Is Our Food Making Us Sick and Obese?
Look around you – pick up any tinned or labelled food product in your cupboard or local supermarket and you’ll see that many of the ingredients are non-food items that are filled to the brim with chemicals, preservatives, fillers, binders and additives in order to extend shelf live and control texture, aroma, flavour, colour and more. The shocking truth is that millions of these compounds have not been tested for long-term human safety (according to the CAS Registry – the most authoritative collection of information on disclosed chemical substances).
Chemicals Are Causing Disease
Emerging research now connects many of these compounds with a wide variety of diseases, obesity, depression, behavioural and developmental issues in children, low libido, infertility, breathing problems, headaches, neurodegenerative conditions such as Alzheimer’s disease, fatigue, depression, cancer, diabetes, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, dizziness, anxiety attacks, nausea and even seizures.
I truly don’t understand how anyone in their right mind finds it okay to include these types of ingredients in food-products while they know that it is harming and killing people. This is a criminal offense which is not getting the prosecution it should be getting.
The EWG (Environmental Working Group) – an American activist group and non-profit organisation that specializes in advocacy and research in the areas of toxic chemicals, agricultural subsidies and more – created a Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives. They mention that even though food is supposed to be good for us, some food-products that we find on our supermarket shelves are extremely harmful. This is because more than 10 000 additives are allowed in our food. Some of them are deliberately formulated into processed foods and others are indirect additives because of packaging, storage and processing. Some of these additives have already been banned in Europe but are still allowed in countries such as America and South Africa.
There are so many substances that we put into our bodies on a daily basis which should NOT be in food and many of us are still unaware of this fact. Below we have a list of a few common food additives, what they tend to do to our health and in what products they are often found.
- Propyl Paraben (E216) or Methylparaben (E218)
What is it? A type of synthetic preservative.
Why Avoid? Parabens disrupt the endocrine system and wreak hormonal havoc. It has been linked to reproductive problems and breast cancer. Propylparaben is part of the EWG’s Dirty Dozen list of food additives that should be avoided. According to them, ‘it is hard to believe that propyl paraben, an endocrine-disrupting chemical, is allowed in food, and even harder to believe that it’s “Generally Recognized as Safe”’.
Many studies show that parabens have been reported to accelerate growth of breast cancer cells (Okubo 2001) and it has also been linked to impaired fertility in women (Smith 2013).
Often found in: Tortillas, muffins, desserts, frosting.
- Food Dyes / Artificial Colours (E133, E124, E110, E102, E127, etc)
What is it? E133 (Brilliant blue) is an artificial blue dye and E127 (Red 3/ Erythrosine) is a red dye. Both have been derived from petroleum.
Why Avoid? It has been shown that artificial colours cross the blood-brain barrier and the FDA (the Food and Drug Administration) asked doctors to stop adding Blue #1 to tube feedings as “patients were dying, not from their disease, but from the Blue number 1 which apparently caused refractory hypotension and metabolic acidosis, and also, incidentally, turned their colons bright blue.” It has further also been linked to an increased risk of kidney tumours and hyperactivity. It is also a potential neurotoxin (Hari, V).
Red 3 should be avoided as it has been recognized as an animal carcinogen (carcinogens are first found to cause cancer in lab animals and are later found to cause cancer in people). It has, therefore, been banned from cosmetic products in 1990, but somehow, the FDA still allows for it to be used in food. (Hari, V).
Often found in: Soft drinks, drink mixes, candy, marshmallows, fruit snacks, chewing gum, strawberry milk, maraschino cherries, ice cream, baked goods.
- Potassium Bromate (E924)
What is it? It is used to increase volume in bread, strengthen dough and help the bread to rise while baking.
Why Avoid? It has been classified as a possible human carcinogen by the international cancer agency and it causes tumours in animals, can cause DNA damage and is toxic to the kidneys (IARC 1999; OEHHA 2014).
It has been banned in food in Canada, the United Kingdom and in the European Union. According to News 24 (Food24) it is still allowed in South Africa (https://www.food24.com/News-and-Guides/Features/Foods-that-will-kill-you-20130624).
Often found in: Bread and crackers
- Nitrates and Nitrites – such as sodium nitrate (E250)
What is it? A synthetic preservative used in processed meat
Why Avoid? These chemicals are commonly used as flavouring, preservatives or colouring agents and are responsible for turning processed meat bright red. Even though they make meat look more attractive and prolong its shelf life, they come with many health concerns. Nitrites (which can also form from nitrates) react with components of a protein called amines. Nitrosamines can form from this reaction, which is known as a cancer-causing compound.
Studies also show that nitrites cause stomach cancer (IARC 2010).
Often found in: Hot dogs, ham, bacon, salami, viennas, sausages or any type of processed meat
- MSG/E621 (Monosodium Glutamate)
What is it? Artificial flavour enhancer
Why Avoid? MSG is mainly used to increase irresistibility and increase food cravings in order for you to eat more than you should. It has been linked to mental disorders, depression, obesity and headaches (Hari, V). MSG is also an excitotoxin (excite your brain cells to death) which is associated with neurodegenerative diseases. It disengages the ‘I’m full function” which for many causes weight gain. Even though many companies use MSG as it is, some other companies sneak in additives such as hydrolysed proteins and yeast extract. These contain free glutamic acid (the main ingredient of MSG). Regular consumption may result in headaches, obesity, fatigue, eye damage, disorientation and even depression (Hari, V).
A study done on mice published on the NCBI platform (US National Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health) showed what happened to mice that were injected with MSG. 16% of newborn mice died before weaning and 90% of the survivors became markedly obese.
Often found in: Potato chips, cookies, seasonings, preserved frozen dinners
- BHA (E320) and BHT (E321)
What is it? Synthetic preservatives
Why Avoid? BHA is categorized as a possible human carcinogen by the international cancer agency and California’s Proposition 65 has it listed as a known carcinogen (IARC 1986; OEHHA 2014). It is further also classified as an endocrine disruptor by the European Union. According to a study (Jeong 2005), it can lower the thyroid hormone thyroxin, lower testosterone levels, affect the sex organs and sperm quality of rats.
Often found in: Potato chips, boxed soups, spaghetti sauce, sausage, pizza, pepperoni, drink mixes, chewing gum, cake mix, granola bars, jelly and cereal.
- Aspartame (E951)
What is it? Artificial sweetener
Why Avoid? It has been linked to an increased risk of heart disease, leukaemia and brain tumours. A study showed that replacing sugar with aspartame actually increases hunger and this causes people to consume more calories (Hari, V).
It has further also been labelled as a carcinogen and neurotoxin and may, therefore, lead to serious conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s, brain tumours, seizures, depression, anxiety attacks, mental confusion and less serious conditions such as dizziness, headaches and nausea.
When you eat something sweet that does not have any calories, your brain will be tricked into wanting more as your body won’t be getting enough energy to be satisfied. This means that you will keep on craving sweet things. Artificial sweeteners, therefore, trick the body and the brain.
Often found in: Products labelled as ‘sugar-free’, ‘reduced sugar’, ‘diet’, ‘low calorie’ such as diet drinks, yogurts, protein shakes, chewable vitamins, cough syrup, toothpaste
What is it? Food additive
Why Avoid? This is one of the most common food additives. It has been associated with death and heart disease (Ritz 2012) in people with chronic kidney disease. Dhingra, (2007) also showed that higher phosphate levels in the blood have been linked to increased cardiovascular risk.
Often found in: Highly processed foods, fast foods
A Quick Tour In The Local Supermarket
After quickly walking into our local supermarket, I picked up a few products and checked their labels for harmful toxins. This is what I found:
- Crosse & Blackwell Tangy Mayonnaise contains E110 (a harmful artificial colour).
- Beacon Easter Eggs contains E110 (artificial colour).
- Koo Fruit Cocktail in Syrup contains E127 (harmful red dye)
- Futurelife Smart Drink contains E124 (artificial colour).
- Spath Sandwich Ham contains MSG, sodium nitrite and potassium nitrate.
- Ricomondo Salami contains MSG, sodium nitrite and E127 (artificial colour).
- Eskort Smoked Viennas contains phosphates, MSG, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate (please don’t give your kid a Vienna for lunch).
- Spar Butcher’s Best Shoulder Bacon contains phosphates, MSG, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate.
- Mister Sweet Speckled Eggs contains E102 (artificial colour) and E133 (the very harmful brilliant blue food dye).
- Mister Sweet Rascals contains E102 and E127.
What Should You Do About This?
- Check the label before you buy – does it contain any of the above-mentioned chemicals? Does it contain any other chemicals starting with ‘E’ or something you don’t recognise as food? If so – don’t buy it!
- Buy whole, real food instead (if possible organic), as they are not only safe but will also give you the nutrients that your body needs to cope with life’s challenges as well as plenty of energy and zest for life!
Dhingra R, Sullivan LM, Fox CS, Wang TJ, D’Agostino RB Sr, Gaziano JM, Vasan RS. 2007. Relations of serum phosphorus and calcium levels to the incidence of cardiovascular disease in the community. Arch Intern Med. 167(9):879-85
EWG’s Dirty Dozen Guide to Food Additives, https://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives, accessed 22/01/2019.
Hari, V. Ingredients to Avoid. https://foodbabe.com/ingredients-to-avoid/. Accessed 22/01/2019.
IARC. 1986. Some Naturally Occurring and Synthetic Food Components, Furocoumarins and Ultraviolet Radiation. Vol. 40
IARC. 1999. Some Chemicals that Cause Tumours of the Kidney or Urinary Bladder in Rodents and Some Other Substances. Vol. 73
IARC. 2010. Ingested Nitrate and Nitrite and Cyanobacterial Peptide Toxins. IARC Monographs On The Evaluation Of Carcinogenic Risks To Humans. Vol. 94
Jeong SH, Kim BY, Kang HG, Ku HO, Cho JH. 2005. Effects of butylated hydroxyanisole on the development and functions of reproductive system in rats. Toxicology. 208(1):49-62
OEHHA. 2014. Chemicals Known To The State To Cause Cancer Or Reproductive Toxicity. Available: http://oehha.ca.gov/prop65/prop65_list/newlist.html [Accessed Sept. 9, 2014].
Okubo T, Yokoyama Y, Kano K, Kano I. 2001. ER-dependent estrogenic activity of parabens assessed by proliferation of human breast cancer MCF-7 cells and expression of ERalpha and PR. Food Chem Toxicol. 39(12):1225-32
Ritz E, Hahn K, Ketteler M, Kuhlmann MK, Mann J. Phosphate additives in food–a health risk. Dtsch Arztebl Int. 109(4):49-55
Smith KW, Souter I, Dimitriadis I, Ehrlich S, Williams PL, Calafat AM, Hauser R. 2013. Urinary paraben concentrations and ovarian aging among women from a fertility center. Environ Health Perspect. 121(11-12):1299-305