|What's Added to Your Food?|
|Thursday, 21 January 2010 20:05|
Phil Lempert, The AARP Magazine
These days, people need to follow specific diets for many reasons from chronic conditions to allergies to a simple desire for better health and fitness. That means more and more of us - especially as we get older - want to know exactly what’s in the food we're eating.
Still, food additives remain a difficult territory to navigate. There are currently more than 14,000 laboratory-made chemicals added to our foods to improve quality, shelf life, flavor, and appearance. These synthetic additives and preservatives, many of which were first developed decades ago, are regulated by the FDA.
I try to avoid eating foods with long lists of ingredients (and thus additives). It may not be feasible for you to avoid all products containing food additives, but by watching for the chemicals listed below and mainly purchasing food containing "naturally added" (derived from things like fruits and vegetables) ingredients, you can get a better handle on what you're putting into your body when you eat.
Here's a short list of some of the most ubiquitous ingredients listed on food labels. Use it to help you shop and select products. Our space here is far too short to list all of them, so watch for more columns on this subject in the future.
Artificial flavoring: This is a blanket term used to define hundreds of chemicals made in labs by flavorists to mimic natural flavors in foods.
What you should know: All artificial flavoring must receive FDA approval. But because artificial flavoring can refer to so many different chemicals, those who have allergic reactions to certain foods containing artificial flavors can find it very difficult to determine the cause of the reaction. Because foods containing natural flavors derived directly from known food materials are more easily traceable, choosing products with natural flavors over artificial ones may be a more reassuring option.
BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene): These similar but non-identical petroleum-derived chemicals are antioxidants added to oil-containing foods to preserve them and delay rancidity. BHA and BHT are commonly found in sausages, dried meats, crackers, cereals, and foods with added fats.
What you should know: The World Health Organization's International Agency for Research on Cancer considers BHA a possible human carcinogen. The Department of Health & Human Services classifies the preservative as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen." Some studies have also linked BHT with the same cancer-causing concerns as BHA.
Artificial colors: These chemicals have a bit of a complicated history—many were developed in the early 1900s from petrochemicals and coal-tar dyes. FDA testing and regulation updates continue to knock some dyes off the "safe" list; the color additives section of the FDA website is a useful resource for more information.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG): An additive and flavor enhancer, MSG is made up of components that occur naturally in our bodies: water, sodium, and glutamate. Glutamate is one of the body's most common amino acids, the building blocks for proteins. The tricky thing about MSG is that although all of its components are found in the body, ingesting it as a free amino acid—not linked to other components in food—is a phenomenon brought on by commercial processing.
MSG is commonly added in Chinese cooking to enhance flavor, as well as to processed foods such as condiments, dressings, snack chips, seasonings and bouillons.
What you should know: Some claim too much MSG causes headaches, tightness in the chest, and a burning sensation in the forearms and back of the neck. If you think you might be sensitive to MSG, check the ingredient lists closely.
Source: The AARP Magazine