After the Second World War, processed foods became increasingly popular in the Western diet. Their convenience appeals to those entrenched in the typical lifestyle patterns of 21st Century living. Supermarket shelves are stacked high with pre-packed ready to eat meals, and there remain precious few towns untainted by the presence of a fast food restaurant. We can modify food to adapt to our fast-paced lives. This doesn’t make it healthy for us to eat. Our bodies’ dietary requirements haven’t unchanged. We still need nutritious foods to provide the fuel for us to be healthy – a factor sorely lacking in today’s average processed meal. Along with poor quality ingredients, food additives are the key culprits.
Most people are unaware that their average commercial burger or hot dog comes laced with a catalogue of artificial substances. The more enlightened may think their fast food chicken salad is the healthier option, but they should think again. A glance at the ingredients listing on any of these products will often reveal unrecognizable names of food preservatives, flavorings and/or colorings. These artificial additives have been included to enhance flavor and prolong the shelf life of products.
Food additives don’t exist in their natural forms. Even if they were extracted from a natural food. So, the body is unable to process them in the usual way. This puts a heavy strain on the liver and the digestive system. (Your two most important organs of detoxification.)
In addition, many of these substances can cause mild to serious allergic or intolerant reactions. Of the hundreds of additives used in processed foods, many do not cause serious detrimental effects. However, remember that the body functions at optimum levels through the consumption of natural foods. It therefore makes sense that to maintain good health, keep food additives consumption to a minimum. You’ll probably remember I mentioned that I don’t use many prepackaged food storage items, and that I preferred to store freeze dried single ingredients. This is the reason why.
Sugar and Sweeteners
Sugar is the most commonly used additive in the food industry today. The average person gets 500-600 of their daily calories through from sugar, even if you don’t know it. Carbohydrate foods naturally contain sugars. Some are beneficial, some not.
It is the body’s main source of energy.
Whole foods containing natural sugars provide a slow release of energy, which will last throughout the day. They also provide vitamins, minerals and proteins, which help stabilize blood sugar levels, aid with digestion, and regulate mood. Refined sugars can provide a quick release of energy. However, refined sugar is not a sustainable source of energy. Eating refined sugar will inevitably result in slumps and mood swings. Sugar is responsible for the overwhelming cases of hypoglycemia and diabetes, which are so prevalent today. It is also the leading cause of tooth decay and obesity in the Western world.
Refined sugars lower immunity and are a proven factor in the almost epidemic spread of Candida yeast overgrowth, which is rife in the 21st Century. This condition is thought to be the precursor to all degenerative and serious diseases, such as Cancer.
There are many ‘natural’ sources of sugar in processed products. These are a few examples: maltose (found in maltodextrin, dextrins and dextrose), lactose, sucrose, glucose, fructose, honey, molasses and various syrups. Sorbitol, Mannitol and Xylitol are naturally occurring sugar alcohols.
Refined sugar is in almost all processed foods such as carbonated drinks, fruit drinks, frozen and packaged meals, breads, cereals and canned produce. Natural sugars may be acceptable in moderation but it is important to keep sugar consumption to a minimum where possible.
Becoming familiar with the different forms of sugars and sweeteners will enable you to check food labels and assess sugar levels in a product. Chances are, you will be shocked by what you discover, particularly where processed foods are concerned! Moderate use of whole, unrefined, evaporated cane sugar is a good alternative to refined sugar. However, natural sweeteners such as agave syrup, barley malt, brown rice syrup, barley syrup, blackstrap molasses and herbal sweeteners such as stevia are by far the healthier option. Blackstrap molasses is rich in iron and minerals and agave syrup, barley malt, brown rice syrup and those suffering from hypoglycemia and diabetes can use stevia. In general, it is best to eliminate the taste for added sweeteners (even naturally sourced varieties) by reducing consumption of such foods. Sugar is not a necessity in the human diet and is easily obtainable provided you are consuming complex carbohydrates.
In addition to the food-based sugars, chemically manufactured sweeteners such as Acesulfame K, Aspartame and Saccharin also exist. These have become popular additives in processed diet food and drinks. These non-nutritive substances are about two hundred times as sweet as sugar and contain no calories, hence their current popularity. However, cause a long list of adverse symptoms. These range from headaches and dizziness, to seizures and tumor growth. They have also proven to be carcinogenic (Cancer-causing) to animals.
As they are unnatural in composition, the body has difficulty in assimilating them and treats them as a toxin. Avoid them at all cost.
There are over 3,000 flavorings in use today. Unlike other additives, it is not a requirement to list flavorings on food labels. Used in small quantities, they will not cause detrimental effects. Statistically, there has been little evidence of flavorings causing harm. However, some flavorings are extremely toxic when consumed in large quantities.
Those at risk of developing a reaction include people consuming large amounts of chips, candy and soda. These junk foods generally contain a cocktail of food additives. Consumption of such ‘foods’ is on the increase and it is not uncommon for some children to eat such products daily. As such, cases of food allergy and intolerance are becoming commonplace. These can range from minor skin complaints to behavioral problems.
While most flavorings are safe when consumed in small amounts, one exception is the use of monosodium glutamate (MSG). We find MSG in poor quality takeout food, processed meat dishes, pre-prepared sauces, snacks, processed cheeses, canned soups, bouillons and consommés. MSG is an amino acid extracted from animal or plant protein. It is responsible for a catalogue of symptoms collectively known as ‘Chinese Restaurant Syndrome’. Symptoms can include tightness and pain in the chest radiating to the arms, palpitations, faintness, sweating, and loss of coordination, headaches, and low blood pressure. MSG is also known to trigger asthma attacks in asthmatics. Research shows MSG to cause damage to the central nervous system. The body will treat MSG as a toxin. Avoid MSG.
Manufacturers use preservatives to prevent decay and growth of bacteria in food and to prolong shelf life. Some are detrimental to health. Nitrates and nitrites are carcinogenic (cancer causing). Despite this fact, they continue to successfully prevent the growth of toxic microorganisms in meat, so they continue to be used.
Other popular preservatives known to cause detrimental side effects include the benzoates and the sulphates. Both cause skin complaints, asthma, and hyperactivity in children. However, not all preservatives used in food manufacturing have a negative effect. Naturally, occurring preservatives such as ascorbic acid and citric acid enhance their antioxidant properties. These stabilize the acidity of food substances and prevent the discoloration of fruit and juices.
Food coloring make them more visually appetizing. They can be either natural or synthetic in origin. The synthetic coloring (known as azo dyes) have been the topic of much debate. Popular azo dyes such as tartrazine and sunset yellow have been implicated in many allergic and intolerant reactions, especially in children. As coloring’s have a history of causing detrimental effects, they are heavily regulated.
The European Union has regulations in place so that if food dyes are used in food, the consumers are informed of the health risks. As a result, Kellogg, Kraft, McDonald’s and other American companies that do business in Europe have changed to safe, natural coloring’s for the European market.
However, they are still using the same harmful and synthetic petrochemicals in the artificial food coloring’s added to food for the American public whether it be cereals or cough medicines and everything else in between.
They can do this because there is no legislation stopping them.
Eight of the most common artificial food dyes used today in the US (courtesy of Food Freedom Network):
- Blue #1 (Brilliant Blue) – an unpublished study suggested the possibility that Blue 1 caused kidney tumors in mice. Used in baked goods, beverages, desert powders, candies, cereal, drugs and other products.
- Blue #2 (Indigo Carmine) – causes a statistically significant incidence of tumors, particularly brain gliomas, in male rats. Used in colored beverages, candies, pet food and other food and drugs.
- Citrus Red #2 – it is toxic to rodents at modest levels and caused tumors of the urinary bladder and possibly other organs. Used in Skins of Florida oranges.
- Green #3 (Fast Green) – caused significant increases in bladder and testes tumors in male rats. Used in drugs, personal care products, cosmetic products except in eye area, candies, beverages, ice cream, sorbet; ingested drugs, lipsticks and externally applied cosmetics.
- Red #3 (Erythrosine) – recognized in 1990 by the FDA as a thyroid carcinogen in animals and is banned in cosmetics and externally applied drugs. Used in sausage casings, oral medication, maraschino cherries, baked goods and candies.
- Red #40 (Allura Red) – this is the most-widely used and consumed dye. It may accelerate the appearance of immune-system tumors in mice. It also causes hypersensitivity (allergy-like) reactions in some consumers and might trigger hyperactivity in children. Used in beverages, bakery goods, candies, cereals, foods, drugs and cosmetics.
- Yellow #5 (Tartrazine) – this causes sometimes-severe hypersensitivity reactions and might trigger hyperactivity and other behavioral effects in children. Used in pet foods, numerous bakery goods, beverages, dessert powders, candies, cereals, gelatin desserts and many other foods as well as pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.
- Yellow #6 (Sunset Yellow) – caused adrenal tumors in animals and occasionally causes severe hypersensitivity reactions. Used in color bakery goods, cereals, beverages, dessert powders, candies, gelatin deserts, sausage, cosmetics and drugs.
Some artificial food colors are made from petroleum with added antifreeze to hold the color.
Obviously, we are not designed to eat petrochemicals and other toxins and every time we consume these ingredients, we put our health at risk.
The food companies who are adding these artificial food colorings to their products are doing it to make it appear more attractive to the consumer – it does not matter to them that our health will be affected.
In fact, we have come to expect foods to be certain colors, those they are in nature. Much of our acceptance of foods is dependent on foods being the colors we expect and if they were a different color than you expected, you would probably think there was something wrong with them.
Therefore, for uniformity as well as appeal, food coloring is used. The problem lies in the type of coloring used.
The Center for Science in the Public Interest recommends: “Because coloring’s are used almost solely in foods of low nutritional value (candy, soda pop, gelatin desserts and others), you should simply avoid all artificially colored foods.”
In addition, you can easily recognize an artificial color on a food label. It will say either “artificial color” or specifically “FD&C [color] No. [number].”
Unfortunately for those of you living abroad, Britain permits more artificial colors than any other country in the Western world. Most additives have been assigned an ‘E’ number, which relates to a coding system. The E stands for EC (European Community). The EC is responsible for testing and approving additives for use in foods. As stated, not all additives/E numbers are detrimental to health. However, it is good practice to scan ingredients listings on food products for the presence of E numbers. As a rule, the fewer the ‘E’ numbers, the ‘cleaner’ and healthier the product because it will be a less-processed food. However, bear in mind that E numbers and additives really have no place in a healthy diet. If you truly want to eat for optimum health, the message remains the same: always go for the Whole Food option.
Here is a list of colors from natural sources:
- Annatto extract–yellow color from a tropical tree
- Dehydrated beets (beet powder)–red-pink color from beets
- Canthaxanthin–pink color from mushrooms, crustaceans, trout
- and salmon, and tropical birds
- Caramel–brown color made from burnt sugar
- Carotene–yellow color from carrots
- Carmine extract (aka Cochineal)–red color derived from a species of beetle that feeds on cacti
- Sodium copper chlorophyllin–green color from plants and copper
- Toasted partially defatted cooked cottonseed flour–yellow coloring from cottonseed (may cause allergic reactions)
- Ferrous gluconate (approved only for ripe olives)–yellowish-grey color from iron
- Ferrous lactate (approved only for ripe olives)–green color from iron
- Grape color extract (approved only for non-beverage food)–purple color from the fruit
- Grape skin extract (approved only for still carbonated drinks & aides; beverage bases; alcoholic beverages)–purple color from the fruit
- Synthetic iron oxide (approved only for sausage casings)–red-brown-black-yellow color from combining iron with oxygen
- Fruit juice–various colors from various fruits
- Vegetable juice–various colors from various vegetables
- Carrot oil–yellow color from carrots
- Paprika–orange color from the spice
- Paprika oleoresin–extracted from the spice using toxic solvents
- Riboflavin–yellow to orange color from plants
- Saffron –yellow color from the spice
- Titanium dioxide–white pigment from the mineral
- Turmeric–yellow color from the spice
- Turmeric oleoresin–extracted from the spice using toxic solvents
While most home cooks do not use food colors in everyday cooking, you might want to use them for celebrations such as birthdays.
Natural colors you can find in your kitchen:
- Yellow – a few threads of saffron
- Green – use spinach juice
- Pink – cherry, raspberry or beet juice
- Blue – blueberry juice
It is also possible to buy plant-based natural food colors for a natural and healthy food coloring.