What’s In Your Food?

What’s In Your Food?

July 22, 2012

“What’s In Your Food?”

By: Sandra

Dear Readers:

Some of you might remember the days when grandma made wheat bread with “real” wheat and no additives and preservatives. Today, wheat is made with additives such as gluten, wheat starch, and other starches that we really don’t need but are used to enhance and preserve flavor. You might also remember our parents and grandparents growing fresh vegetables in the garden. There was always a vegetable to eat with lunch and dinner. Today, frozen vegetables are very popular and it is very rare that we eat them with both lunch and dinner. Times have sure changed. And the food industry has changed too. There’s a whole new way of growing food, processing food, storing food, and preserving food. What’s in YOUR food?

Rather than analyze every food product on the market today, I’d rather focus on the additives, preservatives, and chemicals that are used in food to make them last longer. A “food additive” is man-made and is intended to improve the flavor of food, or the appearance of food, for its shelf-life. A “food preservative” is a way of treating and handling food in order to stop or slow down the spoilage of food. The preservatives also stop or slow down the loss of nutritional value. For example, some food companies will put preservatives in dried fruit, like raisins, so that they will last longer and to slow down the loss of iron or potassium content. Do these additives and preservatives harm our bodies?

The good news is that preservation usually involves preventing the growth of fungi, bacteria, micro-organisms, and yeasts in our food. The bad news is that some preservation methods include chemicals that could be hazardous to our health.

Ethanol is used in certain drinks, liquors, and beers. You can also find ethanol in some fruits and sugars that go through a fermentation process. High amounts of ethanol can be toxic. Ethanol is an alcohol grain used to make alcohol. It is also used in fuel… like in gasoline, gas lamps, and fireplaces. The FDA claims that ethanol is safe, but studies that dispute this are ongoing.

Fruit and vegetables contain pesticides and preservatives. The FDA does not require fruit and vegetable product labels to indicate the type of pesticides and chemical preservatives used on the produce. This is one reason why some people purchase organic produce so they don’t have to worry about what’s in their food.
Bacon, ham, corned beef and other “cured” meats are treated with nitrite and nitrate during the curing process. Excess amounts of nitrite and nitrate may cause headaches and dizziness.
Benzoic acid/sodium benzoate is added to meat products, milk, drinks, low-sugar products, and cereals. It is said that these chemicals might inhibit the proper functioning of digestive enzymes and could cause headaches, upset stomach, and asthma attacks. Studies on these claims are ongoing.

Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene are a form of antioxidants added to oil and oil-containing foods in order to delay rancidity. These chemicals are also found in sausages, deli meats, cereals, and crackers. The World Health Organization considers these chemicals to be a possible carcinogen. They are said to cause stomach problems.

Canthazanthin is added to egg yolks to enhance the yellow color of the yolk. Studies are ongoing as to whether this chemical causes retinal damage. Some studies show retinal damage in some rats, but not in others.

The following is a list of popular additives and preservatives that are used in foods:

1. Acids: Acids enhance food flavor and preserves food. The most common food acids are lactic acid, citric acid, malic acid, fumaric acid, tartaric acid, and vinegar.

2. Acidity regulators : Acidity regulars are used to change or control the acid and/or alkaline levels in food.

3. Anti-caking agents: These agents keep powders from sticking or caking. Some examples of food containing these agents are milk powders, icing, sugar, cake mixes, instant soup powders, grated cheese, baking powder, and table salt.

4. Anti-foaming agents: These agents reduce or prevent foods from foaming. Oil contains anti-foaming agents, plus there are a lot of anti-foaming agents in fast food…especially chicken nuggets! McDonald’s chicken nuggets contain the highest content. These agents are highly used in industrial products and cosmetics as well.

5. Bulking agents: Bulking agents are starches that increase the bulk of food without affecting its nutritional value. Some examples of food containing these agents are diet meal replacements, low-calorie foods, cereal, pastries, bread, and most processed foods. Bulking agents also claim to make people feel full for a longer period of time.

6. Food Coloring: Food coloring is added to food to replace colors lost during preparation or to enhance the appearance of food. In addition to food coloring, color retention agents are added to some foods to preserve its existing color. Some examples of food containing coloring are candy, juice and other beverages, icings, gelatin, baked goods, and believe it or not….cherries that are in fruit cocktail! Colors Blue 1, Blue 2, Red 3, and Yellow 6 have been tested in mice. The studies showed that some mice suffered adrenal gland and kidney tumors, and some did not. Other mice showed small amounts of many carcinogens (that cause cancer).

7. Emulsifiers: Emulsifiers allow water and oils to remain mixed together. Some examples of food containing emulsifiers are ice-cream, homogenized milk, mayonnaise, biscuits, chewing gum, margarine, cereal, frozen desserts, cake, peanut butter, soft drinks, chocolate coatings/toppings, caramel, toffees, mousses, and low-fat spreads.

8. Flavors and Flavor Enhancers: Adding “flavors” to food gives it taste or smell. “Flavor enhancers” are used to enhance the existing flavor. Flavor enhancers can be extracted from natural sources or made artificially. One highly used flavor enhancer is high fructose corn syrup (made from cornstarch). High fructose corn syrup is used in jellies, syrups, soft drinks, condiments (especially ketchup), fruits, desserts, and baked goods. It adds calories to food and increases blood sugar.

9. Flour treatment agents: This agent is added to flour to improve its color.

10. Glazing agents: These agents give a shiny appearance or protective coating to foods. Most foods that contain glazing agents are baked goods. Glazing agents such as beeswax, carnuba wax, shellac, and petroleum jelly have a waxy appearance. Studies have not proved that these glazing agents are harmful.

11. Humectants: Humectants prevent food from drying out. Salt and sugar are the most widely used humectants.

12. Tracer gas: Tracer gas prevents food from being exposed to the atmosphere while it is being packaged. It also guarantees shelf-life. It is said that tracer gas is non-toxic.

13. Stabilizers: Stabilizers thicken food and gives it a firmer texture. Stabilizers such as agar and pectin are used in jams, gelatin, pudding, dairy products, and canned meat.

Luckily, there are natural food preservations out there. Some of these natural preservatives are rosemary extract, vinegar, caster oil, salt, and sugar. Vitamin C and Vitamin E are also sometimes used as natural preservatives.

Reading labels is very important. I understand that it is very hard to totally avoid foods with additives and preservatives, but we can limit them by cooking at home more often like our parents and grandparents used to do. There are far more chronic diseases and disorders today, most of them from chemicals, processed foods, and pollution.

I wish you all well, with healthy eating!

Sandra Berntson


(no author). Food Ingredients and Packaging. Retrieved April 20120 from www.fda.gov/food/foodingredientspackaging/ucm094211.htm April 2010

Minich, Dianna, CN (2009). An A-Z Guide to Food Preservatives: Never Eat What You Can Pronounce. Red Wheel/Weiser LLC: San Francisco, CA

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