Should I avoid Food Additives?

Everybody is concerned about food additives are but do you know why should avoid it and where are they found?


Artificial Sweeteners

Where found? ​In diet drinks, “no sugar added” beverages and sweets, breakfast cereals, ice cream and yoghurt.

​Why avoid?  This remains a controversial topic. ​Studies have not conclusively shown that artificial sweeteners help with weight loss and a large-scale study called the Framingham Heart Study actually found that regular consumption of cold drinks, whether diet or regular, resulted in a 50% higher risk of having metabolic syndrome. However, the reality is that it is so low in kilojoules and at least give an alternative so the sugar-laden drinks, which we know does not help with weight loss! The debate about a possible link between artificial sweeteners and Alzheimer’s / cancer is still going on.

Caramel Colouring

Where found? Caramel colouring is found in cold drinks, gravy or sauce mixes, precooked meats, beer and chocolate-flavoured products. At home, caramel is produced simply by heating sugar until it melts and darkens to a brownish colour. Industrially, caramel is produced by heating a mixture of sugars with either acids or alkalis.

​Why avoid? In the case of caramel colouring produced by the use of ammonia, two contaminant compounds produced have been shown to cause cancer in lab studies. In America ammonia-caramel colouring is listed as a carcinogen, so better stay away from that!

Artificial Colouring

Where found? Artificial colours are found mostly in processed foods, such as cold drinks, sweets, gelatin dessert such as jellies and some pre-packaged baked goods. While it is no surprise that most junk foods have artificial colourings added, artificial colourings have also found their way into breakfast cereal, yoghurts and packaged pasta mixes. This is where being a label reader still pays off. 

​Why avoid? The health concerns with this particular group of food additives range from possible hyperactivity in children to cancer in laboratory animals to possible allergic reactions. Artificial food colourings are unacceptable because alternatives for colouring food do exist in nature – think turmeric (yellow), beets (shades of red or pink), paprika (orange). The use of artificial colours is often a signal that an actual ingredient (such as fruit) is missing from the food and therefore must be replaced by colouring the food a shade that approximates the real thing.

Partially Hydrogenated Oils

Where found? ​In frozen pizza, some boxed crackers and cookies, some commercial baked goods, icing or frosting, microwave popcorn, salty snack mixes and bottled salad dressing.

Why avoid? ​Partially hydrogenated oils in foods mean you are consuming trans fats, which adversely affect your blood lipid profile: lowering the HDL (“good”) cholesterol and raising the LDL (“bad”) cholesterol. This raises the risk of heart disease. In addition, foods containing trans fats tend to be high in sodium or sugar and high in total fat as well, both factors of concern when it comes to cardiovascular disease risk.

Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite

Where found? In cured or processed meats such as hot dogs, bacon and ham. Nitrates/nitrites act as preservatives and also help give the processed meats their pinkish colour. However, nitrates or nitrites can react with other byproducts of digestion to form nitrosamines which are known carcinogens.

Why avoid? Regular consumption of processed meats has been linked to higher risk of certain cancers. The so-called “nitrite-free” or naturally cured products do not fare better: they use celery juice extract or celery powder, which are also high in nitrates. Processed meats are typically also high in sodium and saturated fats.

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