Processed food in America has become a staple in many people’s diets today. People frequently choose refined foods over fresh fruits and vegetables every day, and these decisions can wreak havoc on health in the long run. Most processed foods have additional ingredients added, either naturally or chemically derived, to create a desired texture or flavor in the food. The Food and Drug Administration regulates all additives that are used in food, and requires manufacturers to label all the ingredients on the food packaging. Yet somehow there are still harmful ingredients that are added to foods today. These ingredients can cause adverse effects in people. Everyone needs to know more about what is in food in order to be able to make healthier decisions. Here are three additives that are very common in the marketplace.
1) High Fructose Corn Syrup is a pretty well-known sweetener across America. I feel like I’m beating a dead horse when I write about the health implications of HFCS. I remembered the topic flared up a few years ago of whether it is harmful to us or not and the debate is still going on. The Corn Refiners Association says its safe and the Mayo Clinic can’t even make a verdict about its safety. Even if the Corn Refiners Association is a little biased, why shouldn’t we believe HFCS isn’t bad for us? I can’t make an empirical opinion, but if you look at the kind of food High Fructose Corn Syrup is in, you shouldn’t have to be convinced whether it is healthy or not. Soda, popsicles, pastries and other processed junk are prime contributors to diabetes, obesity, and other illnesses. It’s safe to assume that you won’t find HFCS in any “health” food, it is it’s best to just stay away from it.
2) Aspartame is a chemical sweetener sold as Nutrasweet; it isn’t a carbohydrate but a combination of two amino acids, aspartic acid and phenylalanine. Aspartame has 0 calories and is reported to be much sweeter than regular table sugar. While it isn’t as common as high fructose corn syrup, aspartame is commonly used in sugar-free gum, hard candies, cough drops, some sodas, breakfast cereals, and low calorie foods. Aspartame is dangerous because it is a known neurotoxin (destroys nerve tissue), and can damage brain cells while causing a list of side effects including migraines and ADHD, to fibromyalgia to brain cancers. It is best to completely remove aspartame from your diet and check food labels to make sure you aren’t ingesting this chemical.
3) Artificial food dyes and colorings (FD&C Blue 1 and 2; FD&C Green 3, Orange B, FD&C Red 3, FD&C Red 40, FD&C Yellow 5 and 6) are another additive that can be pretty much found in most processed foods at the grocery store. These dyes are used to give a brighter color to food products, beverages, supplements, etc. and are supposed to make food look more delightful. There has been a debate for some time over whether food dyes are linked to ADHD and other hyperactivity disorders in kids. The results are not clear though, and no assumption can apparently be made in America. In Europe, however, they don’t need any more evidence on whether artificial dyes are safe or not. In Europe in 2010, food manufactures were required to add a warning label on foods that used food colorings. Instead of using the warning label, the food manufacturers in Europe just switched out the artificial dyes for natural dyes derived from natural sources.
The list could go on and on, but the moral of the story is if there isn’t a “safe” amount of any food additive. Everyone should take heed, and be more cautious about everything in their food. The FDA isn’t doing a good job of helping us out. This should serve as more of an incentive to cook more of your own food, and eat more whole foods, (preferably plant-based foods such as fruits, vegetables, and nuts). If you look at the ingredient list and see the periodic table of elements listed before you, words you cannot pronounce, or if it is 30 ingredients long, it probably isn’t healthy. Eating fruits and vegetables will always be better than any processed snack you’ll find. Next time pack a piece of fruit like a banana for a snack instead of a Nutri-Grain bar, or plan ahead so you don’t have to buy food from a vending machine. Making small changes like this are a sure way to improve your diet and health.
By: Joshua Reid, Kent State University Dietetic Student