Shopping was easy when most food came from farms. Now, factory-made foods have made chemical additives and preservatives a significant part of our diet. People may not be able to pronounce the names of many of these chemicals, but they still want to know what the chemicals do. More importantly, which ones are safe and which are poorly tested or possibly dangerous.
Preservatives and Food Additives in the US:
Preservatives and food additives are a tricky subject. I’ve talked recently about reading the ingredient list of the packaged foods that you buy. Now that you are looking more closely at the list, you might wonder “what the heck are all these long, complicated words?!!”
For the most part, long words on the ingredient list are chemically produced or chemically altered preservatives or food additives. Some additives that are allowed in the US are not allowed in other countries. Take Nutri-Grain bars for an example:
The above picture shows an identical product, but in the UK it is sold with natural food coloring whereas in the US it is sold with questionable food colorings. So how do you know if the additives in your food are linked to health problems or not?
Know the Facts!
The Center for Science in the Public Interest (www.cspinet.org) is a great place for updated scientific information about health. They have two resources that may be of use to you:
- A list of food additives and how safe they are: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm
- A chart of food additives, separating them by safety recommendation: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm#Additives%20rated
Understanding the science and facts behind recommendations is your first step to making an educated decision.
Food Additives to Avoid:
For those of you who want to keep it simple, here is a short list of food additives to avoid:
- sodium nitrite (In many packaged meats)
- saccharin (“Sweet and Low”)
- caffeine (especially the levels found in energy drinks)
- olestra (In the WOW chips that came out a few years ago)
- acesulfame K (in some of the new diet drinks like Coke Zero)
- artificial coloring (especially Red 3 and 40, Yellow 5 and 6, and Blue 1 and 2, Green 3 and Orange B)
Not only are these among the most questionable additives, but they are used primarily in foods of low nutritional value.
For more details on this topic, check out CSPI’s report on food additives: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm