7 Toxic Food Additives to Avoid : Exclusive Renegade Health Article

Monday Jul 23 | BY |
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Looks tasty, but a lot of that flavor may come from a potentially toxic additive.

Substances added to food to preserve flavor, enhance taste, and improve appearance are called “food additives.” Some of these—like vinegar, salt, and sulfur dioxide—have been used for centuries, but most have been introduced over the last century, as processed foods became more popular.

Unfortunately, though generally regarded as safe, many food additives have not been tested for their effects on health over long-term ingestion. The FDA and USDA supervise and regulate the use of these additives, but people who have special diets, allergies, or food intolerances are on their own when it comes to watching out for potentially harmful ingredients in their foods.

Below are seven food additives that you may want to avoid, as they have been linked to certain health problems.

1. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
A salt of the amino acid “glutamic acid (glutamate),” MSG is a flavor enhancer used in a variety of processed foods including spicy corn chips, soups, Chinese foods, ranch dressing, sausages, hot dogs, barbequed meats, processed deli meats, and more. Researchers from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Public health published a study in 2009 showing that Chinese men and women that used MSG in their food (via commercially processed foods) were more likely to be overweight or obese than those who didn’t—even though they had the same amount of physical activity and calorie intake. MSG is also linked with headaches, asthma, dizziness, and tightness in the chest. Look for MSG, glutamate, glutamic acid, yeast extract, autolyzed yeast, autolyzed soy protein, textured vegetable protein, and sodium caseinate.

2. Sodium Nitrite
Used as a preservative in meat and fish products, sodium nitrite is an inorganic compound that helps meat look red and fresh. Unfortunately, nitrites can be converted to nitrosamines, which are known causes of cancer in animals. A University of Hawaii study of nearly 200,000 men and women found that people who consumed the most processed meats showed a 67 percent increased risk of pancreatic cancer over those who consumed little. American Cancer Society researchers reported that a high consumption of processed meat over 10 years was associated with a 50 percent increased risk in colon cancer.

3. BHA & BHT
Used to prevent oxidation and retard rancidity in oil-containing foods, these additives have been linked to cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, part of the World Health Organization, considers BHA to be possibly carcinogenic to humans, and the State of California has listed it as a carcinogen. Animal studies have shown BHA to cause growth retardation and cancer in the forestomach.

4. Aspertame
An artificial sweetener, aspertame is sold as Equal and NutraSweet, and has been linked with migraines, seizures, vision problems, itching and hives, and obesity. A study by the American Cancer Society found that those who used the “diet” sweetener actually gained more weight than those who didn’t. A 1996 study noted animal research that revealed a high incidence of brain tumors in aspartame-fed rats. An older animal study linked aspertame with seizures.

5. Potassium Bromate
A potassium salt, this preservative is used to improve flour, strengthening the dough and allowing for higher rising. Most of the time, it breaks down to form innocuous bromide, but if the baker uses too much, or doesn’t bake the product at the right temperature, there can be some potassium bromate left that may be potentially harmful. This additive has already been banned from use in food products in the E.U., Canada, and Brazil. It has not been banned in the U.S., but in 1991 the FDA urged bakers to stop using it. A 1990 animal study found that the agent is carcinogenic in rats and toxic to man and animals when given orally. It’s been shown to induce kidney cell tumors and tumors of the thyroid. Fast food restaurants may use this additive to make their buns appear bigger, light and fluffy. Contact the production company’s corporate office to see if they have gone bromate-free.

6. Artificial Colorings (Blue, Red, Green, Yellow)
Used in all sorts of food and beverages to make them look more appealing, food colorings have been linked with several health hazards. Research suggests that some of these dyes may cause cancer. (Watch out for blues #1, #2, and #3, green #3, red #3, and yellow #6.) Red #40 has also been linked with behavioral issues like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder. In 2011, an FDA expert panel voted against requiring warning labels on artificially colored foods, but the majority of the members stated that more research should be conducted on their safety. Look for the colorings in foods like cereals, Cheetos snacks, Pop-Tarts, fruit snacks, sports drinks, lemonade, cheese, and more.

7. Acesulfame-K
A newer sweetener used in soft drinks and some baked goods, this additive was approved by the FDA in 1998. Considered 200 times sweeter than sugar, acesulfame-K (for “potassium”) has little safety studies behind it. Known commercially as Sunette or Sweet One, it’s sold in packet or tablet form, in chewing gum, dry mixes for beverages, instant coffee and tea, gelatin desserts, and puddings. Long-term exposure is linked to headaches, depression, nausea, mental confusion, liver and kidney problems, visual disturbances, and potentially, to cancer. A report published in the AAOHN Journal (American Association of Occupational Health Nurses) noted that additional studies need to be done to determine the potential for damage at high doses.

Do you avoid additives like these? Do you have others that you stay away from? Please share your tips.

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Photo courtesy kola1079 via Flickr.com.

“Monosodium Gluatmate (MSG) Linked to Obesity,” MSG Exposed, March 1, 2009, http://www.msgexposed.com/monosodium-glutamate-msg-linked-to-obesity/.

Mike Adams, “Processed Meat Consumption Results in 67% Increase in Pancreatic Cancer Risk, Says New Research,” Natural News, April 20, 2005, http://www.naturalnews.com/007024.html.

Colleen Doyle, “Hot Dog! Headlines Can Be Deceiving,” American Cancer Society, March 31, 2011, http://www.cancer.org/Cancer/News/ExpertVoices/post/2011/03/31/Hot-dog!-Headlines-Can-Be-Deceiving.aspx.

“Food Additives to Avoid,” Sweet Poison, http://www.sweetpoison.com/food-additives-to-avoid.html.

“Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA),” WHO Food Additives Series 18, http://www.inchem.org/documents/jecfa/jecmono/v18je05.htm.

Olney JW, et al., “Increasing brain tumor rates: is there a link to aspertame?” J Neuropathol Exp Neurol 1996 Nov; 55(11):1115-23, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8939194.

Y Kurokawa, et al., “Toxicity and carcinogenicity of potassium bromate—a new renal carcinogen,” Environ Health Perspect. 1990 July; 87:309-335, http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1567851/.

Gardiner Harris, “FDA Panel to Consider Warnings for Artificial Food Colorings,” The New York Times, March 29, 2011, http://www.nytimes.com/2011/03/30/health/policy/30fda.html.

“Artificial Sweeteners,” Medicinenet.com, http://www.medicinenet.com/artificial_sweeteners/page10.htm.

Christina R. Whitehouse, et al., “The Potential Toxicity of Artificial Sweeteners,” AAOHN Journal, June 2008, Vol. 56, No. 6: 251-259, http://www.nursing.upenn.edu/gnp/Documents/whitehouse_the%20potential%20toxicity%20of%20artificial%20sweeteners.pdf.

Kevin Gianni

Kevin Gianni is a health author, activist and blogger. He started seriously researching personal and preventative natural health therapies in 2002 when he was struck with the reality that cancer ran deep in his family and if he didn’t change the way he was living — he might go down that same path. Since then, he’s written and edited 6 books on the subject of natural health, diet and fitness. During this time, he’s constantly been humbled by what experts claim they know and what actually is true. This has led him to experiment with many diets and protocols — including vegan, raw food, fasting, medical treatments and more — to find out what is myth and what really works in the real world.

Kevin has also traveled around the world searching for the best protocols, foods, medicines and clinics around and bringing them to the readers of his blog RenegadeHealth.com — which is one of the most widely read natural health blogs in the world with hundreds of thousands of visitors a month from over 150 countries around the world.


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  1. I stay away from everything I’m uncertain of. Which means, if there’s an E infront of a number or a word I can’t pronounce, I don’t eat it. I also stay away from most of the artificial sweeteners.

    My diet consist of 100% whole foods, where 90% of it is homemade. Makes my whole body one happy being.

  2. Debbie says:

    I stay away from High Fructose Corn Syrup, genetically modified foods like soy, corn, canola oil, etc.Not even a little bit in a food is good.
    Any artifical flavors or artificial ingrediants or sweeteners.

  3. Cynthia says:

    I also avoid soybean oil, soy and carageenan. I just learned recently about how inflammatory carageenan is, and I think I feel better without it. It can be tough to avoid when trying to be dairy-free. It seems like it’s used to thicken practically everything these days.

  4. Ronn says:

    Kevin, you left out two toxic ingredients that are in just about every nutritional supplement: Magnesium Stearate and Stearic Acid.

    Warnings have been sounded about the toxicity of these two excipients for at least 20 years, but most supplement manufacturers continue to use them because they are cheap and act as lubricants to allow the powders and such to flow through the machines faster.

    More and more high-quality supplement companies are eschewing the use of Magnesium Stearate and Stearic Acid, making it a bit easier to find “excipient-free” supplements now than it was a few years ago.

    My family and I avoid any and all supplements with potentially dangerous additives, especially the two I mention above.

  5. Scott says:

    Generally, anything I can’t pronounce is considered something to avoid. And food is just the beginning – have you read your shampoo bottle lately?

  6. Lance says:

    This is a WONDERFUL List of some nasty ingredients to avoid. Personally, I don’t believe ingesting a few of these every now and then will kill you, BUT it does surprise me how many people will continue to drink some diet drink/food that has aspertame, etc. in it and they’re thinking they’re doing something helpful.

    A GREAT resource for learning more about how these sweetners are literally stimulating our neurons to death is called “Excitotoxins” http://amzn.to/OjibLt VERY informative and eye opening as to some of the dangers when you take these things into your body.

  7. Megan says:

    How does one have the time and energy to avoid these foods? For example, in my food safety course we learned that MSG has a million other names it goes by like “hydrogenated vegetable oil,” etc. Unless you’re an expert, you’re probably consuming these products. I went to Panera Bread and I kept noticing after I ate their bread that comes with the “Two Half” combo, I would get headaches. I looked up the ingredients, and it literally had over five ingredients that were just MSG, and it obviously wasn’t labeled as MSG.

  8. sue says:

    Mono & Diglycerides which becom Triglicerides

  9. RawKitchenWitch says:

    I very seldom eat any packaged foods. If/when I do, I read the labels, if there are more than a few ingredients, or anything I don’t recognize or can’t pronounce, I won’t purchase it. Keep up the good work, Kev. I really appreciate you and the work you do.

  10. hyesun says:

    doesn’t “natural flavor” usually mean msg?

  11. zyxomma says:

    Good list, for starters. All this can be avoided by eating whole, organic, unprocessed foods. And do avoid wheat, it’s been hybridized to the point that it’s no longer healthy. The glutens will mess with your digestive system, acidify you, and even cross the blood-brain barrier to bind with opiate receptors. You’re better off without it, even though it’s hard to avoid. Health and peace.

  12. Miminga says:

    Sodium nitrate has also been linked to Alzheimer’s. Dr. Oz did a show on this.

  13. Mist says:

    I would get extremely thirsty and terrible mouth sores if I ingested anything with MSG, other flavor enhancers, preservatives, etc. These toxic substances are like rat poison (reminds me of how rats would get so thirsty after ingesting poison and ended up in the swimming pool trying to quench their thirst), except they don’t kill us instantly but rather insidiously cause various ailments and diseases.

    It’s very hard to avoid the various toxic substances in food processed in a factory or restaurant. Even if the label does not list any questionable substance, the food could be exposed to various toxic substances during processing (e.g. toxic compounds leaching out of wine barrels, toxic chemicals used to clean cutting boards and other surfaces, and aluminum pots used in cooking.)

  14. Beverly says:

    Boy oh boy it makes my head spin. Just eat raw and only what you grow. Seems impossible just start where you are, https://jdimlm.com/index.php?page=splash1&theme=1&id=miracles

  15. Alex says:

    I hardly eat packaged food. Just trying to check some of these chemicals makes my head spin.

    I did not know that the “T” of BHT was Toluene which I have always thought was strongly carcinogenic. Just checking in the Wiki and they say that it has “very little carcinogenic potential”.

    Hmmm, I’ll avoid it thanks but it shows how difficult it is to get a handle on all this.

  16. KenZenSun says:

    fyi, 4. Aspertame = Aspartame. You may wish to correct the spelling. Great article!

  17. Donna says:

    As a chemical engineer I have learned first-hand about all of the nasty things in our food, drinking water, personal care products and cleaning products. If you have the very common attitude that a little bit won’t hurt you, you are deceiving yourself because there are hazardous substances in every purchased product, and many are not required to be on the label. For a free ebook that summarizes how we are exposed to hazardous chemicals in the first hour of the day go to my website at http://www.everydaychemicals.net Awareness is key. As soon as we become aware of what we are buying, we will then stop buying, and then the nasty products will sit on the shelves and the manufacturers will then be motivated to create cleaner products. It is simple supply and demand. 30-40 years ago the consumers wanted longer shelf life, easy preparation and intense flavor and that is exactly what they got. No one knew then what they were asking for! We do have choices. But the first step in making those choices is becoming aware that they even exist.

  18. Sandi says:

    Sometimes a company having a healthy product is “forced” by the government to put in preservative(s). So they put it in rather than keeping it off the market.

    I suggest asking that company why they put in a toxic substance that ruined the healthy product.

    Thanks Kev for all of your great research!

  19. Kinzie says:

    Pop-Tarts?! NOOOOO!!! 🙂

  20. mae says:

    Both nitrates and sulfates give me a headache!!
    This is one of the reasons I looked into raw food.
    I also avoid artificial sweeteners just because they are artificial can’t be good.

  21. Jackie says:

    MSG and artificial sweetners, they have the same chemical composition – I am allergic to MSG and I have the same allergic reaction to artificial sweetner. I don’t eat any soya product not even soya lecithin. No wheat or gluten, no nitrates or nitrites, no sulphates and no sulphites, no artificial colours or flavourings. No packaged pre-prepared foods unless I am absolutely stuck but I will always find a way around it. No jars of pasta sauces – I make my own from fresh tomatoes. I try to eat clean whole foods, I juice, I do smoothies. I’ve lost weight, I have more energy, my skin is clear and I am healthy while my work colleages are dropping like flies with colds and flu. There is certainly something to be said about clean eating.

  22. sara says:

    Include- “natural flavors” which is toxic msg in disguise!

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