When it comes to food, fresh is usually the best but canned options can also be just as nutritious due to the canning process that can preserve many of the nutrients. However, canned foods can also be quite harmful to your health for the same reason: preservatives.
Many of the canned versions you see lining the shelves at your local grocery store contain additives and chemicals that have been directly linked to causing harm to your health. So, although you may be thinking you’re eating healthy by cooking up some canned carrots or snacking on canned fruit, the food additives, artificial colors, and artificial sweeteners commonly added to canned foods can quickly turn what-would-be a healthy option into one that can wreak havoc on your health. It isn’t just canned options either, as many harmful food additives can also be found in meat and dairy products.
What’s even more unfortunate is that the FDA recognizes most additives as “safe” despite studies showing the potential harm when consumed in large quantities. The only way to know what is truly good for your health is to know about the safety risks associated with many common food additives.
Food Additives Wreaking Havoc on Your Health
Preservatives are commonly used to increase the shelf life and maintain the flavor of many food items. There are healthy ones which are natural preservatives that are used to preserve food as it is and they aren’t harmful to your health. However, the most commonly used preservatives within the food industry are the unnatural ones, which have been linked to causing a vast array of healthy concerns and diseases when consumed in large quantities. These account for approximately 60% of the average American diet, according to studies.
Here is a detailed list of the type of food additives you want to avoid and the potential risks that come with them:
Common Food Additives
Below is a prime example of many common food additives the FDA has deemed as safe, despite research showing otherwise.
Aluminum: This preservative is used in some packaged foods, and can cause serious illnesses, such as Alzheimer’s disease, bone disorder, breast cancer.
Azodicarbonamide: This additive is used to preserve bagels and buns, and it has been found to cause asthma.
BHA/BHT: A common type of fat preservative used in hundreds of foods to extend shelf life and despite being deemed safe by the FDA, it’s a serious endocrine disruptor and can be quite harmful to your hormones. It is also linked to causing cancerous tumor growth and has many aliases, so keep your eye out or ditch processed foods altogether.
Brominated vegetable oil: This additive is commonly used to keep flavor oils in soft drinks from separating. However, bromate is a poison that can irritate the skin and mucous membranes. Long-term exposure can also lead to neurologic symptoms such as headaches, memory loss, and impaired balance or coordination. What’s worse is that it is not required to be listed on food labels.
Carrageenan: This additive is commonly used as a stabilizer and thickening agent in many prepared foods and has zero nutritional value. It can, however, cause inflammation, IBS, glucose intolerance, food allergies, ulcers and cancer.
Chlorine dioxide: This ingredient is a disinfectant similar to bleach – yes, you read that right, and it is used to bleach flour. It has been shown to impact the nutritional qualities of flour by removing Vitamin E from it, and is said to cause tumors and hyperactivity in children.
Disodium inosinate and guanylate: This additive contains MSG and is commonly found in snack foods. While there is debate as to whether it is unhealthy in itself, it can enhance the effect of MSG and also, the potential side effects.
Enriched flour: An additive used in many snack foods, this refined starch is made from toxic ingredients and your digestive system breaks it down more quickly, causing spikes in blood sugar and the associated risks of that.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Better known as MSG, this additive is used to enhance the flavor in food and is commonly added to vegetables, soups, deli meats and any other foods. It has been linked to causing headaches, weight gain, food intake and an increased risk of metabolic syndrome.
Olestra: This additive is a fat-like substance that is commonly used to replace natural fats in some snack foods. Although it cannot be absorbed by the body, it has been linked to causing digestive problems, such as stomach ache and diarrhea, and is also said to be unhealthy for the heart.
Paraben: When used as a food additive (also commonly used as a preservative in grooming and beauty products), parabens help to stop mold and yeast from forming in foods. And just like the varieties found in other types of products, parabens can disrupt your hormones and are possibly linked to breast cancer.
Potassium bromate: An additive used in bread to increase the volume. It’s also been linked to causing cancer in humans.
Propyl gallate: Commonly added to fat-containing products, such as vegetable oil, potato chips and meat products, propyl gallate has also been linked to cancer in humans.
Polysorbate 60: An addition used as a thickener in baked goods, polysorbate 60 has been linked to causing cancer, reproductive toxicity, developmental toxicity and skin allergies.
Propylene glycol: This additive is better known as antifreeze and is used to thicken dairy products and salad dressing. It’s deemed ‘generally’ safe by the FDA but has been shown to cause seizures, severe neurological symptoms, nausea, vertigo and strange sensations.
Refined vegetable oil: This category includes a variety of cooking oils, such as soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil and is high in omega-6 fats, which have been linked to causing inflammation, heart disease and cancer.
Sodium benzoate: A common additive used in salad dressing and carbonated beverages, sodium benzoate is a known carcinogen that can increase inflammation, oxidative stress, obesity, ADHD, and allergies. It has also been linked to possibly causing damage to DNA. It is also linked with serious thyroid damage. What’s worse is that the level of this chemical increases when a plastic bottle is stored or exposed to heat or combined with ascorbic acid (vitamin C).
Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose: This additive is used as a thickener in salad dressings and has been found to affect gut bacteria, trigger inflammatory bowel disease symptoms, obesity and a set of obesity-related disease risk factors known as metabolic syndrome. It may also cause cancer in high quantities.
Sodium nitrate: An additive commonly used in processed meats, such as hot dogs, lunch meat and bacon, sodium nitrate has been linked to causing colon cancer and metabolic syndrome, which can then progress into diabetes. Sodium nitrite is also a preservative from this category that comes with many risks.
Sulfites: This ingredient is used to keep prepared foods fresh, but it has been linked to causing breathing issues in those that are sensitive to it.
Artificial Sweeteners To Avoid
Most people opt for artificial sweeteners as the healthier alternative to sugar but unfortunately, they can be worse than the real deal. Although artificial sweeteners are regulated by the FDA but just like food additives, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re safe. Here are some that you should avoid and why:
Agave nectar: This sweetener is derived from a cactus and contains high levels of fructose. Despite being low on the glycemic index, it can lead to insulin resistance, liver disease and inflammation. Chronic inflammation can also cause a vast array of additional health complications and conditions, including heart disease, arthritis, bowel diseases and even cancer.
Acesulfame potassium: A sugar-free option commonly used in diet soda and ice cream, acesulfame potassium has been linked to causing weight gain, obesity and chronic inflammation. It’s also been shown to create lung and breast tumors in rats.
Aspartame: An additive commonly found in “zero sugar” drinks, ice creams and gum, aspartame is an excitotoxin and is thought to be a carcinogen. It has been linked to causing dizziness, headaches, seizures, migraines, irritable moods, blurred vision, insomnia, stomach problems and behavioural and cognitive problems.
High fructose corn syrup: Found in quite literally everything, high fructose corn syrup is genetically-modified corn and is often considered the root of all evil in the modern diet. It increases triglycerides, increases fat-storing hormones, and can lead to overeating, weight gain, obesity, heart problems, insulin resistance, diabetes and arthritis.
Saccharin: This sugar alternative is a known carcinogen that has been linked to negatively affecting the gut flora, which can lead to type 2 diabetes, obesity and potentially bladder cancer.
Sucralose: Commonly consumed as Splenda or sugar-free gums, sodas, ice cream and yogurts, sucralose has been linked to changing the gut flora by decreasing the number of healthy bacteria by half. It’s also said to cause liver and kidney swelling, inflammation, obesity, diabetes and a shrinkage of the thymus gland.
Tert butylhydroquinone: This additive is commonly used to prevent oils and fats from oxidative deterioration and may cause stomach tumors when consumed at large.
Artificial Food Coloring to Avoid
Food colorings are used to give different foods a more attractive appearance and are commonly found in children’s foods, snacks and even medicines. They have been linked to causing a vast array of health symptoms and concerns related to the thyroid, bladder, kidney, and can even cause cancer. Here’s a look at some of the worst artificial color you’ll want to avoid and why.
Blue #1 and #2: These artificial colors are commonly used in bakery products, candy and soft drinks and have been shown to potentially damage chromosomes and cause hypersensitivity reactions. They’ve even been banned in countries, such as Norway, Finland and France because they’ve been linked to causing brain cancer.
Brown HT (E155): This color additive is commonly used in many packaged foods and has been linked to causing asthma, hyperactivity in children and cancer.
Caramel coloring: Commonly used in soft drinks, sauces, pastries and breads, it can lead to increased oxidant stress, inflammation and high blood pressure when the caramel coloring contains advanced glycation end products. When it’s made with ammonia, it’s been shown to cause cancer in mice. What’s worse is that it doesn’t have to be listed on the ingredient list.
Citrus red #1 and #2: Commonly sprayed on oranges to make them look more ripe and appealing, these food colorings have been linked to damaging chromosomes and can even lead to cancer.
Green #3: You’ll find this artificial color in candy and beverages, and studies found that it may cause bladder tumors.
Orange B: This food dye is used in hot dog and sausage casings and when consumed in high doses, they can harm your liver and bile duct.
Red #2 and #3: Red #2 is a food coloring that may cause asthma and cancer. Red #3 is a carcinogen added to cherry pie filling, ice cream and baked goods and can cause nerve damage and thyroid cancer.
Red #40: This synthetic food dye is made from petroleum and has been linked to causing hyperactivity in children and other neurobehavioral effects in children. It’s even banned in some European countries.
Yellow #5 and #6: Yellow #6 is used in desserts, candy and baked goods and yellow #6 is a carcinogen used in sausage, beverages and baked goods. Both are thought to cause kidney tumors.
Quick Tips for Reducing Harmful Additives
Now that you are familiar with all of the additives put into the foods you eat and the risks that follow, you’re likely eager to eliminate them as much as possible. These quick tips can help:
- Avoid fast food
- Eat more organic fruits and vegetables
- Opt for hormone-free meat and free-range chickens/eggs
- Avoid soda, juice and sugary drinks
- Flavor your food naturally with herbs and spices
- Stick with canned foods that have minimal processing, such as canned tomatoes
- Avoid any food that uses shortening or partially hydrogenated oil
- Choose healthier monounsaturated fats, such as olive, peanut and canola oils
- Replace processed grains with whole grains
- Limit sandwiches with processed meats
- Eat locally
- Start reading the ingredient lists
Discovering what’s really in your food can be quite intimidating – and it should be. Many of the additives used in modern-day food processing come with serious risks to your health. Fortunately, with a few simple changes, you can drastically reduce the number of additives in your diet and boost your health in the meantime.