The practice of adding chemicals to food, drugs, clothing, and crops has been happening for quite some time. In the 1800’s, arsenic was used to create a deep emerald green that colored both food and clothing, resulting in many deaths. Later, cocaine was added to wine and soda pop. Because of the willingness to add extremely harmful chemicals to food just so it looks or tastes better, lasts longer or makes one feel good, the U.S. government formed the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 1906.
The FDA now works under the stated mission to protect public health by assuring the safety, efficacy and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation. While this is a very noble mission, there are still chemicals, marketing ploys, and other food-related issues that plague the U.S. today.
Currently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list obesity as an epidemic in the United States. Other diseases like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke can stem from obesity. This information is well known and very well publicized.
With so much media coverage on the obesity problem in America, why are one-third of U.S. adults obese? There isn’t just one answer to this question, but the harmful chemicals added to processed and preserved foods is part of the problem.
Cancer is right up there with heart disease as one of the primary killers of mankind. It accounts for one out of every four deaths in the U.S. One of the ways cancer can develop in the human body is exposure to carcinogens in the environment, which includes consuming cancer-causing additives in one’s food.
What Does “Processed Food” Really Mean?
The majority of foods we see today are processed – meaning they come in a can, box, or bag. They are packaged in some way and are no longer in the state nature provided them in. Anything from fruit juice to ready-made-salads to ramen are processed foods. Even some fruits and vegetables are processed in that they have food coloring added to their skins to make them look more attractive to buyers. Processed foods take up most of the space at your local grocery store.
While it would be ideal for each individual to pick food fresh from the farm or garden for every meal, it’s extremely unlikely this will happen. However, one can still choose foods that do not contain harmful ingredients.
For example, foods high in sugar, sodium (salt), artificial flavors, food colorings, preservatives, and chemicals are considered unhealthy, as are fried foods and “fast food”. Foods with few ingredients, which are marked organic or natural, and which come out of the ground or off a tree, are often your healthier foods.
Some Harmful Chemicals Commonly Added to Foods
There are many extremely unhealthy ingredients commonly added to foods to make them taste “better”, look more enticing or last longer. Here is a list of some of them:
1. Hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils
These are fats that have been chemically modified to keep food flavors stable while they are stored and to help preserve foods. The problem with this fat modification process is that it changes normal fats (which the human body needs) to trans-fat (which raise cholesterol). Hydrogenated oils are used in fried foods, baked goods, coffee creamer, margarine, and many packaged foods.
2. Sodium nitrate
This food preservative is often included in lunch meats to keep bacteria from growing while the meat is waiting on store shelves. Studies have linked eating processed meats with increased risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. Once consumed, nitrates form nitrosamines, which have been associated with some cancers. It’s important to understand that nitrates naturally occur in many vegetables and fruits. This doesn’t mean fresh fruits or veggies are bad; the problem is in eating high quantities of nitrates in foods that don’t naturally produce them.
3. BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene)
This is a very common food and cosmetic preservative that has been proven toxic to the immune system and caused cancer and tumor development in animal studies. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for this chemical notes that long term exposure can cause organ damage and says BHT may be toxic to blood, liver, and the central nervous system.
4. Food coloring
We have probably all used food coloring at some point in our lives. Maybe we used it while making cupcakes, frosting, cookies, or other foods for a child’s birthday party. One of the dyes listed above (Citrus Red #2) is even added to some orange skins to give the fruit a more enticing look. Much of the food coloring we eat today , such as yellow #5, citrus red #2, red #3, red #40, blue #1, blue #2, yellow #6, and green #3, have toxic effects. These dyes can contribute to any number of conditions, from cancer to tumors to behavioral problems.
5. Enriched flour
This is a commonly used flour in many baked goods, such as pretzels, pastries, bread and bagels. The term “enriched” is misleading as it normally means to improve or enhance the quality of something. However, “enriched” flour is stripped of many natural vitamins and minerals. Often, iron is added and the flour is bleached. Enriched flour gives bread a finer texture and increases storability. The enriching process makes the flour harder for your body to digest and causes a sugar rush-type reaction, rather than a slow burn of energy one would normally get from whole grains.
6. Natural and synthetic hormones
Farm animals like cows and goats are given hormones to increase milk production. Additionally, cattle and other farm animals are often given growth hormones to speed the fattening process. Consumption of these hormones has been linked to breast cancer and other conditions in humans.
7. Sugar and high fructose corn syrup
These sweeteners are found in a large number of foods, including unexpected ones like bread, frozen pizza, pre-made mac ‘n’ cheese, and almost everything on the menu at fast food restaurants. For the average American adult, at least 13% of their caloric intake comes from added sugar, often in the form of high fructose corn syrup, significantly contributing to the obesity epidemic, liver disease, diabetes, and heart problems.
There are many unhealthy chemicals and toxins added to the foods we eat every day. Be sure to read and understand the ingredients before purchasing processed foods. Preparing more meals with fresh ingredients will also help you avoid consuming these chemicals and additives.