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What Everybody Ought to Know About Food Additives

Every day we are bombarded with information about food products that are healthy, all natural, have no artificial ingredients, no preservatives, low fat, no fat, no cholesterol, sugar free, vitamin fortified and provide 100% of your daily vitamin requirements. Are these foods as healthy as the advertising tries to make us believe they are?

Let's look at the facts. There are more than 3000 different chemicals added to our food. The company that wants to produce the chemicals or use the chemicals in the foods they produce usually does the testing for safety. Safety testing has only been done for individual additives, not for combinations of additives. Nobody knows the effects of the many different additives used in the thousands of different combinations. To make matters worse, because of political pressure, the FDA allows manufacturers to add small amounts of cancer-causing substances to our food. So, not only are many of our foods not healthy, they're unsafe.

The FDA has even approved, as safe, additives it has known to be unsafe. Take, for example, Olestra, the fat substitute which was approved by the FDA over the objections of many leading food scientists. Olestra can cause diarrhea, abdominal cramping and may even contribute to cancer, heart disease and blindness. Foods containing Olestra must have a warning label on the package.

Then there's the artificial sweetener aspartame, also known as Nutrasweet. Aspartame was approved and claimed safe by a specially appointed FDA Commissioner after his own Board of Inquiry that investigated aspartame claimed it unsafe. Aspartame can cause birth defects, central nervous system disturbances, menstrual difficulties, brain damage in phenylketonurics, seizures, death and a long list of other reactions too numerous to mention. It may cause irreversible health damage over the long term.

Fats are another story. A certain amount of the right kind of fat is necessary for your nervous system, your immune system, the formation of cell membranes, and the absorption of the fat-soluble vitamins. The problem is that over 90% of the food produced today contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oil, which contributes to heart disease, elevated cholesterol and triglycerides, non-insulin dependent diabetes and cancer. Research even shows an association between attention deficit disorder and hydrogenated oils.

The next time you grocery shop, look at the label of every item before you buy. Unless you already buy all organic and natural foods, almost every item you pick up will contain hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils. Instead, choose products that say no hydrogenated oils. Use raw organic butter instead of margarine, and extra virgin olive oil, coconut oil or flaxseed oil (flaxseed oil should never be heated).

If you're eating more chicken, turkey and fish, because it's healthier, you may be surprised to learn that sliced chicken and turkey from the deli contains nitrites. And nitrites cause cancer. Nitrites are found in almost all processed meats, including luncheon meats, hot dogs, sausages and bacon. Then there's tuna, a healthy choice if it only contains tuna and water and is only eaten occasionally. But, most tuna contains broth or hydrolyzed vegetable protein, which contain MSG. And MSG is not required to be listed on the label because it is an ingredient in the broth, not directly added to the tuna. This is the way food manufacturers hide MSG in the food they produce. And hidden MSG can be a very serious problem to those who are sensitive to it. MSG can cause a wide variety of symptoms including migraines, numbness and tingling, asthma, seizures, diarrhea, panic attacks and heart problems.

Other sources of hidden MSG include autolyzed yeast, boullion, stock, malt extract, malt flavoring, barley malt, maltodextrin, natural flavors, pectin, seasonings, carrageenan, soy sauce, soy protein, whey protein, anything enzyme modified, fermented, protein fortified, or ultrapasteurized, fast foods, chips, condiments, salad dressings, lunch meats, sausages and soups. In fact, most processed foods contain MSG according to Kathleen Schwartz of the nonprofit group NoMSG.

So, buyer beware! Even if the label says "all natural ingredients" and "no preservatives," the product could contain harmful additives. So, how do you know which foods are really safe to eat? You need to read the labels and know how to interpret the information on the label.

Here's a few hints on what to eat and what to avoid: Eat fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, good quality protein and healthy fats. Avoid these additives:

Aspartame or Nutrasweet
MSG and Free Glutamates
Artificial colorings
Nitrites and Nitrates
Brominated vegetable oil or BVO
Olestra or Olean

Here's a general rule of thumb: If the list of ingredients is long, there are probably a lot of chemical additives in the product, and you're risking your health by eating it. If the list of ingredients is short, it may or may not have harmful additives in it, so you need to read the label carefully before you purchase it.

Dr. Christine Farlow has made it easy for you to identify which additives are harmful and which are not. In her handy pocket-sized book, FOOD ADDITIVES: A Shopper's Guide To What's Safe & What's Not, now in its 2004 revised edition, she classifies 800 commonly used food additives according to safety, whether they may cause allergic reactions and if they are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) by the FDA. In just seconds, you can find out if an additive in the food you're buying is harmful to your health. It's clear, concise and easy to use. Make this book your constant grocery shopping companion and you'll never again wonder about the safety of the ingredients listed on the package. You'll know.

Dr. Christine H. Farlow, D.C. is a chiropractor, nutritionist and author. She has helped thousands improve their health through nutrition. For more information on food additives and healthy eating, visit Contact Dr. Farlow at


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