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By Dr. Joseph Mercola
More than 3,000 food additives — preservatives, flavorings, colors, and other ingredients — are added to foods in the United States.
While each of these substances are legal to use in the United States, whether or not they are safe for long-term consumption — by themselves or in combination — is a different story altogether. Many have been deemed too harmful to use in other countries.
When you consider that about 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food goes toward processed foods loaded with these additives, it’s no wonder most people are carrying a hefty toxic load that can wreak havoc on their health.
A list of ingredients that are banned across the globe but still allowed for use in America recently made the news. The list is featured in the new book Rich Food, Poor Food, authored by nutritionist Mira Calton and her husband Jayson.
The banned ingredients include various food dyes, the fat substitute Olestra, brominated vegetable oil, potassium bromate (a.k.a. brominanted flour), Azodicarbonamide, BHA, BHT, rBGH, rBST, and arsenic.
Seeing that the overall health of Americans is so much lower than other industrialized countries, you can’t help but wonder whether toxic ingredients such as these might play a role in our unhealthy conditions.
Meanwhile, Russia has announced that it plans to extend a ban on U.S. beef, pork, and turkey imports coming into effect this month, due to the feed additive ractopamine in the meats. Ractopamine is a growth stimulant banned in several countries, including Russia.
Processed Foods Depend On Additives
When foods are processed, not only are valuable nutrients lost and fibers removed, but the textures and natural variation and flavors are also lost. After processing, what’s left behind is a bland, uninteresting “pseudo-food” that most people wouldn’t want to eat.
So at this point, food manufacturers must add back in the nutrients, flavor, color, and texture to processed foods in order to make them palatable, and this is why they become loaded with food additives.
Most commonly, additives are included to slow spoilage, prevent fats and oils from going rancid, prevent fruits from turning brown, fortify or enrich the food with synthetic vitamins and minerals to replace the natural ones that were lost during processing, and improve taste, texture, and appearance. When reading product packages, here are some of the most common food additives to watch out for:
- Preservatives: sodium benzoate, sodium nitrite, potassium sorbate, BHA, BHT, TBHQ
- Sweeteners and artificial sweeteners: fructose, high-fructose corn syrup, aspartame, sucralose, acesulfame potassium (acesulfame-K)
- Artificial colors: FD&C Blue Nos. 1 and 2, FD&C Green No. 3, FD&C Red Nos. 3 and 40, FD&C Yellow Nos. 5 and 6, Orange B, Citrus Red No. 2
- Artificial flavors
- Flavor enhancers: monosodium glutamate (MSG), hydrolyzed soy protein, autolyzed yeast extract
Top Offenders to Avoid
According to the Caltons, the following 13 additives are the worst of the more than 150 individual ingredients they investigated during their six-year long journey, which took them through 100 different countries.
Coloring agents: blue 1, blue 2, yellow 5, and yellow 6
Found in: Cake, candy, macaroni and cheese, medicines, sport drinks, soda, pet food, and cheese
Health hazards: Most artificial colors are made from coal tar, which is a carcinogen.
Olestra (a.k.a. Olean)
Found in: Fat-free potato chips
Health hazards: Depletes fat-soluble vitamins and carotenoids. Side effects include oily anal leakage.
Brominated vegetable oil (a.k.a. BVO)
Found in: Sports drinks and citrus-flavored sodas
Health hazards: Competes with iodine for receptor sites in the body, which can lead to hypothyroidism, autoimmune disease, and cancer. The main ingredient, bromine, is a poisonous, corrosive chemical, linked to major organ system damage, birth defects, growth problems, schizophrenia, and hearing loss.
Potassium bromate (a.k.a. brominated flour)
Found in: Rolls, wraps, flatbread, bread crumbs, and bagel chips
Health hazards: See bromine above. Associated with kidney and nervous system disorders, gastrointestinal discomfort.
Found in: Breads, frozen dinners, boxed pasta mixes, and packaged baked goods
Health hazard: Linked to asthma
BHA and BHT
Found in: Cereal, nut mixes, gum, butter, meat, dehydrated potatoes, and beer
Health hazards: May be a human carcinogen, a cancer-causing agent, and can cause organ system toxicity.
Synthetic hormones: rBGH and rBST
Found in: Milk and dairy products
Health hazards: Linked to breast, colon, and prostate cancers.
Found in: Poultry
Health hazard: EPA classifies inorganic arsenic as a “human carcinogen.”
What’s With The Double Standards?
The food industry has already formulated safer, better products for other countries, in which these and other harmful ingredients are banned. So why do they insist on selling inferior versions in America? For clear examples, take a look at a recent article on 100 Days Of Real Food. In it, Vani Hari shows the ingredient labels of several common foods sold in the United States and the U.K., such as Betty Crocker’s red velvet cake mix, McDonald’s French fries, and Pizza Hut’s garlic cheese bread. Amazingly, while these foods can be created using a bare minimum of additives in the U.K. (and sometimes none), in the United States, they’re absolutely loaded with chemicals.
“The food industry does not want us to pay attention to the ingredients nor do they care about the negative effects from eating them. They certainly don’t care about the astronomical medical bills that are a direct result of us eating the inferior food they are creating,” Vani Hari writes.
“…We as a collective nation must stop this trajectory of sickness and rising health care costs, by understanding the ingredients we are putting into our bodies. We must challenge the U.S. food industry to discontinue the use of banned ingredients that are not allowed elsewhere in the world. We deserve to have the same quality food without potential toxins.”
Russia Issues Long-Term Ban On U.S. Meat
In related “questionable food” news, Russia recently banned U.S. meat supplies after discovering it contains ractopamine — a beta agonist drug that increases protein synthesis, thereby making the animal more muscular. This reduces the fat content of the meat. As reported by Pravda, Russia is the fourth largest importer of U.S. meats, purchasing about $500 million worth of beef and pork annually.
Effective February 11, Russia no longer allows U.S. meat imports, stating the ban “is likely to last for a long time.” All meat suppliers wishing to sell their meat and meat products to Russia must certify their meat as ractopamine-free — a condition the United States has so far refused to comply with.
The drug is banned for use in 160 countries, including China and Russia, but allowed in 24 countries, including Canada and the United States. While the U.S. Department of Agriculture considers ractopamine safe and doesn’t test for it, Russia’s chief health inspector, Gennady Onishchenko, claims there are “serious questions” about the safety of the drug. He previously told the New York Times:
“For instance, use of ractopamine is accompanied by a reduction in body mass, suppression of reproductive function, increase of mastitis in dairy herds, which leads to a steep decline in the quality and safety of milk.”
Ractopamine is also known to affect the human cardiovascular system, and may cause food poisoning, according to Pravda. It’s also thought to be responsible for hyperactivity, muscle breakdown, and can increase death and disability in livestock. While other drugs require a clearance period of around two weeks to help ensure the compounds are flushed from the meat prior to slaughter (and therefore reduce residues leftover for human consumption), there is no clearance period for ractopamine.
In fact, livestock growers intentionally use the drug in the last days before slaughter in order to increase its effectiveness. According to veterinarian Michael W. Fox, as much as 20 percent of ractopamine remains in the meat you buy from the supermarket. Despite potential health risks, the drug is used in 45 percent of U.S. pigs, 30 percent of ration-fed cattle, and an unknown percentage of turkeys.
What’s The Simplest Way To Avoid Harmful Food Additives?
Ditch processed foods entirely. (If you live in Europe you may have more options than Americans, as you may be able to find some processed foods that do not contain any synthetic additives.) About 90 percent of the money Americans spend on food is spent on processed foods, so there is massive room for improvement in this area for most people.
Swapping your processed food diet for one that focuses on fresh whole foods may seem like a radical idea, but it’s a necessity if you value your health. And when you put the history of food into perspective, it’s actually the processed foods that are “radical” and “new.” People have thrived on vegetables, meats, eggs, fruits, and other whole foods for centuries, while processed foods were only recently invented.
If you want to eat healthy, I suggest you follow the 1950s (and before) model and spend quality time in the kitchen preparing high-quality meals for yourself and your family. If you rely on processed inexpensive foods, you exchange convenience for long-term health problems and mounting medical bills. For a step-by-step guide to make this a reality in your own life, simply follow the advice in my optimized nutrition plan along with these seven steps to wean yourself off processed foods.
When it comes to staying healthy, avoiding processed foods and replacing them with fresh, whole foods is the “secret” you’ve been looking for. Additionally, the more steps your food goes through before it reaches your plate, the greater your chances of contamination becomes. If you are able to get your food locally, you eliminate numerous routes that could expose your food to contamination with disease-causing pathogens.
Dr. Joseph Mercola is an osteopathic physician, board-certified in family medicine. He has written two New York Times bestsellers and shared his expertise on ABC News, NBC’s The Today Show, CNN, CBS, Fox News, and in TIME and Forbes magazines.