Food additives are all those things we eat that, well, aren’t exactly food. In our home kitchens we use additives like sugar, salt, spices, oils, vinegars and other condiments to enhance flavor. Home chefs have done this for many years and we’re pretty well informed about the impacts of these common additives on our health.
Concern about food additives most often relates to the artificial ingredients food manufacturers add to the convenience meals and ready to eat processed foods that have taken over our diets. We Americans spend about 90 percent of our food budget on processed foods, and almost all contain additives. These additives change food in some way. Stabilizers and texturizers maintain product consistency, preservatives extend its shelf life, flavorings improve its taste and colorings change its looks. Many of them have become quite famous over the years for the adverse health effects linked to them – including artificial sweeteners (brain disorders), high fructose corn syrup (obesity and diabetes), MSG (headaches and brain function), food dyes (behavioral problems in children), sulfites (allergic reactions), nitrates and nitrites (cancer), BHA and BHT (cell damage) and more.
The FDA has approved more than 3,000 food additives for use in the U.S., and many more will be added in the months and years ahead. Some will have undergone extensive testing before certification, others not so much. Approval for human consumption, however, doesn’t mean that they’re entirely safe. And, once approved, it’s difficult to remove a suspect ingredient from our food supply, as manufacturers resist making changes to food formulas. Some items now must be listed separately on packaging because of proven adverse health effects (e.g. sulfites, MSG and nitrites), but others are often listed without specificity as simply spices or flavorings, making it impossible for us to determine exactly what we’re eating.
Ask politicians who want your vote if they know what they’re eating. Do they have concerns? And, what do they see as an appropriate role for government in this area?
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