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One of the largest concerns for our countries health: Food additives.



Our bodies know the difference between fresh, whole foods and manufactured/processed foods. Furthermore, advertising and marketing of food products is very misleading to buyers and also a LEGAL practice that companies are able to engage in! There are more than 10,000+ additives that are allowed in food products alone. These additives are associated with serious health concerns, banned or restricted in other countries, and most importantly should not be in 'food' that is sold AND consumed by buyers.

What are food additives? These are substances added to food products during processing (direct) and/or during their packaging and manufacturing (indirect) used to enhance flavor, appearance, and/or preserve. Under federal law, the term "food additive" is used to describe one category of these substances, but I am using the term as it is commonly understood. Accumulating evidence from nonhuman laboratory and human epidemiologic studies suggests that colorings, flavorings, chemicals deliberately added to food during processing (direct food additives), and substances in food contact materials (including adhesives, dyes, coatings, paper, paperboard, plastic, and other polymers) that may come into contact with food as part of packaging or processing equipment but are not intended to be added directly to food (indirect food additives), may contribute to disease and disability in the population.

Below I will highlight some of the most common and horrific food additives used by the food industry today. However, I will not cover the following yet, but I want you to be aware of and know I will discuss them in a future blog post(s):

  • other contaminants that inadvertently enter the food and water supply (such as aflatoxins), polychlorinated biphenyls, dioxins, metals (including mercury), persistent pesticide residues (such as DDT), and vomitoxin

  • genetically modified foods

  • caffeine or other stimulants intentionally added to food products

Direct food additives:

  1. Artificial food colors. Synthetic artificial food colors (AFCs) are added to foods and beverages for aesthetic reasons, and the resulting brightly colored products are appealing to young children in particular. In some cases, AFCs serve as substitutes for nutritious ingredients, such as in fruit juice drinks that contain little or no actual fruit. Nine AFCs currently are approved for use in the United States: Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Red 3, Red 40, Citrus Red 2, and Orange B. FDA data indicate that the use of AFCs increased more than fivefold between 1950 and 2012, from 12 to 68 mg per capita per day.

    1. Over the last several decades, studies have raised concerns regarding the effect of AFCs on child behavior and their role in exacerbating attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder symptoms. Elimination of AFCs from the diet may provide benefits to children with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Although the mechanisms of action have not yet been fully elucidated, at least one AFC, Blue 1, may cross the blood-brain barrier.

    2. Further work is needed to better understand the implications of AFC exposure and resolve the uncertainties across the scientific evidence. The available literature should be interpreted with caution because of the absence of information about the ingredients for a number of reasons, including patent protection. The FDA has set acceptable daily intakes for each of the AFCs. However, these standards, as well as original safety approval for the color additives, are based on animal studies that do not include neurologic or neurobehavioral end points.

    3. Current regulation allows food manufacturers to simply print artificial color on the product label if the ingredient is on an FDA-approved list. But consumers can easily avoid the synthetic colors on FDA’s separate FD&C-certified list, because they must be shown on the label with their full or abbreviated name, such as FD&C Yellow 5 or Yellow 5.

    4. Read labels if you wish to avoid the FD&C-certified colors. In general, artificial colors tend to be hallmarks of more highly processed foods, so they can also be avoided by sticking to fresh produce, meats and whole foods.

  2. Nitrates and nitrites. There has been longstanding concern regarding the use of nitrates and nitrites as preservatives in cured and processed meats, fish, and cheese. Nitrites, which can form from nitrates, react with naturally occurring components of protein called amines. This reaction can form nitrosamines, which are known cancer-causing compounds.

    1. Nitrosamines can form in nitrite or nitrate-treated meat or in the digestive tract. In 2015, the International Agency for Research on Cancer specifically classified processed meat (which includes meat that has been salted, cured, or otherwise altered to improve flavor and preservation) as “carcinogenic to humans."

    2. High maternal intake of nitrite-cured meats has also been linked to an increased risk of childhood brain tumors in the offspring. Current FDA regulations currently allow up to 500 ppm of sodium nitrate and 200 ppm of sodium nitrite in final meat products. However, no nitrates or nitrites can be used in food produced specifically for infants or young children.

    3. Some nutritious foods such as spinach and other leafy vegetables are naturally high in nitrates, but human studies on nitrate intake from vegetables have found either no association with stomach cancer or a decreased risk

    4. In recent years, there has been increasing use of alternative sources of nitrate and nitrite preservatives, such as celery powder, in products labeled as “natural” and “organic.” These products may contain nitrates and nitrites in concentrations that can be equivalent to or higher than those found in traditional products using sodium-based sources. Thus, consumers should be aware that with respect to nitrates and nitrites alone, natural and organic products may not provide advantages over conventional products when it comes to nitrate and nitrite preservatives.

  3. Potassium bromate. Potassium bromate is used to strengthen bread and cracker dough and help it rise during baking. It is listed as a known carcinogen by the state of California, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies it as a possible human carcinogen.

    1. It has been shown to cause tumors at multiple sites in animals, is toxic to the kidneys and can cause DNA damage by disrupting the bodies free radicals. Baking converts most potassium bromate to non-carcinogenic potassium bromide, but research in the United Kingdom has shown that bromate residues are still detectable in finished bread in small but significant amounts.

    2. Both the United Kingdom and Canada prohibit the use of potassium bromate in food, and it is not allowed in the European Union either. The United States, however, still allows it to be added to flour.

  4. Propyl paraben. Is both a direct and an indirect food additive. It’s hard to believe that propyl paraben, an endocrine-disrupting chemical, is allowed in food, and even harder to believe that it’s “Generally Recognized as Safe (GRAS).”

    1. Studies found that rats fed the FDA's maximum limit for propyl paraben in food had decreased sperm counts. Researchers also noted small decreases in testosterone, which become significant with higher exposures.

    2. Propyl paraben acts as a weak synthetic estrogen. It can alter the expression of genes, including those in breast cancer cells. Propyl paraben has been reported to accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells. A study done in 2013 by scientists at the Harvard School of Public Health linked propyl paraben to impaired fertility in women.

    3. Propyl paraben is used as a preservative in foods such as tortillas, muffins, and food dyes. People can be exposed to it either as a direct additive or as result of contamination during food processing and packaging . Tests done on samples collected from 2008 to 2012 found propyl paraben in more than half of them, including beverages, dairy products, meat and vegetables. In a 2010 federal study, 91 percent of Americans tested had detectable levels of propyl paraben in their urine!

  5. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA). The FDA considers the preservative butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) to be a GRAS additive – even though the National Toxicology Program classifies it as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen,” the International Agency for Research on Cancer categorizes it as a possible human carcinogen, and it’s listed as a known carcinogen under California’s Proposition 65. These designations are based on consistent research evidence that BHA causes tumors in animals, although there is debate about whether these findings are relevant to humans.

    1. The European Union classifies BHA as an endocrine disruptor. At higher doses, it can lower testosterone and the thyroid hormone thyroxin and adversely affect sperm quality and the sex organs of rats. One study reported that female rats given lower doses had a decrease in uterine weight, which may result from effects on estrogen metabolism. Other studies found developmental effects such as decreased growth and increased mortality in rats that had not been weaned, and behavioral effects after weaning.

    2. A wide variety of foods contain BHA, including chips and preserved meats. It is also added to fats and to foods that contain fats and is allowed as a preservative in flavoring.

  6. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT). Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) is a chemical cousin to BHA that is also listed as GRAS. It, too, is added to food as a preservative. The two compounds act synergistically and are often used together. BHT is not a listed carcinogen, but some research data has shown that it does cause cancer in animals.

    1. Rats fed BHT have developed lung and liver tumors. BHT has also been shown to cause developmental effects and thyroid changes in animals, suggesting that it may be able to disrupt endocrine signaling. A neurobehavioral study of rats exposed to BHT throughout development described effects on motor skills and coordination before the animals were weaned.

  7. Propyl gallate. Propyl gallate is used as a preservative in products that contain edible fats, such as sausage and lard. It is classified as GRAS even though a National Toxicology Program study reported an association with tumors in male rats and rare brain tumors in two female rats. These findings do not establish a causal link between propyl gallate and cancer, but they raise important questions about whether this chemical should be considered safe.

    1. A 2014 opinion by the European Food Safety Authority concluded that the available reproductive studies on propyl gallate are outdated and poorly described. In addition, there is incomplete data on whether propyl gallate is an endocrine disruptor; some evidence suggests it may have estrogenic activity.

  8. Flavorings. The term "natural flavor" finds its way into more than a quarter of 80,000 foods, with only salt, water and sugar mentioned more frequently on food labels. Artificial flavors are also very common food additives, appearing on one of every seven labels.

    1. What do these terms really mean? Good question. The truth is that when you see the word “flavor” on a food label, you have almost no clue what chemicals may have been added to the food under the umbrella of this vague term. For people who have uncommon food allergies or are on restricted diets, this can be a serious concern. In addition to the flavor-adding chemicals themselves, flavor mixtures often contain natural or artificial emulsifiers, solvents and preservatives that are called "incidental additives” which means the manufacturer does not have to disclose their presence on food labels.

    2. Flavoring mixtures added to food are complex and can contain more than 100 distinct substances. The non-flavor chemicals that have other functional properties often make up 80 to 90 percent of the mixture. Consumers may be surprised to learn that so-called “natural flavors” can actually contain synthetic chemicals such as the solvent propylene glycol or the preservative BHA.

    3. Flavor extracts and ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops may also be labeled “natural,” because the FDA has not fully defined what that term means (certified organic “natural flavors” must meet more stringent guidelines and cannot include synthetic or genetically engineered ingredients). The companies that make flavoring mixtures are often the same ones that make the fragrance chemicals in perfumes and cosmetics.

  9. Diacetyl. Concerns about food additives are not limited to consumers; some have been associated with serious workplace diseases. Diacetyl, used as a butter flavoring in microwave popcorn, is associated with a severe and irreversible respiratory condition called bronchiolitis obliterans, which leads to inflammation and permanent scarring of the airways.

    1. Diacetyl is also used to flavor dairy products such as yogurt and cheese as well as in “brown flavorings” such as butterscotch and maple and in fruit flavorings such as strawberry and raspberry.

    2. Several flavor-related respiratory disease clusters have been identified, beginning with an investigation in 2000 of former workers at a microwave popcorn plant. In one case, the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) found compromised lung function in 11 of 41 production workers – two-to-three times the expected number. There was little or no response to medical treatment, and workers with severe forms of the disease, some only in their 30s, ended up on waiting lists for lung transplants.

    3. Occupational health concerns associated with flavoring chemicals go beyond diacetyl. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have identified other flavoring chemicals that may pose a risk to workers, including 2,3-pentanedione and acetaldehyde.

    4. NIOSH emphasizes that safety evaluations of flavoring chemicals are largely based on consumer exposure, and there are no occupational exposure guidelines for most. This means that workers could face much higher risks that are poorly understood.

  10. Phosphates. Phosphates are among the most common food additives, found in more than 20,000 products. They can be used to leaven baked goods, reduce acid and improve moisture retention and tenderness in processed meats. Phosphates are frequently added to unhealthy highly processed foods, including fast foods.

    1. In people with chronic kidney disease, high phosphate levels in the body are associated with heart disease and death. In people without kidney disease, one study has linked higher phosphorus levels in the blood to increased cardiovascular risk. Another study that followed more than 3,000 people for 15 years also found an association between dietary phosphorus and heart disease. Other research has reported similar findings. The jury is still out about whether there is truly a link between the consumption of phosphate food additives and health problems. More research is clearly needed. Meanwhile, the issue is being taken seriously by some government officials. In 2013, the European Food Safety Authority began a high-priority reevaluation of added phosphates in food.

  11. Aluminum additives. Aluminum is the most abundant metal in Earth’s crust. It can occur naturally in food, but people are mainly exposed through food additives.

    1. Aluminum can accumulate and persist in the human body, particularly in bone. Additives containing aluminum, such as sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate, are used as stabilizers in many processed foods.

    2. Animals exposed to aluminum in the womb and during development show neurological effects such as changes in behavior, learning and motor response. Neurotoxicity has occurred in people undergoing dialysis who received large intravenous doses of unpurified water, but a direct link between aluminum food additives and neurological effects has not been proven.

    3. A link with Alzheimer’s disease and other neurodegenerative disorders has been proposed, but the association remains unclear.

    4. While significant scientific uncertainty remains around whether there may be links between aluminum-based food additives and health effects, their widespread use warrants putting them on your “watch list.”

Indirect food additives:

  1. Bisphenols. The use of bisphenols as food additives accelerated in the 1960s, when bisphenol A (BPA) was identified as a useful ingredient in the manufacture of polycarbonate plastics and polymeric metal can coatings. BPA has been the focus of significant research and attention. It can bind to the estrogen receptor and cause tissues to respond as if estradiol is present; thus, it is classified as an “endocrine disruptor."

    1. Nonhuman laboratory studies and human epidemiologic studies suggest links between BPA exposure and numerous endocrine-related end points, including reduced fertility, altered timing of puberty, changes in mammary gland development, and development of neoplasias.

    2. Environmentally relevant doses of BPA trigger the conversion of cells to adipocytes, disrupt pancreatic β-cell function in vivo, and affect glucose transportation in adipocytes.

    3. BPA exposure in utero has been associated with adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes, and cross-sectional studies have associated BPA with decrements in fetal growth, childhood obesity, and low-grade albuminuria, although longitudinal studies of prenatal exposure have yielded less consistent relationships with postnatal body mass.

    4. Given that obesity is well documented to be more prevalent among low-income and minority children, disproportionate exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals, such as BPA, may partially explain sociodemographic disparities in health.

    5. The FDA recently banned the use of BPA in infant bottles and sippy cups, and numerous companies are voluntarily removing BPA from their products because of consumer pressure. Yet, BPA and related compounds are still used in polymeric resin coatings to prevent metal corrosion in food and beverage containers.

    6. In many cases, BPA has been replaced with closely related alternatives, such as bisphenol S. These emerging alternatives have been identified in paper products and human urine. The few studies focused on evaluating bisphenol S have identified similar genotoxicity and estrogenicity to BPA and greater resistance to environmental degradation than BPA. Efforts to remove BPA from plastics and metal cans will only provide health and economic benefits if it is replaced with a safe alternative.

  2. Phthalates. Phthalate esters have a diverse array of uses in consumer products, and they can be classified into 2 categories: low–molecular weight phthalates are frequently added to shampoos, cosmetics, lotions, and other personal care products to preserve scent, whereas high–molecular weight phthalates are used to produce vinyl plastics for diverse settings ranging from flooring, clear food wrap, and flexible plastic tubing commonly used in food manufaturing.

    1. Within the high–molecular weight category, di-2-ethylhexylphthalate (DEHP) is of particular interest because industrial processes to produce food frequently use plastic products containing DEHP. Racial and/or ethnic differences in phthalate exposures are well documented.

    2. A robust literature, including numerous animal and human studies, shows that DEHP, benzyl butyl phthalate, and dibutyl phthalate are antiandrogenic and adversely affect male fetal genital development. These chemicals exert direct testicular toxicity, thereby reducing circulating testosterone concentrations within the body and increasing the risk of hypospadias and cryptorchidism at birth. These phthalates are also associated with changes in men’s hormone concentrations and changes in sperm motility and quantity.

    3. Phthalates are proinflammatory and increase oxidative stress, these effects could lead to changes to metabolic health outcomes. Emerging animal evidence also suggests that DEHP may produce arrhythmia, change metabolic profiles, and produce dysfunction in cardiac myocytes.

  3. PFCs. PFCs are synthetic organic fluorinated compounds whose carbon–fluorine bonds impart high stability and thermal resistance. PFCs have wide utility in stain-resistant sprays for carpets and upholstery, fire-retarding foams, nonstick cooking surfaces, and grease proofing of paper and paperboard used in food packaging. Although exposure can occur through dermal contact and inhalation, consumption of contaminated food is a major route of exposure to PFCs for most people.

    1. The 2003–2004 NHANES revealed that >98% of the US population has detectable concentrations of PFCs in their blood, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid (PFOS), perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), perfluorohexane sulfonic acid (PFHxS), and perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA). Although exposure can occur through dermal contact and inhalation, consumption of contaminated food is a major route of exposure to PFOS and PFOA for most people.

    2. Studies have associated PFOA and PFOS exposure with adverse health outcomes, such as reduced immune response to vaccines, metabolic changes, and decreased birth weight.

    3. There is also growing concern regarding the endocrine-disrupting potential of PFCs; studies have linked PFOA and PFOS to reduced fertility and thyroid alterations among other effects.

    4. These compounds are also extremely persistent and bioaccumulative (continuous build-up), with half-lives between 2 and 9 years in the human body. Because of health and environmental concerns, US production of PFOS was phased out in 2002, and PFOA was phased out in 2015. However, these particular compounds are only 2 of more than a dozen members of the parent family. For example, closely related PFNA chiefly replaced PFOA; increasing PFNA concentrations were detected in the 2003–2004 NHANES and have remained stable thereafter.

    5. In January 2016, the FDA banned the use of 3 classes of long-chain PFCs as indirect food additives. Yet, structurally similar short-chain PFCs, such as PFHxS, may continue to be used. Median levels of PFHxS have been measured since NHANES 2003–2004 and have remained stable through NHANES 2009–2010. Although studies have not sufficiently evaluated the human health consequences of exposure to short-chain PFCs, the structural similarity to banned compounds suggests that they may also pose human health risks.

  4. Perchlorate. Perchlorate most commonly enters the food supply through its presence as a contaminant in water or as a component of nitrate fertilizers. Exposed crops may retain elevated levels of the compound, as described in exploratory studies conducted by the FDA. In addition, perchlorate is an indirect food additive. Contamination in food occurs through its use as an antistatic agent for plastic packaging in contact with dry foods with surfaces that do not contain free fat or oil (such as sugar, flour, and starches) or through degradation from hypochlorite bleach, which is used as a cleaning solution in food manufacturing.

    1. Perchlorate is known to disrupt thyroid hormone production through interference with the sodium iodide symporter (NIS), which allows essential iodide uptake in the thyroid gland. The thyroid hormone is critical for early life brain development, among other processes, and alterations to normal hormone concentrations can have lifelong cognitive consequences. Exposure to perchlorate among pregnant women, especially those who are iodine deficient, raises particular concern given that the developing fetus is entirely reliant on the maternal thyroid hormone during the first trimester of pregnancy. Maternal hypothyroidism during pregnancy has been associated with cognitive deficits in children.

    2. Infants represent another important susceptible population, and the intake of powdered formula may result in high perchlorate exposure from associated packaging materials. Perchlorate and other food contaminants that alter thyroid hormone homeostasis, such as polybrominated diphenyl ethers, may be contributing to the increase in neonatal hypothyroidism and other thyroid system perturbations that have been documented in the United States.

Consumers have a right to know what’s in their food. We should also be concerned that processed food companies manipulate flavors, to increase people’s appetite for unhealthy foods and encourage overeating.

So where should you go from here? Go crazy and clear your cabinets!? Absolutely not. However, slowly ridding your house of products containing the above and replacing with healthier options, would be ideal. Choose fresh, healthy, whole foods and read the ingredient label! Know what you're putting into your body and how it may affect you and your family's short-term or long-term health.

Sadly our government oversight on our food system is failing us and our countries health! Do your research and never hesitate to question anything. There's SO much more I personally have to learn, so stay tuned for more information and guidance. And as always, never hesitate to reach out! References:

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