From milk to meat, today's supermarkets are filled with processed foods chock full of additives. Additives are used to extend the foods' shelf life, delay spoilage, preserve flavor, enhance taste, and make the food more visually appealing. The demand for longer shelf life is both for consumer's convenience, and to keep foods fresh while they're being transported and stored before consumption.
Consumers may not be aware of the fact that such additives are even used in many organic products. The additive business is an estimated $23 billion market worldwide.
According to "A Consumer's Dictionary of Food Additives": "Additives are food substances, or a mixture of substances, other than basic foodstuffs, that are present in food as a result of any aspect of production, processing, storage or packaging." The additives used most often are preservatives, colorings and flavors.
Other additives include are bulking agents, such as antifoaming agents, anti-caking agents, acids, color retention agents, gelling agents, emulsifiers, glazing agents, stabilizers, sweeteners and thickeners. The list goes on.
The majority of these additives have no nutritional value.
Colorings in our foods
Both natural and artificial colors are found in our foods. Natural colors are found in fruits, vegetables, and spices. For example, from carrots we get carotene, which is used to color margarine. Ancient Romans used saffron, spinach, caramel and spices to enhance the appearance of their food.
Today, natural colors are also derived from beet juice, annatto (achiote tree), anthocyanin (isolated from radishes), grape skin, cabbage, turmeric and paprika. Natural colorants are a great way to color our foods because they present no health issues.
However, food companies are also adding colors to boost profits, regardless of the health effects on consumers. Unnatural colorings are often found in candies, ice cream, fruit juices, cakes, cereals, soups, and many other products.
Coal tar and petrochemicals are the sources of most artificial colors. More than 90 percent of food colorings are manufactured from coal tar colors. Although they are certified (which means batches of the dyes are chemically tested and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration), the possibility of an adverse reaction can't be ruled out.
For example, Red Dye No. 3, approved by the FDA, is used in cherries, cherry pie, gelatin, ice cream, fruit cocktail, candy, sherbet, pudding, cereals and baked goods, and is on the safe list. However, research has suggested that this coal tar derivative is harmful, possibly causing gene mutations, cancers, or changes in brain chemistry.
More than one artificial color has been banned and pulled off the market after it was ultimately found to be cancer causing. Colorants have also been shown to contribute to other health issues, such as Attention Deficit Hypersensitivity Disorder (ADHD), learning disabilities, hyperactivity, or violent behavior in children. (To learn more on this topic, check out the book "Is This Your Child?" by Doris Rapp.)
The FDA does not require food manufacturers to list specific agents used in their foods; labels need only include the words "color added" or "artificial colors." leaving consumers confused and wondering what it is they're really putting in their bodies.
The best way to steer clear of any of potential side effects from additives is to avoid processed foods with "artificial colors" added. Eat whole, natural, organic foods and stick to foods with ingredient lists you understand. Knowing what goes into your body with every bite is essential to great health.
Nahid Ameen is a Certified Nutritional Practitioner and graduate of the Institute of Holistic Nutrition. NaturallySavvy.com is a website that educates people on the benefits of living a natural, organic and green lifestyle.
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