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The food we eat often contains additives that may be used to help prevent spoilage, make it look more attractive, enhance the flavor or reduce calories.

Although food additives must undergo testing and receive approval by the FDA before manufacturers can use them, this doesn't ensure that they are safe for unlimited consumption.  The following is a list of food additives the Center of Science in the Public Interest has recommended avoiding due to poor testing, insufficient evidence or deemed just not worth the risk.   

ACESULFAME K - This is an artificial sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar.  It is found in more the 5,000 foods like diet soda and no-added sugar ice creams.  It is often used together with other non-caloric sweeteners, but safety tests in animals showed an increased risk of breast and lung cancers.

BLUE #2 - This coloring is most often used in beverages, candy and pet foods.  Animal studies revealed some evidence of brain cancer development.


YELLOW #5 - This is the second most widely used food coloring.  Its use has been linked to allergy-like symptoms in some people as well as hyperactivity in kids.


ASPARTAME - There are a multitude of complaints concerning side effects from this non-caloric sweetener.  Topping the list of concerns is that lifelong consumption and safe thresholds haven't been studied (although there are lots of questions as to its safety), yet we give this artificial sweetener to our kids.


BHA - This is a petroleum based antioxidant that retards rancidity in fats and oils.  The USDA acknowledges that it is reasonable to consider BHA to be a human carcinogen.  It is found in some cereals.


CARAMEL COLORING - This artificial coloring is made by heating sugars, sometimes with the addition of ammonia.  Ammonia is a known carcinogen. Unfortunately, you can't tell by the label how the caramel coloring was made. This coloring is found in colas and soy sauce.  It made the news recently when Pepsi and Coke announced changes to their formulations to include using caramel colorings made without ammonia. The announcement by these major beverage companies is a long-fought win for the people who struggled for years to warn the American public of this (and other) risks in soda pop.


OLESTRA - Olestra is a fat substitute that contributes zero calories simply because our bodies can't break it down, and it passes out of our system.  The side effect of this reaction is diarrhea. Fake fats also interfere with the absorption of some important nutrients.  Because this is often used in high-fat foods, it makes more sense just to limit how much of the regular-fat foods you consume.


PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED VEGETABLE OILS - a.k.a. TRANS FATS - This is a fat manufactured by forcing hydrogen molecules into a liquid fat which makes that fat solid and more stable.  Studies show that a diet high in trans-fats increases the risk for heart disease.  Although nutrition labels have been required to list trans-fat since 2006, this isn't always reliable.  Look for and avoid any foods that contain partially hydrogenated oils in the ingredient list.  This fat is still used in some restaurants as well.


NITRITES - A curing substance used in processed meats like hot dogs, bacon and cold cuts, nutritants have been found to break down into a substance that can cause cancer.


SACCHARIN - Saccharin has long been linked to bladder tumors.  Many years ago, foods containing saccharin used to carry a warning label, but since 2000, that label is no longer required.  This doesn't mean that saccharin is safe to use without limits.  (Perhaps the intention is to re-introduce saccharin to an uninformed public who were not alive for the first saccharin scare. fh.)


PROPYL GALLATE - This is an antioxidant preservative that retards the spoilage of fat.  It is found in things like vegetable oils, mayonnaise, snack foods and even in personal care products like make-up and bath products.  Propyl gallate can cause some adverse reactions, like skin irritations and breathing difficulties.  People with asthma should definiately avoid this one.  


POTASSIUM BROMATE - This is sometimes added to breads to help increase volume.  Bromate has been shown to cause cancer in animals.  Potassium bromate has been banned in several European countries and Canada.  California has declared bromate a carcinogen, and baked goods sold in California that contain this substance must have a cancer warning label.  


MSG - MSG is frequently used in restaurants and some processed foods to enhance the savory qualities of the food or to tenderize meats.  People, sensitive to MSG, may experience headaches, nausea, chest pain or weakness. Even if you are not sensitive to it, you should avoid it because MSG is very high in sodium.  The confusion of the multi-names applied to MSG prevents many of us from recognizing we are eating food with this ingredient in it.  


Some of the additives to our foods are designed to keep the food safe, but the ones listed above are considered the most dangerous additives and should be limited or voided as much as possible.  A good rule of thumb would be:  "If you can't pronounce it, you probably shouldn't eat it".  

Report provided by Anita Marlay, R.D., L.S. Dietitian in the cardiac rehab department of Lake Regional Health System in Osage Beach MO (C) 2012 Serving Missouri's Lake of the Ozarks region including Osage Beach, Camdenton, Lake Ozark, Eldon and Sunrise Beach.  Some rights reserved.