Processed Foods And Your Health
07/04/2008 | As food prices rise, many of us are looking for the best deal, possibly at the exclusion of other factors that we once took into consideration. There are significant dangers associated with this approach, however, as fast food and processed food may be priced cheaper for a variety of reasons, including special promotions.
The long-term affects of such budgeting may be reversed by the later costs associated with required health care from diseases caused by a poor diet.
When grocery shopping, consumers must consider the “dirty dozen”, a compilation of food additives and other ingredients that have been linked in various studies to cancer and other diseases based on animal and human studies. For this reason, the dirty dozen should be as important a focus, if not a higher focus, in your grocery shopping than a simple cost comparison.
Here in no specific order of importance are key ingredients to be on the lookout for when reading food labels at the grocery store:
• Sodium nitrate or sodium nitrite: A preservative, colouring and flavouring used in meat products such as bacon, ham, hot dogs, luncheon meats, smoke fish and corned beef. Sodium nitrate prevents the growth of bacteria, but under certain high-temperature cooking conditions such as grilling, it transforms into a reactive compound that has shown to promote cancer.
• BHA and BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydrozyttoluene are preservatives that keep fats and oils from going rancid. They are found in cereals, gum, chips, and vegetable oils. Oxidants such as BHA and BHT alter the chemical structure of foods and form compounds that react in the body.
• Propyl gallate: A preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling found in meat products, chicken soup base and gum.
• Monosodium glutamate (MSG): An amino acid used as a flavour enhancer in soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees and restaurant food.
• Hydrogenated vegetable oil: A transfat that has been banned in many cities in the U.S. because excessive amounts lead to heart disease and set the conditions for stroke, heart attacks, kidney failure and limb loss due to vascular disease. Unless your restaurant, particularly a fast food franchise, specifies that it does not use transfat, be concerned.
• Aspartame: Also known as Nutrasweet and Equal, aspartame is found in many “diet foods”, including soft drinks, gelatins, low-calories desserts and drink mixes. Aspartame is a combination of two amino acids and methanol that may cause cancer or neurological problems.
• Acesulfame-K: An artificial sweetener, it is found in baked goods, gum, and gelatin desserts. Acesulfame-K is 200 times sweeter than sugar. Because it is a new additive, there have been few studies on it, though some studies have already found it may cause cancer in rats.
• Food colourings: Blue 1 and 2, Red 3, Green 3, and Yellow 6 should all be avoided because they have been linked with cancer in animal testing. Blue 1 and 2 are found in beverages, candy, baked goods and pet food. Red 3 is used to dye cherries, fruit cocktail, candy and baked goods. Green 3 is found in candy and beverages. Yellow 6 is found in beverages, sausage, gelatin, baked goods, and candy.
• Olestra: A synthetic fat also known as Olean, it is found in some potato chips. It prevents fat from getting absorbed in the digestive system, but often leads to severe diarrhea, abdominal cramps and gas. It also inhibits healthy vitamin absorption.
• Potassium Bromate: An additive used to increase volume in white flour, breads and rolls, it is known to cause cancer in animals.
• White sugar: Added sugars in baked goods, cereals, crackers, sauces and other processed foods in large amounts are unsafe for our health (leading to problems with weight control, tooth decay and blood sugar levels) and promote bad nutrition.
• Sodium chloride: Otherwise known as salt, sodium chloride in small amounts is needed by the body and beneficial in preserving food, but too much of it and your cardiovascular functions are affected, leading to high blood pressure, heart attack and kidney failure.
For a complete list of additives, including handy information on which appear to be safe, which ones to be cautious of, and which to fully avoid, visit the Centre for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) at www.cspinet.org.