Once upon a time we ate our food straight from the ground or the farm, drank water or milk and enjoyed a relatively chemical-free existence. Nowadays many foods and ingredients are chemically altered in order to make them last longer or taste better. Some of these additives as they are known are harmful and at the very least should be consumed sparingly if at all.
Are you unsure about what you should be looking for the the food labels? Additives tend to be used in fairly small quantities so look towards the bottom of the ingredient list to spot them hiding in plain sight. This basic additives guide should be able to help steer you in the right direction so that you may make an educated decision about what you put in your mouth. Do be label savvy though as there are many more additives out there.
Additives to Avoid
Artificial sweeteners, in particular saccharin and aspartame based sweeteners have received a lot of bad press over the past few years. The reason for this is that it is thought (via testing) to have been shown to cause tumours in rats, dizzy spells, headaches and more. Continuing to cut the sugar you add to drinks (etc) is a good idea however many are now choosing to use more natural based sweeteners such as Stevia which is produced from plants
Sulphites are commonly used in a wide variety of foods to preserve them, maintain their freshness and their appetising colour. Foods containing sulphites have been linked to asthma and a range of cardiovascular health problems. They work by releasing sulphur dioxide which in turn limits or prevents entirely bacteria growth. Look out for sulphites in beers and wines, cured meats such as pepperoni and dried foods such as raisins. There are thankfully an increasing number of manufacturers who are producing sulphite-free foods and drinks.
Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils
You would think that a vegetable oil would perhaps be much better for you than the majority of oils however this type of oil provides a substantial amount of trans fats, something to be avoided at all costs. Trans fats (found in processed and pre-packed food items)are widely recognised these days for being harmful to health and certainly in the US theseare being pulled from shelves. The health impact of trans fats in your diet is an increase risk of heart disease and attacks so is definitely one to avoid.
MSG (Monosodium Glutamate)
This is one of the addictive that has found its way into the press for not being great for your health to say the least. While many food establishment won't use MSG ingredients it is worth checking if you are eating out as you may request non-MSG food. MSG is widely used to add flavour to food or enhance flavours which already exist so may be found is any number of seasoning products as well as pre-cooked/pre-packaged foods. Side effects associated with MSG include headaches, overall weakness, sickness, chest pains and in some cases brain damage has been reported. Many manufacturers have pulled MSG from their processes however not all have and so it is worth checking the ingredient lists of any foods you eat to be sure.
This type of food colouring is used in a wide range of foods from bread to drinks however this particular colouring is made with ammonia which health professionals and researchers have associated with cancer. Avoiding any and all artificial colourings in favour of natural alternatives would be a sensible choice overall.
This is an additive which few people have heard of and yet it is found in a multitude of diet / fat free products. Concerns about this additive include ongoing digestion problems and that it interrupts the absorption rate of valuable anti-oxidants such as beta-carotene.
Eating clean food and preparing food yourself from basic ingredients as opposed to pre-packed ones is a good way to avoid many of the additives that have found their way into our food chain inrecent years. If not cooking from scratch make sure you check ingredients for the colourings and additives they contain (remember as additives are often used in small quantities they will be found near the bottom of the list). By doing so you are ensuring that you are clear about what you are putting into your body.