The Environmental Working Group (EWG) is known for its popular “Dirty Dozen List” that consists of the most heavily pesticide sprayed fruits and vegetables. Now they’ve released the first ever “Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives.”
We need to know what’s in the food we’re feeding our family, and the U.S. food system and its regulations have failed us. There are over 10,000 food additives allowed in the U.S. which have been shown to cause cancer, developmental issues in children, DNA damage and many more serious health concerns. Many of these additives are banned in Canada and European countries.
We’ve all seen the words “natural flavors” listed as food ingredients. This term is so misleading to consumers and EWG states “Consumers may be surprised to learn that so-called “natural flavors” can actually contain synthetic chemicals such as the solvent propylene glycol or the preservative BHA. Flavor extracts and ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops may also be labeled “natural,” because the FDA has not fully defined what that term means. (Certified organic “natural flavors” must meet more stringent guidelines and cannot include synthetic or genetically engineered ingredients.)” Natural flavors should really be called “secret flavors” because again, regulations don’t require manufacturers to list what these ingredients actually are.
Studies have shown that the nitrites and nitrates in deli meats, hot dogs and bacon can cause cancer, brain tumors and leukemia in children. Potassium bromate, used to strengthen the dough to make bread and pastries, is toxic to the kidneys and can cause DNA damage, but is still allowed. Bread should mainly consist of very few ingredients, but unnecessary stabilizers and preservatives are added for “shelf life.”
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) work together as a food preservative. (If you can pronounce either of those two food additives, give yourself a gold star.) They are commonly found in cereal, potato chips, beer, baked goods, chewing gum, and other foods. While BHT and BHA are known endocrine disruptors, studies have shown they can cause lung, thyroid and stomach tumors in rats and mice. Good idea to avoid this one too.
So what can we do to ensure we know what’s healthy and what isn’t? Avoid as much processed packaged food and meat as possible. Eat fresh whole foods like fruit, vegetables and nuts. Avoid meat with “added solutions.” Choosing organic means you won’t be eating anything with artificial or added preservatives.
Check out the Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives for a comprehensive list of additives to avoid.