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Food Additives


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7 Food Additives you should avoid like the Plague

By Melissa Nykorchuk

Although the word 'additive' tends to make it sound as though something beneficial is being added to your food, the truth is that many popular food additives are shockingly hazardous to your health.

Some of these chemicals are linked to significant weight gain or a failure to lose weight, while others may even shorten your lifespan by increasing your risk of developing potentially fatal conditions like cancer, heart disease and kidney failure.

Here are seven food additives that you should avoid like the plague if you care about taking care of your body and maintaining good quality of life.

1. Aspartame

Aspartame (also know as E951, NutraSweet or Equal) is one of the most popular artificial sweeteners on the market, so it can often be found in diet foods or sugar free products like the following:

  • Diet sodas
  • Sugar free chewing gum
  • Diet hot chocolate drinks
  • Table sweeteners for coffee and tea
  • Breakfast cereals
  • Diet desserts

Although it can make food tasty in the absence of added sugar, there is a huge amount of controversy surrounding the dangerous properties of aspartame. Look closely at labels before you consume food that uses artificial sweeteners.

For example, there are reports suggesting it is carcinogenic, studies that seem to show that it has neurotoxic effects, and convincing evidence that it causes more adverse reactions than most other food additives.

Research continues due to conflicting results, but there are reasons to believe that aspartame can increase your risk of developing one or more of the following health problems:

  • Brain tumors
  • Diabetes
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Chronic fatigue syndrome
  • Generalized anxiety disorder

In addition, documented adverse reactions to aspartame include nausea, migraines, dizziness, low mood, confusion and seizures. Steer clear of aspartame unless new evidence emerges to conclusively prove that it is safe.

2. Sodium nitrate

Sodium nitrate is a common preservative that can also be used to enhance the flavor of meat and change its color. It also helps to prevent bacteria from growing in or on the meat. You will often see it on the ingredient lists of the following products:

  • Hot dogs
  • Bacon and ham
  • Smoked fish
  • Luncheon meat

In spite of the effectiveness of sodium nitrate, more doctors and nutrition experts are beginning to advise consumers to avoid eating foods that contain this preservative.

In particular, when it is elevated to high temperatures during the cooking process, carcinogenic compounds called nitrosamines will form.

Nitrosamines are capable of damaging your DNA and promoting cellular degeneration, and there is particular concern that these compounds increase the risk of colon cancer when you consume them as a result of cooking meat.

Several prominent cancer research organizations have made it explicit that they believe sodium nitrate to be dangerous, and further studies have also suggested links between nitrosamines and Alzheimer's disease, diabetes, Parkinson's disease.

It is clear, then, that it is good idea to avoid sodium nitrate wherever possible. In general, opting for organic and lean meat is the best choice. Other good options include hot dogs made out of tofu instead of meat.

3. Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate is an amino acid that is widely used to make food more flavorful.

Also known as MSG, it is traditionally used as a staple ingredient in Asian foods, such as those takeaway Chinese dishes you might be tempted to order at the weekend.

However, it can also be slipped into packaged meals like soups and frozen dinners.

As a result, it is always good to check for MSG or citric acid (which typically contains MSG) when examining food labels.

Monosodium glutamate is called an excitotoxin, which means that it can overexcite your cells to the extent that they become damaged or even destroyed.

MSG is found in many preserved foods, and sometimes in takeout Chinese food. If you get a headache after eating a takeout meal, it is quite possible that it contains MSG.

The health problems associated with this flavor enhancer are diverse and deeply concerning. For example, consumer complaints and studies performed on animals have linked MSG to the following:

  • Severe and chronic headaches (e.g. migraines)
  • Nausea
  • Depression and anxiety
  • Damaged eyesight
  • Nerve cell damage in the brain

If you are trying to lose weight, you have an extra reason to avoid MSG. It appears to prevent your brain from perceiving that you are full when you finish a meal, leading to an increased risk of overeating and a related risk of obesity.

4. High fructose corn syrup

High fructose corn syrup is another widely used artificial sweetener that is infamous for being one of the leading causes of excessive weight gain.

Specifically, it seems to increase appetite, leading to overeating and constant cravings. In addition to promoting obesity, it is linked to the following:

  • An increase in the levels of LDL (i.e. 'bad' cholesterol)
  • An elevated risk of type 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease

While there are some who dispute the claim that high fructose corn syrup can be linked to serious diseases and conditions, the evidence that it is dangerous suggests that it is smart to avoid it until more research has been conducted.

Unfortunately, high fructose corn syrup is ubiquitous, making it very hard to buy a processed meal that does not contain this particular sweetener.

The only way to avoid it is to eat fresh food as often as possible and to check the labels of every packaged meal that you buy. High fructose corn syrup hides in many processed foods.

You should be especially careful to examine candy, soda, canned food and cereal, and you should also look out for the abbreviation 'HFCS' (as some labels will state this instead of the sweetener's full name). Look for the tricks manufacturers use and steer clear of high fructose corn syrup.

5. Olestra

Olestra is a popular fat substitute that has no calories, so it has often been added diet meals and snacks (such as light chips). While this sounds wonderful in theory, the frightening reality is that Olestra is extremely dangerous.

The problems began as soon as products containing Olestra hit the shelves, with thousands of consumers complaining of adverse reactions such as diarrhea, painful cramps and gas.

Indeed, it is estimated that a staggering 12% of the population cannot tolerate Olestra and will experience unpleasant gastric symptoms if they consume it.

However, the worrying influence of Olestra does not end there. Some nutritionist claim that it binds to soluble vitamins (especially D, E and K), and these vitamins play a key role in immunity.

It is even possible that this process increases your risk of developing cancer, and it is also important to note that consuming Olestra seems to stop your body from being able to absorb vital nutrients like lycopene and beta-carotene.

Even when it comes to weight loss, Olestra is not the miracle additive that its manufacturers hoped it would be; using a calorie-free fat substitute can encourage dieters to eat fattier food at other points of the day.

6. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)

BHA and BHT are preservatives that are derived from petroleum and can be found in cereal, potato chips, chewing gum and vegetable oils.

Their role is to enhance the shelf life of products and prevent them from turning rancid, but the risks associated with these chemicals mean that they should be avoided at all costs.

There is widespread agreement that BHA is carcinogenic, promoting the formation of malignant tumors in humans. Although it is currently thought that BHT is not as dangerous, there are still studies performed on rats or mice that show that BHT is also a carcinogen.

The structure of BHA and BHT changes over time, and they seem to form compounds that make it more likely that damaged cells in your body will start to multiply out of control.

If you need even more reasons to avoid BHA and BHT, consider that it is also commonly believed that both of these carcinogenic preservatives influence your brain.

They can lead to behavioral changes in certain individuals.

Luckily, many manufacturers choose to use different preservatives that are less dangerous. A quick scan of the labels of available products will help you to avoid both BHA and BHT when shopping.

7. Trans fat

Another additive used to make sure that products last longer without spoiling, trans fat is horribly bad for the human body. It is regularly found in fast food (especially fried food), processed meals, margarine, and foods containing partially hydrogenated vegetable oils.

For one thing, trans fat has a negative influence on heart health, as it increases the levels of LDL cholesterol while decreasing the levels of HDL (i.e. 'good') cholesterol.

Studies have shown that people who eat the most trans fat are more likely to suffer from heart attacks and strokes, and more likely to develop diabetes, kidney failure or inflammatory disorders.

In addition, trans fat consumption is connected to a greater risk of obesity, therefore linking it to poorer quality of life more generally.

Although there is pressure on manufacturers to seriously limit the amount of trans fat added to products, it is still present and you should always be mindful of it when choosing food.


If you avoid all seven of the food additives we have mentioned here, you will be doing your body a real favor.

You will be less likely to develop a wide range of potentially fatal diseases, and much more likely to maintain a slim, healthy figure.


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