This is the second post in a series I am writing on Healthy Eating for Kids. The first post looked at what makes a healthy, balanced diet and how to easily add more fruit and vegetables.
This post deals with what “additives” we can find lurking in our food, why they are bad and how to avoid them. By “additives” I mean anything which is added to food to enhance the flavour, sweetness or texture whilst adding absolutely nothing nutritionally.
1. Artificial Sweeteners. Aspartame, Acesulfame K, Saccharine, Sucralose, A friend of mine posted on Facebook recently “Why don’t people realise that a product which is sweet and labelled “no added sugar” actually contains “artifical” sweeteners? That’s how it tastes sweet!” It’s easy to believe the hype, products are there to be sold and manufacturers use every trick in the book to make us believe their product is the best. The term “sugar free” suggests a product is low calorie but some sweeteners DO contain calories. Here are some reasons not to use artificial sweeteners or at the very least try to limit the quantity eaten:
- They are “artificial” ie chemicals produced in a laboratory, saccharine and aspartame were actually discovered accidentally, one through coal tar and the other as an ulcer drug. Evidence of toxic effects is divided, but the studies finding no evidence have largely been funded by the manufacturers. (See here for an example).
- Sweeteners may actually make you gain weight because the body thinks they are normal sugar and the same pathways for metabolism are switched on. However, when your body doesn’t get the sugar it is expecting, it craves more and will try to absorb more from food. (Read more here) and (See here for research).
- There is very little known about the combination of different sweeteners, products often contain several types and they are chemicals at the end of the day which may react together when eaten. Plus they may also be combined with further chemicals such as MSG and preservatives (see below).
2. Monosodium glutamate (MSG) This is a flavour enhancer and preservative and is used in many tinned and packaged foods. There is some evidence (see here) that it promotes the growth of cancer cells and is highly neurotoxic in the body. Studies have also linked it to liver damage, chronic inflammation, chronic pain and weight loss resistance. It is often included under deceptive names such as “autolyzed yeast extract”, “natural flavourings”, “soy protein”, “whey protein isolate”, etc.
3. Sodium Benzoate. This is a type of water soluble preservative that is created by adding sodium hydroxide to benzoic acid. It is found in many soft drinks, energy drinks and other processed foods and drinks. Sodium Benzoate consumption has been strongly linked with neurodevelopmental disorders such as ADHD and inflammatory disorders such as asthma. The combination of sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), which is quite common in soft drinks and popular energy drinks, creates the highly carcinogenic substance benzene. Benzene is linked with many serious cancers such as leukemia and lymphoma.
4. Trans Fats. These are fats which have been “hydrogenated” to make them solid at room temperature. This is done by treating liquid fats with chemicals. They are commonly used in cakes, biscuits, pastry, or any product which needs solid fats and have been linked to heart disease by decreasing “good” cholesterol and increasing “bad” cholesterol. They are so poisonous that they have been removed from many products. Asda, for example, does not use them in any of their own brand products and Marks and Spencer will not sell any products containing trans fats. There were some TV programmes about the dangers several years ago and following this Flora margarine removed them from their products. They may be listed as “hydrogenated” or “partially hydrogenated”.
There are many other additives, here is a summary of them:
Sulphites (E220 – E227) – These chemicals which are found in drinks, fruit juice concentrates, and wine can also be sprayed onto foods such as processed meats, dried fruits and salads to keep them from browning. They are known to cause lung irritations and trigger asthma in some people.
Benzoic Acid and Parabens (E210-E219) – These are added to foods to prevent spoilage. They may cause urticaria, asthma and angioedema.
Antioxidants (E320-E321) – While natural antioxidants are good, synthetic antioxidants that help prevent food spoilage may trigger urticaria, rhinitis and asthma.
Colourings (E100-E180) – The only purpose colourings serve is to make food more visually appealing. They can trigger hives, asthma, generalized allergic reactions and specific adverse reactions in children. They have also been found to worsen hyperactivity and ADHD.
These are the main additives to avoid, of course it is impossible to avoid them completely, so I just try to keep them to a minimum. Eating a diet with as little processed food in it as possible will make all the difference to the total amount of additives taken in. Preparing your food from scratch means you know exactly what is in your food. Processed or convenience foods are useful and still have their place but reading the label carefully will limit the amount of additives in our diets (you only need to do it once to find a product you trust!).
Are there any other additives you try to avoid?