've been linked to the formation of potentially cancer-causing compounds in lab rats and other animals. BHA and BHT can also induce allergic reactions in the skin and long-term exposure to high doses of BHT is toxic in mice and rats, causing liver, thyroid and kidney problems. Amongst the most common culprits are foods containing animal fats and/or shortening (i.e. butter, sausage, hot dogs, meat patties, etc.) plus white flour, cookies, dry cereals (such as Chex), chewing gum, potato chips, enriched rice, beer, vegetable oils, cosmetics and food packaging.

*Dishonorable Mention: Packaged Salad: Although packaged salad is obviously not an 'additive', because it's washed in chlorine that's 20 times stronger than the average swimming pool (with any remaining nutrients destroyed by its modified atmosphere packaging), it's certainly worth noting!

If the above has helped enlighten you about what's really in your food, you might want to contact the FDA and EPA to voice your opinion.

In the meantime, perhaps one question remains:  Can we consume small amounts of ANY of the above safely? If the same logic applies to "Can we consume small amounts of rat poison safely?" -  The answer is a definitive 'NO.'  

These are my thoughts. What are yours? As always, I welcome your feedback.

Thank you very much!

Yours in fitness & health,
S. Hughes
Founder Planet Shark Fitness

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