Reasons to be Wary of Food Additives Cleveland Clinic WarnsAug 25, 2015
With some sources saying that Americans may spend up to 90 percent of their food budget on processed foods, there is reason for concern about the additives contained in these convenient foods.
Health and nutrition experts say that though processed foods are often cheaper than fresh foods, they may be less healthy. Dietitian Kate Patton and intern Sara Saliba of the Cleveland Clinic's Section of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation explain the concerns. Patton says, "Processed food has been altered in some way from its natural state." Processed foods often contain additive that add color, enhance flavor, improve texture, or increase the product's shelf life. "Additives are not necessarily bad," Patton says. "Most foods do require additives to prevent spoilage and maintain their nutritional value."
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved thousands of food additives for use in food and consuming small amounts of these additives is generally considered safe. But the Cleveland Clinic says there may be reasons to limit food additive consumption. Saliba says, "Eating a diet rich in processed foods is linked to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and cancer."
Patton and Saliba describe potential problems with some widely used additives. Sodium nitrites help stabilize, flavor, and provide a bright red color to meat. But when the meat is cooked at high temperatures or combines with stomach acid, sodium nitrite can produce nitrosamines, which are linked to increased risk of pancreatic and colorectal cancer. Many people are sensitive to sulfites. The popular preservatives can aggravate asthma and deplete the body's vitamin B1 (thiamine). Sulfites have been banned from use on fresh fruits and vegetables but are still present in processed foods. They are listed on the food label as sulfur dioxide, potassium bisulfite, sodium bisulfite, and sodium sulfite.
Trans fats—partially hydrogenated oils—are used baked goods, snack foods, non-dairy creamers, frozen pizza, margarine and other spreads, microwave popcorn, and vegetable shortening. They are used to improve texture and flavor and extend the shelf life of foods. But trans fats increase LDL or bad cholesterol, raising the risk for heart disease, and in June the FDA announced a trans fat ban that will phase in over three years to give the food industry time to reformulate products. But food companies can petition the FDA for permission to continue using trans fats in certain products and trade groups have indicated that they will do so.
Monosodium glutamate (MSG) is a flavor and texture enhancer in Asian foods and other processed foods. It can produce nausea, breathing problems, and other reactions in people with MSG sensitivity. And MSG adds sodium to the food, which can elevate blood pressure. FD&C yellow #5 and #6 food colorings have been linked to hyperactivity in children and can cause severe allergic reactions, especially in people with asthma.
To protect against such risks, Patton and Saliba advise consumers to buy more fresh foods than processed convenience foods. If fresh foods are not available, they say, advise it's best to buy frozen fruits and vegetables without any additives and to avoid prepackaged, pre-cooked meals. Cooking meals at home allows the consumer to know what is in their food and to avoid unwanted additives. Finally, Patton and Saliba urge consumers to pay attention to food labels and be wary of "ingredients you can't pronounce."