Nowadays you need to be armed with a science degree, The Consumer’s Dictionary of Food Additives, and plenty of free time to do the hours of research needed just to make sense of all the processed food lurking on our supermarket shelves in enticing packaging.

Then to top it off, you’ll need to deal with conflicting advice, conspiracy theories, FDA controversies, and people’s different opinions. Wouldn’t it be so refreshing if what we needed to know were all neatly laid out as Truth: Top 100 Toxic Food Additives. You could probably Google exactly that and find something like it but even then, there is no absolute truth.

Additives that the FDA deemed safe a few decades ago are now deemed unsafe and are banned in some countries. But before we go there what are “Additives” anyway?

What are Food Additives and are they Safe to Eat?

Additives are substances or a mixture of substances added to food—that are either nature identical (copies of natural substances) or synthetic or plant derivatives (including genetically modified) in order to make them last longer (preservatives), taste “better,” (flavor enhancers and sweeteners) and look “better” (colorings). These are to name a few. There are more.

Did you know that oranges are often dyed bright orange to look more…orange and red meat is also chemically enhanced to look more…red? It’s strikingly similar to the photoshop touch-ups that turn supermodels into flawless, ageless super-humans—and we buy into it!

Some of these additives have been tested over the years and proven (if you want to believe the “proof” or not) to be what the FDA terms “Generally recognized as safe” (GRAS). So, really, it’s up to you, the consumer, to determine what this vague statement really means.

According to Nasdaq Globe Newswire, a 2015 study published by Transparency Market Research firm states that the global food additives market will reach $36 billion by 2018.

What this means for us as consumers is that the food additives industry has a lot at stake and that food additives are likely not going away anytime soon. It is, however, changing. The less we buy into it by educating ourselves and making healthier, more natural choices, the less power it has over us and the less harmful these substances will be to our bodies only because we’ll be choosing not to consume them.

The bottom line is that in today’s world there are thousands of additives to watch out for, many of which are harmful, if not outright toxic, so here’s an easy way to remember them:

Colors usually have one or more of the following numbers listed on the label. Colors are added to a lot of processed food marketed to children, such as breakfast cereal and ice lollies. Read the label and if it has one of these numbers leave it on the shelf.
102,104,107,110,122,123,124,127,128, 129,132,133,142,151,155 (all of these are synthetic) and 160b (annatto—the only natural food color.) These numbers usually start with the letter “E” but not always.

It’s hard to believe the following is true but it is… Did you know that artificial food dyes or colors are made from chemicals derived from petroleum (otherwise knows as gasoline, diesel, asphalt and tar). That’s a hard one to swallow yet some of us swallow it every day and so do our children.

Sometimes colors are listed like this:
Red #40, Blue #1 and Citrus red #1 are all carcinogens that have been linked to cancer, many of which are used in baked products, desserts, candy and sodas. So stay away from anything that lists a color and a number. It’s most likely toxic. Don’t believe it? Read the labels on food products before you feed it to your kids and you’ll likely find these colors listed as ingredients.

Look out for these terms: Sorbates (200-203), Benzoates (210-213), Sulphites (220-228), NItrates/Nitrites (249-252) and Propionates (280-283).

Benzoates, for example, are used as a preservative in sodas and salad dressings and are known carcinogens that can damage human DNA. Nitrates, are ranked in many sources, as the absolute worst preservatives offender. Nitrates are used to stop bacterial growth in processed meat and are directly linked to cancer. Think about it, in the old days, food was preserved (made to last longer) with good old salt. Now, food is made to last unnatural lengths of time with unnatural preservatives so stay away from any food that does not rot because it is obviously preserved—most of the time with harmful chemical preservatives.

Synthetic Antioxidants
Synthetic antioxidants are on the opposite end of the health spectrum to natural antioxidants found in berries etc. Look out for Gallates (310-312), TBHQ, BHA and BHT (319-321).

Propyl gallate is added to meat, popcorn, soup mixes and frozen dinners. It’s banned in parts of Europe and has been shown to cause cancer in rats yet it’s safe according to the FDA. BHT (Butylated Hydroxytulene) and BHA (Butylated Hydroxyanisole) are chemical preservatives used to stop a product turning rancid.

BHT and BHA are found in a lot of processed food like cereals, chips and shortening. The same compounds are used in the cosmetics, rubber and plastics industries. For real. This is no joke.

Flavor Enhancers
Look out for Glutamates including MSG (620-625) and Ribonucleotides (627, 631, 635). The one most people are familiar with is MSG or Monosodium Glutamate, which has been linked to heart problems and seizures when tested on animals and is notoriously linked to headaches and migraines in humans.

Ribonucleotides, like Glutamates, is specifically used as a flavor enhancer as it creates the umami taste. It’s a combination of Disodium Inosinate and Disodium Guanylate. It’s used to flavor most snack food like noodles, chips and crackers and has the same harmful effects as MSG. It basically is MSG. So be safe. Read the labels—especially on processed packaged snack food…that we tend to feed our children.

Artificial Flavors
This subject heading opens a huge can of worms. There’s such a fine line between what’s listed as “natural” and what’s listed as “artificial” that makes it a difficult topic to tackle. But basically, if any product is flavor enhanced whether by adding “artificial” or “natural” flavors, be skeptical. It generally means something has been added and the problem is you don’t always know what.

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