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12 Bad-for-You Food Additives to Avoid

You might not even know, but "badditives" that can make adults and children sick hide in plenty of innocent-seeming foods.

Photo Credit: Suzanne Tucker / Shutterstock

The following is excerpted with permission from the forthcoming book Badditives! The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet—and How to Avoid Them by Linda Bonvie and Bill Bonvie (January 2017). Copyright 2017, Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Here are twelve of the baddest badditives—and why you should avoid them.

1. ALUMINUM: This common metal, compounds of which are added to many processed foods from cake mixes to frozen fish (as well as to antacids, antiperspirants, and cosmetics) for a whole variety of reasons, has now been directly linked to the development of Alzheimer’s disease. In addition, recent research has suggested it may be a risk factor for inflammatory bowel diseases.

2. ARTIFICIAL COLORS: These petroleum-based food dyes, long used to make snack foods and other processed products look more appealing, have been identified by researchers as a likely cause of hyperactivity and learning problems in the classroom. In fact, the Feingold Association of the United States has successfully treated many kids with ADHD by systematically removing foods containing such coloring agents from their diets.  

3. ASPARTAME: Hyped as a “healthy” sugar substitute, this no-calorie synthetic sweetener has actually been linked to a long list of adverse reactions (including obesity), and it is also classified as an “excitotoxin,” a type of neurotransmitter that can kill certain brain cells when consumed by children and neurologically vulnerable older people.

4. BHA, BHT (Butylated hydroxyanisole, butylated hydroxytoluene): Like artificial colors, these petroleum-based preservatives have been identified as probable perpetrators of the ADHD epidemic that often results in kids being put on risky drugs. Researchers have also found evidence that implicates both as likely suspects in the development of certain cancers and other health problems.

5. CARRAGEENAN: Used as a thickener, this seaweed derivative, which, by virtue of being “natural,” is even allowed in organic foods, has been implicated by a sizable body of research as a cause of gastro-intestinal problems that can result in serious illness.

6. FLUORIDE: This toxic chemical, which can easily find its way into your food from the water you cook with or that has been used in food processing, is actually an industrial waste product deliberately added to drinking water as a tooth decay preventive. Many scientists, however, including some veterans of the EPA, warn that it can be hazardous to your family’s health—as well as to their teeth. And the real reasons it’s in the water in the first place may make you cringe.  

7. GMOs (genetically modified organisms): Allowed on the market without the benefit of any safety testing whatsoever, the transgenic ingredients now found in the great majority of nonorganic processed foods pose potentially disastrous long-term health, allergy, and environmental risks—as does the glyphosate herbicide most of them were created to accommodate.

8. HIGH FRUCTOSE CORN SYRUP (HFCS): This laboratory-synthesized sweetener, used as a cheap substitute for sugar in a wide variety of processed foods, has been identified by researchers as a major contributor to the current epidemics of obesity and diabetes, as well as being linked to heart ailments, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, pancreatic cancer, asthma, and cognition problems.

9. MEAT GLUE: Though eclipsed by the revulsion over so-called “pink slime,” this bacteria-generated enzyme, technically known as transglutaminase, can be far more of a health hazard. Used to make fake steak, fish filets, and other deceiving dishes from meat, seafood, or poultry scraps, it can provide a pathway for pathogens that can really make you sick; and it could set the stage for some serious chronic diseases as well.

10. MSG: Despite industry and government assurances that they’re nothing much to worry about, monosodium glutamate and related forms of free glutamic acid, such as hydrolyzed protein, sodium caseinate, and autolyzed yeast (all of which can be referred to as “MSG”), have a long history of producing adverse effects, which in especially sensitive individuals can be serious and even life-threatening. Like aspartame, free glutamate is also an “excitotoxin” that can “zap” certain brain cells in children and older people. 

11. PARTIALLY HYDROGENATED OILS (PHOs): Used to give processed foods a longer shelf life, these sources of artery-clogging trans fats have been blamed for shortening the lives of thousands of American consumers. In fact, they cause about 7,000 heart disease–related deaths a year, according to an estimate by the FDA, which has belatedly been pressured into phasing them out—although it may take a while before they’re no longer listed as an ingredient in numerous products.

12. rBGH or rBST (recombinant bovine growth hormone): This genetically engineered growth hormone, injected into dairy herds to make them produce more milk, has been linked to both cancer in humans and health problems in cows that have resulted in an increased use of antibiotics. But while its use has been significantly reduced as a result, it’s still allowed and can still be found in dairy products that aren’t organic or labeled as non-rBGH.

By reducing or eliminating your family’s consumption of foods containing these pernicious substances, you’ll not only be helping yourself and your children to steer clear of the various afflictions that plague our society, from diabetes and heart disease to cancer and Alzheimer’s, but also giving food manufacturers one more reason to stop using them.

By spreading the word about these badditives to your relatives, friends, and neighbors, you can become part of the resistance movement that’s already starting to reform an industry, which has been allowed to compromise the health and well-being of the American public for far too long.

This has been an excerpt of the forthcoming book Badditives! The 13 Most Harmful Food Additives in Your Diet—and How to Avoid Them by Linda Bonvie and Bill Bonvie (January 2017). Published with permission from Skyhorse Publishing, Inc.

Linda Bonvie is a consumer advocate who has spent more than twenty-five years writing on food safety and environmental issues, including serving as writer and editor at FoodIdentityTheft.com, sponsored by Citizens for Health, and coauthoring the book Chemical-Free Kids and Chemical-Free Kids: the Organic Sequel. She lives in Tuckerton, New Jersey.

Bill Bonvie is a former newspaperman who (with his sister Linda) has coauthored many articles on health, food and environmental topics. His commentaries have appeared in newspapers such as the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Berkshire Eagle, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, with fifty of them republished in the essay collection Repeat Offenders. He lives in Tuckerton, New Jersey.

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