4 Additives to Remove From Your Diet

By Lindsey Johnson
spoonful of granulated white sugar

We all know that fresh is best when it comes to food. The more natural it is, the higher the likelihood our bodies can tolerate it. However, since World War II, our culture has ingrained processed foods into our daily diet. Tinned foods became popular during the war due to food shortages. Shortly thereafter, in the 1950s, the first ready-made meals hit the market with Swanson’s frozen turkey dinners, according to BBC Science Focus. Women who served at the helm of the house began to look to pre-packaged meals to support their families, as they too started working outside the home. These foods can be easy (and tasty) and hard to completely avoid, particularly for children.

Today, “Nearly three-quarters (73%) of households with kids buy ready-to-eat prepared foods versus 48% of households without kids” according to a 2018 article published by the Institute of Food Technology. Pair that with a decrease in eating dinners at the table, increased schedule demands and time saving options, additives are creeping into our diets more than ever.

How to avoid additional additives

Reading a food’s nutrition label is second nature for many people who opt to investigate a food’s nutritional value, vitamins and more. But have you ever read the ingredient list? Foods with a long list of ingredients often have a lot of “extras” in them, with many intended to enhance or preserve flavor.

If you don’t recognize the words (or can’t pronounce them), there’s a good chance they are artificial. Some of these additives have even been shown to have a potential link to certain health problem.

Which should be avoided?

The list of additives continues to grow as technology advances and the needs of the public changes. Healthline reports that these additives are best to be avoided (or very limited).

Monosodium Glutamate

Monosodium glutamate, also known as MSG, is an additive used to enhance flavor and texture. It is often found
in Asian dishes as well as many other processed foods. MSG adds sodium to food, which can help with flavor but can also lead to increased blood pressure, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

While MSG can be naturally occurring in some foods, if it is listed on a food label, it was likely added by the manufacturer. Some people are more sensitive to MSG than others and may experience nausea, breathing problems, sweating, numbness, headaches and other reactions. Some of your favorite fast food chains have menu items with MSG, such as Jimmy John’s, McDonald’s, Chick-fil-a and KFC, reports Healthline. Instant Ramen noodles often contain added MSG as well. Consult the restaurant’s nutrition facts or the item’s food label for detailed information.

Nitrites and Nitrates

Nitrites and nitrates are chemicals used by manufacturers to enhance flavor and shelf life in processed meats, such as hot dogs, sausage and sandwich meat. According to the Cleveland Clinic, both nitrates and nitrites can form nitrosamines within the body, which can increase the risk of colorectal and pancreatic cancer.

Nitrates are naturally occurring in some foods such as spinach and celery, but researchers distinguish these naturally occurring nitrates, noting they also contain vitamin C and other compounds that inhibit conversion into nitrosamines according to the Environmental Working Group. Nitrosamines are “a type of chemical found in tobacco products and tobacco smoke. Nitrosamines are also found in many foods, including fish, beer, fried foods and meats” according to the National Cancer Institute.

High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a sweetener found in many foods. Healthline reports that high intake of HFCS can lead to increased weight gain and blood sugar levels. HFCS adds extra “empty” calories and sugar to foods that may enhance flavor but don’t add any nutritional value. Research by Glushakova et al. found that fructose also triggers inflammation in the cells, which can lead to chronic illness such as cancer, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease. High fructose corn syrup is found in many foods such as candy, juice drinks and soda, condiments, dessert syrups and jams, fast food meals and many more.

Heavy Metals

Believe it or not, many foods contain heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury and cadmium. While these metals occur naturally in the Earth’s crust, they also make their way into foods by means of pollution as well as food manufacturing and processing, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). While the levels of metal in most foods are minimal, it’s best to reduce or eliminate metal consumption as much as possible. Large, predatory fish with long lifespans (such as shark, swordfish and white tuna) tend to have higher levels of mercury and are not the best seafood option for regular meals.

A primary concern for this consumption is the quantity of metals in baby foods. The metals can be harmful to the developing baby brain and should be limited or avoided, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. The Environmental Working Group reports that several baby rice cereals may contain dangerous levels of inorganic arsenic. A study by Carignan et al. states that rice is known to be high in arsenic, including in infant cereal.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends varying your baby’s grain intake and using other baby cereals such as oat, barley, farro, quinoa, couscous and bulgur. It is also recommended to avoid rice milk and brown rice syrup, a sweetener commonly found in toddler snacks. Environmental Pollution Centers states that although the FDA has recently started regulating arsenic content in infant cereal, there are still many baby and toddler packaged snacks that contain high levels of arsenic. Being aware of your water sources can also help you reduce metal exposure. Well water may contain arsenic and older pipes used in some homes sometimes contain lead. Investigate your water sources and make adjustments as needed to reduce further exposure.


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