With the health craze in full swing, it is hard to miss the hundreds of articles published that discuss nutrition in terms of what you should and should not eat. Why is that even important? What you eat can affect the levels of your neurotransmitters, the structure of your cells, and can affect your mental processes – what you think and how you feel. It is therefore imperative that you choose foods that enhance those processes rather than suppress them. And while this is true for every single person, one of the most vulnerable populations is our kids.
The growing body – with its dividing cells- is at greater risk when exposed to negative and toxic influences. Especially in the very early months of life, the blood brain barrier has not yet have fully developed, as it forms on average between the ages of 6 months and 2 years. This barrier protects the brain from substances in the blood that could harm the brain tissue and also maintains a constant healthy environment for the brain. If this has not yet formed, it will put infants at an even greater risk for toxicity. With a constant increasing rate of childhood obesity, ADHD, and asthma, there is much speculation that consumption of certain additives during those crucial developmental years may play a significant role. Therefore, less is always more when dealing with food additives.
There are over 200 known additives in the American food supply, but these are the top five that should be avoided when at all possible:
- Artificial Sweeteners – Some artificial sweeteners such as Sweet ‘N Low, Equal and Splenda are extremely easy to identify because they typically come in small colored packets and are labeled as such. However artificial sweeteners may also be added to a wide variety of foods including but not limited to yogurt, chewable vitamins, baked goods, soda, chewing gum, candy, and “sugar-free” and “diet” products.
Equal (aspartame) is known to convert into formaldehyde once in the body, and is a neurotoxin (a poison that acts on the nervous system), and carcinogenic (cancer causing). Splenda suppresses beneficial bacteria in the body. There are good bacteria in the body- specifically in your digestive tract- that help you digest foods properly, so by consuming foods/drinks with Splenda, you are inhibiting those good bacteria assisting with proper digestion. Consumption of artificial sweeteners can lead to migraines, depression, memory loss, increased fat storage, seizures and brain tumors.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS) – HFCS can be found in foods such as candy, flavored yogurts, salad dressing, sauces (ketchup, BBQ sauce, etc.), cereal, breakfast bars, soda, and infant formula.
We’ve all seen the commercials on TV stating how HFCS is safe and is just like consuming regular sugar. But how do we know? High fructose corn syrup was discovered in 1966 and started being used in 1975. Because it is relatively new, we do not know the long-term effects of consuming it. But because it is a very inexpensive alternative to sugar, major companies have made the switch from sugar to HFCS. High fructose corn syrup is linked to an increase in LDL levels. Also, HFCS, along with regular refined sugar, contributes to the development of obesity and diabetes when consumed regularly in large amounts.
Because of the mixed publicity on HFCS, many companies are choosing not to include “high fructose corn syrup” on their labels. Manufacturers have found a way to avoid using those four “buzz words” by replacing them with an “AKA”. These AKA’s include glucose syrup, glucose/fructose syrup, maize syrup, tapioca syrup, dahlia syrup, fruit fructose, and crystalline fructose. The list will only continue to grow so it is important to stay up-to-date on the AKA’s if you wish to avoid HFCS.
- Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – MSG is used as a flavor enhance and is commonly found in potato chips, cookies, soup products, frozen dinners, lunch meats, Chinese food, soy sauce, and infant formula.
MSG affects many neurological pathways of the brain, including the area of the brain that tells you when you’re full. This of course can lead to weight gain through overconsumption. MSG also acts as an excito-toxin which can overstimulate nerve cells to the point of cell death. Consumption of MSG may lead to things such as depression, anxiety, panic attacks, disorientation, eye damage, fatigue, headaches, and obesity.
- Food Dyes – The most common food dyes used in the United States include Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 2, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6. Food dyes are found in a large amount of foods, especially foods that are marketed towards consumption by children. These foods can include cereal, frosting, vitamins, Lunchables, Children’s Motrin, Crystal Light, chips, oatmeal, yogurt, and macaroni and cheese.
You can see that Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are bolded. This is because they have been acknowledged to contain carcinogens, but are still found in many foods in the United States. Food dyes in general have been linked to many different kinds of cancer which is one of the several reasons Europe has removed all dyes from their food supply in 2010. Also, what’s particularly interesting about yellow 5 and 6 is that they are linked to hyperactivity including ADD and ADHD. When we look at the foods that contain high levels of dyes, we associate them with foods that kids are consuming. Is the ever-increasing rate of ADD and ADHD a coincidence? Maybe not.
- Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite – Sodium nitrate/nitrite is used as a preservative and can be found in bacon, hot dogs, jerky, lunch meats, and other processed meats.
Because nitrates affect the way your body uses and processes sugar, there is an increased likelihood of developing diabetes. It is believed that nitrates could also damage blood vessels by causing them to harden and narrow, which as we all know is a great recipe for heart disease. Nitrates are high in saturated fat and sodium which again can lead to heart disease when consumed in large quantities.
As you can see, there are many health concerns associated with food additives. By discussing just five of the hundreds of food additives, we have covered many foods found in the typical American diet. Is it possible to avoid them all? It’s not likely. But as a general rule of thumb when grocery shopping, it is important to use the “perimeter rule”, meaning you should purchase as many items as you can from the perimeter of the grocery store. Of course, you must still check labels and purchase items with caution as not everything in the perimeter avoids these additives. The more foods you can buy without labels the better, because if there doesn’t need to be a list of ingredients, you have avoided the very nature of an additive. Happy shopping!