Food Additives to Avoid

Do you ever look at the ingredients in your food and think, “What is that?!” Well, today we will look at the Environmental Working Group’s (EWG) list of top ten food additives to avoid, and find out where they are hidden.

  1. Nitrites and Nitrates
    These chemicals help cured meats keep their bright colors and maintain a tasty flavor. You can find nitrites and nitrates in bacon, sausages, hot dogs, salamis and other processed meats. These chemicals react with proteins in the body to form cancer-causing compounds. Data suggest these chemicals are linked to cancer of the stomach, esophagus, brain and thyroid. The World Health Organization named ingested nitrites and nitrates human carcinogens.
  2. Potassium Bromate
    This additive is found mostly in flour, commerical bread and cracker dough. It is used to help the dough rise. Potassium Bromate is classified as a human carcinogen. Studies have shown it to cause tumors in animals and DNA damage. It is interesting to note that Canada, the European Union and the United Kingdom prohibit the use of this additive in their food supply.
  3. Propyl Paraben
    This “Generally Recognized as Safe” chemical is an endocrine disruptor. Animal studies have shown decreases in sperm counts and testosterone levels becoming more significant with greater doses. It is  also a weak synthetic estrogen that can alter the expression of genes and impair fertility in women. You can find this additive in tortillas, muffins and food dyes. Although it is not directly added to beverages, dairy products, meat and vegetables, testing has shown cross-contamination with those products.
  4. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
    BHA is labeled as a possible human carcinogen and an endocrine disruptor. Animals studies have shown it can decrease thyroid and testosterone hormones, along with affect estrogen metabolism. It is still under debate whether these effects translate to humans.  BHT is similar to BHA, and these two chemicals are often used together. BHA additive has been linked to lung and liver tumors in animals, along with affecting thyroid and other endocrine processes.These additives can be found in chips, processed meat and any foods that contain added fats.
  5. Propyl Gallate
    This preservative is found in sausage, lard and other edible fat products. This additive does not have as much research behind it as the others, but incomplete data shows it could be an endocrine disruptor with estrogenic activity, along with a carcinogen. More research needs to be done before this food is proven to be safe or not.
  6. Secret Flavor Ingredients
    This refers to the ingredients of “natural flavors” and “artificial flavors” found in foods. The EWG reports that these “ingredients” are listed on over a quarter of food labels with only salt, water and sugar mentioned more frequently. The issue with these vague terms is that we have no idea what has been added to the food. They are often times artificial emulsifiers, solvents and preservatives that are “incidental additives”, so the manufacturer does not have to disclose what they are. It is also important to note that the term “natural flavors” can be used for the chemicals propylene glycol and BHA.
  7. Artificial Colors
    Artificial colorings are often in foods such as candies, baked goods and processed foods. A variety of the artificial colors have been linked to adverse health outcomes such as cancer. They have also been linked to a statistically significant effect on children’s behavior and attention.
  8. Diacetyl
    This chemical is used as a butter flavoring in various processed foods. It is associated with inflammation and permanent scarring of bronchi in the lungs. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration have even identified risk for employees of companies that manufacture this product.
  9. Phosphate Additives
    These additives are found in baked goods, and processed meats, along with several fast food items. Phosphates have been linked to kidney disease, heart disease and death, although EWG reports more research is needed. The European Food Safety Authority recently cracked down on phosphate additives in their food supply.
  10. Aluminum Additives
    Aluminum can naturally occur in food, but is also a prominent food additive with names such as sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate. These are found in several processed foods, along with unfiltered water and have been linked to changes in neurological behavioral and motor response. Currently these additives are listed on the EWG’s “watch list”.

Make sure to take the time to read food labels to be aware of what is in the food you are eating. Switching to 100% USDA certified organic can help as they have higher product standards, but this still doesn’t mean you will be free from all food additives. The best way to avoid most of the additives listed above is to stick to a whole foods diet limiting processed foods as much as possible.