Many foods contain additives – such as colorings, flavorings, flavor enhancers, sweeteners, texture agents and preservatives – that are dangerous or have been treated with chemicals that can harm. Details of these must be included on the labelling and can be identified with a little knowledge and some attention to the information provided by the manufacturer. There are over four hundred additives permitted to be added to food in North America and many of these are known to cause potential health problems.
The US Environmental Protection Agency at one time identified 24 chemical carcinogens that went right through the chain and 'appeared' on the dinner plate. These were the herbicides, pesticides and fungicides so liberally applied through the growing process of plant foods. Animals carry their own hidden "additives" with hormones for growth and increased milk production, antibiotics freely given to farm animals to prevent and cure animal sicknesses and residue from various chemicals given to ward off insects etc. Chickens are given mixtures containing copper sulfate, lead and arsenic to help growth and many of these remain in the meat and eventually find their way into the human intestinal tract.
Then there are the chemicals added to the "finished product" to increase its shelf life; improve its appearance or to protect it in some other way. These may be in the form of wax coatings, sprays or through 'washing'. Some can be removed through washing but that by no means removes everything and the residue may be concentrated by cooking.
Even more surprising is the amount of chemical that leaches from food packaging into the food. Chemicals inside plastic and plastic films can leach out into the foodstuffs they are meant to protect and, indeed, warnings have been given that cheese and other fatty products should never be wrapped in plastic wrap (cling film) (e.g. Saran Wrap) because of the threat of dangerous chemicals being absorbed into the food.
Artificial dyes and preservatives are widely used in foods, beverages, and drugs. The most common coloring agents are azo dyes: tartrazine (orange), sunset yellow, amaranth and the new coccine (both red); and the non-azo dye pate blue. The most commonly used preservatives in food are sodium benzoate, 4-hydroxybenzoate esters, and sulfur dioxide. Various sulfites are commonly used in prepared foods. It is estimated that 2-3mg of sulfites are consumed each day by the average U.S. citizen, while an additional 5-10mg are ingested by wine and beer drinkers. The largest sources are salads, vegetables (particularly potatoes), and avocado dip served in restaurants. A customer can ingest 25-100mg of metabisulfite in just one restaurant meal.
Consider the following:
The list is almost endless. Worse though, are those additives that you cannot determine from information on a label.
The threat of all these additives should not be underestimated. Children, especially, are at risk though there is an element of risk to everyone. Next time you're in the supermarket, look more closely at the labels and ask yourself whether you want these extras in your food. Remember, most food producers are in the business of making money, not making people healthy. Unfortunately, many unhealthy ingredients and even outright toxins are perfectly legal as ingredients.
Ideally, food that has no additives at all is to be preferred and especially if it is to be used to feed children. As a rule of thumb, choose foods with fewer ingredients: If a food product lists a dozen or more ingredients, it is probably closer to being a chemical cocktail than food!
The safest thing to do is to avoid all foods that contain any additives whatsoever and this can most easily be accomplished by eating only those foods that have been organically produced and are certified as such by a reputable organic certification body. This need not be any more expensive than buying any other kinds of food though, regrettably, many organic growers and suppliers have taken advantage of the situation and charge high premiums for the privilege of eating safe food. You may have to search around and 'negotiate' but it is the very best and safest route if you are able to take it.
Buying from health food stores is a good idea: Although these will sell many of the products commonly found in conventional supermarkets, the 'health food version' tends to contain fewer additives, fewer toxic agents and a higher proportion of natural and organically-grown ingredients.
If the organic option is not available to you then you must learn as much as you can about the additives which are used, the ones that are the most threatening and dangerous and how to identify them in the foods you buy. Wash all fruit and vegetables as thoroughly as you can and peel apples, pears, potatoes etc., before eating or cooking. This does remove much of the goodness but at least it gets rid of the residues on the skins.
It may be wise to avoid the food additive carrageenan, found in various foods such as apple cider, hot dogs, most ice creams and prepared sauces and jellies, as it can produce inflammation and immunodeficiency and has been found to cause colitis and anaphylaxis in humans.
Avoidance of artificial flavoring agents like MSG and Nutrasweet is considered an important part of any treatment plan by some doctors.
The belief that food additives can cause hyperactivity in children stemmed from the research of Benjamin Feingold, M.D and is commonly referred to as the Feingold Hypothesis. According to Feingold, perhaps 40-50% of hyperactive children are sensitive to artificial food colors, flavors and preservatives. They may also be sensitive to naturally-occurring salicylates and phenolic compounds in foods.
Dr. Julian Whitaker, MD has observed: "Feingold's assertion that food additives are a problem in learning disorders has been subject to great debate over the past two decades. Practices that are profitable carry on and major economic interests have responded by hiring their own researchers to combat the results. Questions are asked in ways that will produce answers that undercut the challenging work and please the funding interests." The media publishes "conflicting reports"; politicians and regulators cite this conflict as their reason for inaction. Habits do not change easily. Feingold's work has stimulated a classic example of such debate, because the American food supply and American agribusiness is profitably enmeshed in the use of food additives.
Dr. Feingold made his original presentation to the American Medical Association in 1973. His strong claims were based on experience with 1,200 individuals in whom behavior disorders were linked to consumption of food additives. Follow-up research in Australia and Canada has tended to support Feingold's thesis." [Dr. Whitaker's Guide to Natural Healing, Prima Publishing, 1996]
The Hyperactive Children's Support Group of Great Britain recommends that the following food additives be avoided:
Amaranth, Benzoic Acid, BHA, BHT, Brilliant Blue FCF, Caramel, Carmine, Carminic Acid, Cochineal, FCFV, Indigo, Potassium Nitrate, Quinoline Yellow, Red 2G, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Nitrate, Sulfur Dioxide, Sunset Yellow, Tartrazine,
Try to avoid foods, such as the following, with high salicylate content, to see if their removal causes a difference in behavior:
Almonds, Honey, Peppermint Tea, Peanuts, Peppers, Plums (canned), Prunes (canned), Raspberries (fresh), Strawberries (fresh), Tomatoes – and many spices, including Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Curry, Oregano, Paprika, Pepper, Rosemary, Sage and Turmeric.
The elimination of food additives is important in the control of asthma. Some asthmatics react to additives such as sulfur dioxide, tartrazine (yellow dye #5), and sodium benzoate, as well as natural salicylates (aspirin-like substances found in many foods). [J Asthma 1985;76: pp.40-5, Pediatrics 1984;73: pp.631-7] Sulfites in particular have been reported to cause asthma attacks in susceptible individuals. A doctor or an allergist can help determine whether chemical sensitivities are present.
Food additives that have been shown to trigger hives include colorants (azo dyes), flavorings (salicylates), artificial sweeteners (aspartame), preservatives (benzoates, nitrites, sorbic acid), antioxidants (hydroxytoluene, sulfite, gallate), and emulsifiers/stabilizers (polysorbates, vegetable gums).
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