Most consumers would assume that any ingredients added to food are safe and necessary. We trust they have been thoroughly tested to ensure what we put into our bodies is safe, effective and necessary. But what if these chemicals are only there to serve the interests, and profit, of the food producers?
While we expect businesses to make money, significant scientific evidence has been collected highlighting this economic greed as dangerously impacting our health in devastating ways.
Worse still the food regulatory agencies, which we trusted with our protection, seem to be ignoring the mounting data. We examine potentially harmful chemicals routinely added to food to enhance the taste and color and increase shelf life to reduce the cost of food production and increase the profits of the manufacturers.
We all enjoy eating food which tastes good, the Romans even used fermented fish sauce to improve the flavor of their dishes and we use herbs and spices to add interest and variation. The use of both natural and artificial additives makes food more appealing to all our senses, enhancing the look, taste and smell of the food we consume.
However, the list of artificial chemicals declared on food labeling can be almost unfathomable and quite unpronounceable. Most worryingly an alarming number of scientific studies are linking the use of these additives to various pathological diseases such as cancers, Alzheimer’s disease and the diabesity and obesity epidemics.
How do we taste and add flavor?
Our tongue only detects 7 basic tastes (sweet, sour, salty, bitter, savory, piquant and metallic) while the rest of our flavor experience is derived from smell. Artificial flavorings and flavor enhancers mimic naturally occurring tastes and smells, blended together to create distinct flavors for specific brands. These chemical blends are highly valued secrets within the food industry.
The flavor you sense in sweets and sodas is stimulated by chemicals such as iIsoamyl acetate (banana), methyl anthranilate (grape)and ethyl decadienoate (pear). These chemicals are alien to our body and cannot always be broken down or excreted, leading to toxic build up in our tissues.
The European Food Safety Authority’s (EFSA’s) panel on flavorings has expressed “safety concerns” for flavorings used as an alternative to smoking added to cheese, fish, soups and spices, to give a smoky flavor. Even the process of adding artificial flavors can be dangerous: workers in microwave popcorn factories suffer from high incidence of severe lung disease from inhaling the flavorings which irritate the lungs.
Salt, sugar and fats are also added to increase the flavor of food; we have animalistic tendencies to seek out these substances to help us survive during times of starvation. These drives, useful in the past but less helpful for us now, can be hijacked by food producers who know our brain responds positively to high salt/fat/sugar combinations, regardless of the damage to our bodies. Salt has been linked to blood pressure and cardiac problems, high fat diets negatively affect our circulation and sugar plays a significant role in the development of diabetes and obesity.
Another method for adulterating taste is the use of flavor enhancers. These are tasteless chemicals added to increase the perceived taste of food; they rely on stimulating parts of the brain which respond to taste and flavor.
The most common flavor enhancer is Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) derived from glutamic acid, naturally used by the body to make proteins and transmit messages in the brain. Glutamic acid occurs naturally in some foods, specifically fermented foods like soy sauce and is linked to the umami or savory taste detected by our tongues. Other flavor enhancers utilize the same process, proteins are hydrolyzed (broken down into their smaller ‘building blocks’ amino acids) and form ‘free glutamate’, which acts just like MSG.
Since its discovery in 1910 MSG has been synthesized by various chemical and industrial fermentation methods and is added to our food to enhance the flavor, and trick our senses into perceiving more protein than is present, making food cheaper to produce.MSG is often labelled with deceptively innocent names such as yeast extract, soy protein, whey protein isolate, textured protein, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and many more names including E621.
MSG also dramatically enhances the taste of food by exciting the brain and producing a drug like reaction involving dopamine. The excitation of the brain makes foods seem irresistible, causing overeating and binging. PringlesTM coined the slogan “once you pop, you can’t stop” and they meant it literally. Excess MSG in the blood is converted to a neurotransmitter called GABA which also has a Valium like sedative effect.
Shortly after MSG was introduced to our food supply nearly 50 years ago it was classified by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as “generally recognized as safe” (GRAS)and despite new data this classification remains.
Due to its popularity in Asian cooking MSG’s dangerous side effects first reached public awareness in a condition commonly referred to as “Chinese Restaurant Syndrome”, more formally referred to as “MSG symptom complex”.
The complex results in symptoms after consuming MSG, including: headache; numbness; heart palpitations; chest pain and weakness. While government sources estimate 1% of the population may be effected by this ‘overreaction’ the actual incidence is thought to be as high as 30%, demonstrated by a studies linking MSG to severe migraines.
Almost all fast-food contains MSG resulting in people wanting it again and again, preferring it over home cooking which tastes ‘boring’ in comparison. The addictive quality of MSG, and the high-calorie nature of the foods it is added to, makes it a likely suspect for the obesity and diabetes epidemics- referred to as ‘diabesity’ due to the high correlation between the disease states.
Laboratory researchers use MSG as method to fatten lab rats for other studies and a study in The Journal of Autoimmunity found that injecting MSG into mice causes liver inflammation, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
Another link to obesity is from the damage MSG does to a region of the brain which controls appetite. When the body has consumed enough food a hormone called Leptin is released, creating a feeling of fullness or satisfaction, known as satiety. Damage to the part of the brain which secretes Leptin, and regulates appetite, exacerbates the weight-gain associated with MSG. When MSG is fed to children, in infant food and formula, the damage it causes can be permanent, creating a generation of adults who have the lost the ability to know when to stop eating.
The Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine declared that MSG “promotes cancer cell growth and is neurotoxic” and research links it to heart problems, ADHD, autismand damage to the retina. In 1957 a team of researchers found MSGactually destroyed cells in the retina (back of the eye).
The effect was so remarkable it was adopted as a method for purposefully destroying cells to study brain pathways. Scientists found that some parts of the brain were also damaged as MSG over stimulates nerve cells and they “excite themselves to death”, this process has resulted in MSG being labelled an excitotoxin.In the pancreas MSG’s excitotoxicity makes it release too much insulin causing the resistance to weight-loss seen in obesity. The excitotoxic effect on the brain has been linked to learning difficulties, behavioral and attention problems and Alzheimer’s (dramatic evidence is presented in Dr. Russell Blaylock’s book “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills”).
MSG could be the worst additive in the food industry and it is found in all fast-food and almost all processed food to enhance the flavor by making cheap ingredients taste better and get you hooked on the taste. Some manufacturers even use it to hide meat products which are going off, linking MSG to food poisoning as it disrupts our ability to taste rotten meat.
While the FDA still claims that MSG is ‘safe’ it has at least accepted that injections of glutamate have caused brain damage in animals during scientific studies. It also acknowledges there is a correlation between certain neurological diseases and the function of glutamate receptors and specifically recognizing that since the body uses glutamate as one of its major signaling molecules, in the brain and other parts of the body, further testing into this apparent correlation may be justified.
The FDA would seem at least to be hinting at the gravity of the situation, but not directly making a link between the additive and the disease states which seem to be related, and increasing in ‘popularity’.
As a natural alternative to chemical additives the flavor of food can be enhanced with herbs and spices or cooking methods such as strewing, braising and fermenting. Our love of the savory umami taste could be simply satisfied with foods, such as: aged cheeses; seaweeds; asparagus; anchovies; and walnuts.
Since MSG is proving to be a highly toxic and dangerous substance it should be avoided completely. However, this isn’t always possible, mainly due to the deceptive labeling. To protect against the harmful effects people can take magnesium to stop overloading receptors and vitamin B to reduce MSG sensitivity. The Journal of Phytomedicinealso reported that the naturally occurring phytoestrogenic isoflavones found in red clover can protect the brain from MSG toxicity.
Sweetening with aspartame
Another chemical additive which causes excitotoxicity is aspartame, linked to depressive, emotional and psychotic disorders because it disrupts serotonin production. This sweetener was designed as an alternative to sugar, giving us the sweet taste without the calories but evidence suggests our metabolism is confused by this signal and eating artificial sweeteners could in fact cause weight gain.
Due to the dangers of excitotoxicity, and fact that sweeteners do not actually prevent the weight-gain they were designed to prevent, natural sugars such as honey, raw maple syrup and stevia are much safer.
In addition to additives to enhance food flavors, chemicals are added to preserve food, to increase the shelf life and reduce profit loss from spoilage while supposedly protecting us from dangerous pathogens. Parabens are a class of chemicals used as preservatives in food, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals. They slow the growth of molds, yeasts, bacteria and other microorganisms.
They are synthesized from hydroxybenzoic acid and alcohol creating four main types, depending on the type of alcohol used. They are a low-cost preservative, widely used for the last 50 years, added to fruit juices, jellies, jams, mayonnaise, frozen products, sauces and specifically syrups and baked goods (natural parabens also can be found in blueberries).
Due to their low-toxicity and relative stability they are also categorized as “generally recognized as safe” for use in both cosmetics and foods. However new data suggests that accumulation of these chemicals is linked to breast cancers.
Studies published in The Journal of Applied Toxicology found 99% of breast tumors analyzed contain parabens while a second study found 60% of breast tumors were in the top firth of the breast, nearest the underarm. These findings combined with the high correlation between deodorant use and breast cancer development,directly links these supposedly non-toxic chemicals to cancer formation.
The ability of parabens to disrupt estrogen production also widens its role in breast cancer development and links them to earlier onset of puberty in girls, compared to previous generations.
A study published in the Journal of Environmental Science and Technology tested the levels of parabens in food from stores and markets in Albany, New York. They found an astounding 90% of the food samples contained “measurable” quantities of parabens.
They found the highest levels in pancake syrup, turkey breasts, yogurt, apple pie and red wine. Using the data they estimated average daily intakes and found that infants would have a higher intake than adults at almost twice the levels regarded as safe. The findings of the study were a surprise to many experts “This is the first study to report the occurrence of parabens in U.S. foods, and preserved foods are an important source of paraben exposure”
Sodium Nitrite (E250) is another chemical added to preserve food, specifically meat. The American Meat Institute claims that it “serves a vital public health function: it blocks the growth of botulism-causing bacteria” and “gives cured meats their characteristic color and flavor”.
Data suggests, however, that in some individuals nitrates can become nitrosamines which are known to cause cancerous cell growth. Studies undertaken by the University of Hawaii (on 200,000 people over seven years) found a 67% increased risk of pancreatic cancer in individuals who consumed processed meats known to contain Sodium Nitrite.
The use of dyes, to alter the color of food is yet another way the food industry tries to trick the senses into finding processed foods more appealing. The infamous tartrazine (E101) was banned in Europe for causing hyperactivity, migraines and cancer (it is still allowed in some countries including the US).
From the original list of 80 colorants used by the food industry only a few remain,as they are slowly eliminated based on safety concerns, and there is evidence to suggest those remaining are linked to a variety of conditions including ADHD. The dyes are found in brightly colored foods such as drinks and sweets but also in toothpaste and cough syrups. While the EU requires them to be specifically labelled the US FDA is not so strict, or apparently concerned by their effects.
Partially hydrogenated vegetables oils, also called trans-fats, are frequently added to pastries and baked goods as a cheap alternative to butter. After significant health concerns they have been reclassified by the FDA as NOT “generally recognized as safe”.
These fats have been linked to heart-disease, depression, Alzheimer’s, obesity, cancer and elevated cholesterol. This change in status is only preliminary and will lead to an industry wide ban, in the US at least. In the meantime you will continue to find these deadly fats in your food.
The real cost of your food
Making food cheaper while maintaining aesthetics is a million dollar industry which even uses sophisticated ‘tasting robots’ (able to sample 40,000 flavors a day mimicking the human senses) and kidney cells from aborted fetuses to help synthesize new flavors.
Sadly food standards agencies are proving to be slow to respond, or even acknowledge, the hazards food additives pose to our health and mental well being. It is therefore vital consumers learn more about what they are putting into their bodies to make an informed choice. Since chemical additives are only found in processed and packaged foods, a simple approach to avoid these toxins is to eat only natural unprocessed foods, full of their own unique flavors and inherent goodness.
Now that you have learned about the 7 dangerous ingredients you should look out for, you will be amazed to discover these 4 foods to never eat for breakfast.
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Occurrence of and dietary exposure to parabens in foodstuffs from the United States, Journal of Environmental Science and Technology [2013 Apr 16 ;47(8):3918-25]
Measurement of paraben concentrations in human breast tissue at serial locations across the breast from axilla to sternum, Journal of Applied Toxicology [2012 Mar;32(3):219-32]
Some Alkyl Hydroxy Benzoate Preservatives (Parabens) Are Estrogenic, Journal of Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology [1998 Nov; 153(1):12-19]
Effects of monosodium glutamate-induced obesity in spontaneously hypertensive rats vs. Wistar Kyoto rats: serum leptin and blood flow to brown adipose tissue. Hypertension Research [2000 Sep;23(5):503-10]
Monosodium glutamate (MSG): a villain and promoter of liver inflammation and dysplasia, Journal of Autoimmunity [2008 Feb-Mar;30(1-2):42-50]
Phytoestrogenicisoflavones found in red clover could protect the brain from glutamate toxicity, Phytomedicine [2008, June 5]
About the Author:
Emma Deangela is the best selling author of The Alkaline Diet Program and 80/20 Fat Loss. She has helped over tens of thousands of men and women to lose weight and transform their health with sound nutrition advice.
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