Food Additives to Avoid

Find out which additives could be threatening your health.

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A number of common food additives create cause for concern.

Salt: Excessive salt consumption is linked to high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease or stroke. By far the easiest way to monitor salt intake is to limit processed foods and select those with lower sodium levels.

Sugar: Refined sugar packs empty calories, affects blood sugar and causes tooth decay. Better choices include honey, which provides some nutrients (vitamins C, D, E and B-complex and traces of amino acids, enzymes and minerals); pure maple syrup (some nutrients); agave nectar, which absorbs more slowly into the bloodstream; date sugar (nutrients and minerals); stevia, a calorie-free sweetener made from a small green plant native to Paraguay; and xylitol, a lower-calorie sugar alcohol extracted from birch, raspberries, plums and corn. Some nutrients also are provided by raw cane sugar, maple sugar and Sucanat (short for “sugar cane natural”), an unrefined, dehydrated cane juice that may be grown organically.

High-Fructose Corn Syrup: Like refined sugar, corn syrup has no nutritional value and can lead to tooth decay and obesity. Use of cheap corn syrup has skyrocketed; in 2001, Americans consumed an average of 59 pounds per person in processed foods such as baked goods, frozen desserts, tomato sauce, ketchup, canned and frozen fruits, juices and soft drinks.

Aspartame, Saccharin and Acesulfame-K: Saccharin causes bladder cancer in male rats and also may lead to cancer in female rats and mice. The German-made sweetener acesulfame-K (sold as Sunette, Sweet One or Sweet ’n Safe) has been linked to cancer and other ailments in lab animals. Aspartame, known as NutraSweet, Equal and Spoonful, accounts for 75 percent of adverse reactions to food additives reported to the FDA and has been linked to cancer in rats.

Sucralose: Splenda, the trade name of the artificial, low-calorie sweetener sucralose, is showing up in soft drinks, baked goods, sweetener packets and other items. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) has concluded that Splenda appears safe for consumption, but the Whole Foods Market chain has banned it on the basis that it’s not a natural sweetener and there aren’t enough studies to prove its safety.

Trans Fats (Trans Fatty Acids): Trans fats, formed when liquid oils are made into solid fats through hydrogenation, appear in shortening, margarine, crackers, cookies, candy, fried foods and other processed foods. Trans fats raise levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL or “bad”) cholesterol, increasing the risk of heart disease. The USDA recommends keeping trans fatty acid consumption as low as possible.

Artificial Colorings: CSPI recommends avoiding foods with artificial colors. Many of these additives have not been fully tested for health effects, some have been tentatively linked to cancers, and others cause hyperactivity in some children. CSPI considers Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3 and Yellow 6 the most risky.

Potassium Bromate: Used in some commercial breadmaking, potassium bromate may leave traces of bromate (a known animal carcinogen) in foods.

Propyl Gallate: This preservative, found in soups, chewing gum, vegetable oils and meat products, has been implicated as a possible carcinogen, and CSPI recommends removing it from your diet.

Sodium Nitrite/Nitrate: Used as preservatives and flavorings in hot dogs, bacon and other processed meats, these additives can lead to the formation of small amounts of cancer-causing chemicals (nitrosamines), according to CSPI.

Adapted with permission from The Green Guide, www.TheGreenGuide.com