Toxins in our Foods?
If this is the first Toxic Thursday post you have read, check out the posts on shampoo, lotions, body wash and mercury levels in fish. Each Thursday, I highlight a potential source of toxins in our everyday lives, explain what health risks the potential toxins have been linked to and suggest healthier, safer alternatives. Today we are going to talk about food preservatives.
Common Food Preservatives
- Calcium propionate-this compound prevents mold growth on baked goods. It is a safe compound with the added benefit of including calcium, a healthy mineral.
- Sodium nitrate and sodium nitrite-used for coloring and flavoring in various deli products as it helps to stabilize the red color in meat.
- Sulfites-these prevent discoloration in dried fruit and some dried, fried, or frozen potatoes. They also stop bacterial growth in wine.
- Disodium EDTA-a safe compound that traps metal impurities. Often found in salad dressing, margarine, mayonnaise, processed fruits and vegetables, canned shellfish and soft drinks.
- Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytolune (BHT)-antioxidants in cereal, gum, chips and vegetable oil. They are used in these food to prevent the oil and fat from turning rancid.
- Carmel-coloring used in colas, baked goods, pre-cooked meats, soy and Worcestershire sauces, chocolate-flavored products, beer, baked goods, meats and gravies
This is a great page on food additives and explains which additives to avoid at all costs.
Food dyes are additives to avoid and will be featured in a future post.
Potential side effects of these preservatives
Nitrates and nitrite-Significant data links nitrates and nitrites to cancer. Interestingly, the USDA tried to ban sodium nitrite in the 1970’s, but they were stopped by the meat processing industry(source). A few studies are highlighted below:
- Children who eat at least 12 hot dogs/month have nine times the normal risk of developing childhood leukemia. This is mainly due to nitrates formed during cooking or formed in the stomach (source)
- Brain and pancreatic cancers have been linked to nitrate consumption (source)
- Nitrate may play a role in the developing thyroid cancer (source)
- High nitrate and nitrite intake along with low Vitamin C intake increases the risk of stomach cancer (source)
- Decreasing the intake of nitrate as compared to intake of folate may reduce breast cancer risk (source)
- Red and processed meat have been linked to colorectal cancer(source)
Sulfites-They destroy vitamin B-1, a necessary vitamin in our diet. They have shown to cause severe allergic reactions(source), especially in asthmatics. Because of deaths due to sulfite allergic reactions, the FDA banned the most dangerous uses of sulfites and required that wine labels list sulfites if they are included. This partial elimination and additional labeling has eliminated death dues to sulfite allergies (source)
Carmel-Carmel in itself is not dangerous. However, when the carmel color is formed, it can react with carbohydrates or ammonia and form dangerous by-products. These by-products (2- and 4-methylimidazole) have been linked to:
- Alveloar and lung neoplasms in mice(source)
- Thyroid lesions in rats and mice (source)
- May cause leukemia in mice (source)
It has yet to be determined if the amount of carmel actually ingested by humans could cause these diseases (source)
What you can do
The best thing you can do is to become aware of what you are eating. Simply read the labels of the foods you are about to buy. If you find that a food is loaded with artificial additives and preservatives, try to find an alternative. Often, an alternative is just as affordable as. Knowledge is the best tool you have to limiting your exposure to food additives and preservatives.
Do you read food labels to check for dangerous additives? If you buy prepackaged or frozen foods, which brands do you choose?