What’s Really in the Food You Are Eating?

FoodAdditives (6 of 6)

Have you ever looked at the ingredient label of something you’re eating and wondered what in the world all of those words that you can’t pronounce were? Unfortunately, food additives are becoming more and more common, but the good news is that many consumers are becoming more aware and educated about what they are putting into their bodies, forcing manufacturers to take a second look at what they are using in their products.

Food additives are man-made ingredients that are added to enhance the flavor of food, the color of it, inhibit mold and bacterial growth, and/or prolong shelf life.  There are currently more than 5,000 food additives used in the United States. They range from preservatives to artificial sweeteners to everything in between. While most food additives are GRAS (generally recognized as safe) by the FDA, it is important to realize that some research has shown these additives to be harmful in certain quantities, and for sensitive individuals, consuming any amount may be harmful.

It is extremely important to educate ourselves and what we are buying and eating. Let’s take a look at some of the most common additives out on the market:

MSG (Monosodium glutamate) – is used as a savory flavor enhancer (“umami”) and found in many packaged or processed foods.  Many people are sensitive to MSG and may experience nerve toxic effects like headaches, mood swings, numbness, nausea, weakness and a burning sensation in the upper body.  Hydrolyzed yeast, yeast extract, soy extracts, and hydrolyzed vegetable proteins contain 10-30 % MSG, therefore sensitive individuals should look out for these ingredients as well.

HFCS (high fructose corn syrup or fructose syrup) – is a highly processed sweetener derived from GMO corn that is 1 ½ times sweeter than cane sugar.  Products that are made with HFCS cannot be labeled as “Natural”.  There is ongoing debate about whether or not HFCS is responsible for increasing rates of obesity and diabetes, or if the correlation is due to increased consumption of sugar in general.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) – is a preservative that protects fat from rancidity and may have estrogen-like effects.  In some studies, it has caused cancer in rats, mice and hamsters.

BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) – also a preservative that protects fats from rancidity and in large doses caused liver and kidney damage in rats.  Has also shown to cause enlarged livers, reduced liver enzyme activity, and DNA damage to rodents in studies.

TBHQ (tertiary butylhydroquinone, tert-butylhydroquinone) – also a preservative that protects fat from rancidity.  It is found in a variety of products and is shown to be cancer causing in animals.

Artificial Food Colorings (FD&C Blue No.1, 2; FD&C Green No. 3; FD&C Red No. 3, 40; FD&C Yellow No. 5, 5; Orange B; Citrus Red No. 2) – Colors added to food to change the color.  May even be found in “natural” foods such as farm raised fish.  Recent studies suggest they may be related to hyperactivity and/or ADHD in children.  Tumors in animals have been observed, and allergic reactions in humans are commonly associated with artificial food dyes.

Sulfites – added to processed foods, dried fruits, wines, and beers as a preservative, antioxidant, and anti-browning agent.  If added to foods at a level of 10 parts per million or greater, it must be declared on the packaging.  It is highly allergenic and can lead to migraines, hives, itching and breathing difficulties.

Nitrates/Nitrites – color fixatives in cured and processed meats.  Nitrates combined with natural stomach saliva produces nitrosamines, which are powerful cancer causing agents. Nitrosamines have caused tumors and cancer in rodents similar to the composition of human tumors and cancers.  Nitrates are still employed today in long curing processes such as hams and dried, cured and fermented sausages. Nitrates turn into nitrites when exposed to air.

Scary stuff, right? What’s even more disturbing is that American-made foods that are shipped overseas may be made without any of these chemicals. Other countries have different regulations on what goes into their food, and US manufacturers are more than happy to cater to them. So why does our food contain these questionable ingredients? Simply stated, it’s cheap, and can be produced in mass quantities. As a whole, Americans are all about fast and cheap and it’s time to change that.

The next time you’re at the grocery store, take a second look at what’s going in your cart.  It’s empowering to know what these ingredients are and how they may affect your body. The good news is that manufacturers are making changes and offering alternative products without these possibly harmful ingredients. And if no alternative is available, making your own version may be the solution. Follow along on this blog and on our Facebook page for additional tips and recipe ideas!

To learn more about food additives please visit the Environmental Working Group at http://www.ewg.org.


  • Kobylewski, Sarah, and Michael Jacobson. “Food Dyes A Rainbow of Risks.” Center for Science in the Public Interest, http://www.citationmachine.net/mla/cite-a-website/copied 1 June 2010. Accessed 23 Sept. 2015.
  • International Food Information Council Foundation. “Food Ingredients Q&A: Do Food Colors Cause Hyperactivity?”. http://www.foodinsight.org/Content/3843/FC_ADHD_QA_3-11.pdf March 2011. Accessed September 23, 2015.
  • Winter, Ruth. A Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives. New York: Three Rivers, 2009. Print.
  • Minich, Deanna. An A-Z Guide to Food Additives: Never Eat What You Can’t Pronounce. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

If you’d like schedule a consultation with one of our nutritionists or culinary advisors to learn more about how to avoid food additives, contact us at 855-773-8463 or at hello@previmedica.com. 

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