Eating Well :
additives and their impact on our health
Welcome to Part 1 of our informative series on Living Well.
“Knowledge is Power”
Many of our parent’s generation say – “well I grew up on meat pies, chips and cream buns and I’m ok.” Well that may be true – but what we need to remember is that while the foods may look the same, they most certainly are not made the same. The pastry and meat filling was probably made fresh by the bakery from butter, flour and not much else with and real meat, veges and gravy; the chips were not fried in hydrogenated oils (which contain trans fats) and sprinkled with salt (not flavour enhancers); and the cream buns were freshly made on the premises and often (shock horror) contained real fresh cream!
When I get the occasional chance to eat out at a good restaurant, I tend to rave about the taste for weeks. The flavours are magnificent because the chefs use lots of fresh seasonal produce, fresh herbs and spices with everything cooked from scratch which results in lots of flavour – not “flavour enhancers” and other additives.
I am going to give you some more detail on some of the additives and chemicals used in our foods and help you to make simple changes to reduce the amount of harmful additives without making too much of an impact on your everyday lives.
This is quite a long article and I suggest that you print it out and read a bit each day over breakfast and keep it where you can refer to it if you need to. Before I start I would like to make 2 points:
1. Just because they are allowed in our foods does not mean they are safe!
2. As Julie Eady points out in her fantastic book “Additive Alert” what we do know is that –
- Every known human carcinogen causes cancer in animals.
- Every chemical known to cause brain damage in humans causes damage to the brain and nervous systems of animals.
- Every known chemical to interfere with the reproductive functions in humans also interferes with the reproductive functions in animals.
- Almost every known cause of birth defects in humans also causes birth defects in animals.
- And, with few exceptions, when toxic chemicals harm animals, they almost always cause similar harm in humans. (1)
Checkout my recommended Reading List at the end for more information on this
invaluable book and others –
The impact of additives on our long term health
So much is NOT known about the widespread and long-term use of additives in our food. Scientists estimate it takes 20 – 30 years to properly evaluate the effects of a chemical on our long term health – this is certainly not happening and I do not want myself or my children to be the guinea pigs of food manufacturing giants.
The most alarming research to date was conducted by the University of Liverpool in December 2005, which looked at the combined effects of some of the most common food additives. (3) The study used the combination of the additives aspartame, brilliant blue, msg and quinine yellow in concentrations that reflect the amount that would enter a child’s bloodstream after they had eaten the snack. They found that the combined effect stopped the nerve cells growing and interfered with proper signalling systems.
This combination can be found in a typical kids snack such as a chocolate milk and rice crackers,
or a cordial and chips.
As consumers, we cannot rely on regulating authorities to have our best interest at heart.
Astoundingly in Australia there is no facility at FSANZ (Food Standards Australia & New Zealand – our regulatory body) to report or complain about any adverse health effects experienced from food additives. They acknowledge that some reactions do occur in some people and advise to read labels carefully. They do not believe it is their role to collect any information about adverse health effects. However, there is such a facility to report adverse affects of agricultural and veterinary chemicals through the Australian Pesticides and Veterinary Medicines Authority.
Why is our livestock more important than us?
Unfortunately additives and chemicals in food are a part of our every day diets. Unless we grow our own food and live in a bubble we cannot stop ourselves being exposed to chemicals both in our food and environments. I love convenience as much as the next person – and I am also realistic about what I can do in any given day.
Over the past 20 years the amount of additives found in our everyday foods has exploded! It is estimated that the average Australian adult consumes 5 kilograms of additives every year – do you know what they are and their potential risks? (4)
Interestingly enough, over the last 20 years that have seen such an explosion in the use of additives and chemicals in our lives – so too has there been an explosion in the rates of cancer, diabetes, asthma, obesity, autoimmune diseases, allergies, and behavioural issues…. not just a coincidence I say!
Some facts –
- Australia has one of the highest asthma rates in the world with 14.7% Australians being asthmatics, and health experts don’t seem to know why. (5)
- A Federal Mental Health survey found in 2002 11.2% of our children suffered from ADD or ADHD with 1in 50 children on some sort of medication. (6)
- The majority of dangerous food additives can be found in food targeted to children such as lollies and snack foods.
The ADIs (Acceptable Daily Intake) set for chemicals are the same levels as those set for adults – why, when we know from just about every animal study ever done that young animals have a much higher sensitivity to carcinogens than adult animals?
Why are additives in our foods?
- To add flavour (this should tell us about the actual product itself if there is no flavour without a multitude of synthetic colours and flavours)
- To look prettier – why I need a blue drink instead of a perfectly safe orange one is beyond me.
- As preservatives to make them last longer – great from a manufacturing point of view as this allows products to sit on ships and ports for months on end with “no apparent change” to the product…
- Because in the last 30 years there has been an increasing demand for quick convenient, often “instant” food in our hectic culture.
The 5% Loophole
Did you know that a 5% Loophole exists in our food labelling where manufacturers do not have to list additives if they are present in an ingredient that contains 5% or less of the product. This is found a lot in ingredients listed such as margarine, breadcrumbs, vegetable oil etc – as long as this ingredient is less than 5% then all the additives present in those ingredients – which are often suspect - do not have to be listed.
Try to read between the lines when dissecting food labels!
The main 4 to avoid and why.
The majority of additives used in our food are safe, but there are many which should be avoided – especially in children. There is not enough space here to go into all the additives to avoid and why. If you are interested in further reading I do recommend some books such as Julie Eady’s Additive Alert and Sue Dengates’s Fed Up which are listed at the end and in my opinion are a must on any kitchen shelf.
1. MSG (Monosodium Glutamate ) & HVP (Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein)
What are they?
There is a bit to take in here I know, but stay with me – your health deserves it! MSG stands for Monosodium Glutamate and it is the adverse affect of too much glutamate which is of concern. Glutamate is found naturally in many foods such as tomatoes, broccoli spinach and grapes, however there are massive differences between the natural glutamate found in these natural foods and the free glutamate found in MSG.
Glutamate belongs to a group of amino acids which are classed as Excitotoxins. Excitotoxins are substances which when applied to brain cells can cause them to become overstimulated and when excessively overstimulated can cause brain cells to die. Naturally occurring Glutamate is an important neurotransmitter helping brain cells to communicate with each other in normal levels in the body. However, like anything in excess, large amounts of glutamate can cause serious damage. When there is too much, the brain cells (neurons) become overstimulated and if overstimulated too much, will die.
Eating MSG at natural levels found in fresh fruit and vegetables is generally not a problem (unless you are truly allergic or intolerant) as the glutamate (in low concentrations) is bound to a protein, so that when digested it is broken down slowly and the right amount is released into our bloodstreams so that our body is able to use it and perform essential functions within our body.
The food additive MSG is not bound to the protein and is a manufactured highly concentrated substance with levels that far exceed the levels found naturally in foods. When we eat those chips or crackers that contain MSG we get a hit to our bloodstreams which is then able pass the blood/brain barrier and damage our brain cells. Young children are particularly at risk due to the blood brain barrier not being fully formed. Ongoing research has linked high ongoing levels of MSG with learning disorders, brain tumours, hyperactivity, Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, obesity and depression.
In1969 it was prohibited for use in baby foods after research demonstrated that it had terrible effects on young animals, particularly on the brain and nervous systems. Pregnant monkeys and rats fed msg gave birth to brain-damaged babies
What to look for on labels –
Often labels proudly state “no MSG” attract the health conscious shopper. What we need to know is that they may not contain food additive 621 (MSG), but they may contain other flavour enhancers 620,622, 623, 624, 625, 627, 631 and 635 which have the same associated health risks as msg. (7)
HVP (Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein) is a less concentrated form of MSG and still has the same adverse health effects as MSG. It is now used by manufacturers as a way around “no msg” claims on packaging – beware.
In his book “Excitotoxins: The Taste that Kills”, Dr Russell Blaylock (A professor in Neurosurgery) outlines the following things to look for in food labelling –
Additives that always contain MSG:
Hydrolysed vegetable protein
Hydrolysed plant protein
Plant protein extract
Hydrolysed oat flour
Additives that frequently contain MSG:
Natural beef or chicken flavour
(extracted from Additive Alert – p.37-44)
What you can do:
- Avoid flavour enhancers 620 – 637 including MSG (621)
- Avoid hydrolysed vegetable protein in as many foods s you can
2. Aspartame and artificial sweeteners
What are they?
Aspartame is another additive found in more and more of our everyday foods – especially those claiming to be “diet” and “low / no sugar”. The sweetness has to come from somewhere and as sugar seems to cop such a bad rap these days (undeservedly I say, but I will go into this more in Part 2), the sweetness comes from artificial sweeteners.
Aspartame like MSG is an Excitotoxins , meaning that it changes when it enters the body and excessive exposure can cause damage to the brain cells. Animal studies have found it to cause brain tumours in rats and a recent study have found that Aspartame caused lymphomas and leukaemia in animals that were fed intakes very close to those that humans. It has been linked to many adverse health effects such as – headaches, dizziness, depression, irritability, heart palpitations, vertigo, memory loss and joint pain.
Other artificial sweeteners include Saccharin, Sucralose, and Cylamates – all of which have been shown in studies with animals to be either carcinogens (cancer causing) or have serious other adverse health effects. All of these sweeteners cannot be metabolised by your body which is why they have a nil calorie / kilojoule value.
What to look for on labels –
These are often labelled by their trademarked names – Nutrasweet (Aspartamne), Equal (Aspartame), Splenda (Sucralose) etc.
What you can do:
- Avoid anything “diet”, “low sugar”, “no sugar”.
- Eat products that contain real “sugar” as opposed to anything artificial. Organic Raw Sugar , Rapadura Sugar or Stevia are best – I will go into this more in Part2, so stay tuned!
3. Preservatives -
There is so much information about so many preservatives to go into here and give it any sort of justice. Again, I recommend getting a copy of Julie Eady’s book Additive Alert which gives so much more information in a much better way then I could ever describe it! I’ll give you the 4 worst culprits and why.
What are they?
1. Sodium Nitrate (250) and Sodium Nitrite (251)
“ Children eating up to a dozen frankfurts each month are at approximately four-fold increased risk of brain cancer and a seven-fold increased risk of leukaemia. (This is due to the nitrosamine carcinogen, caused by the interaction of nitrite and the natural amines found in meat.) “ (8)
2. Sulphites (220-228)
FSANZ (Food Standards Australia & New Zealand – our national regulatory body), state on their website that they are “aware that sulphites are of particular concern to those suffering from asthma” and that they have now “decided to undertake a review of sulphites and benzoates in the Food Supply (Proposal P298). We will be working with food manufacturers to refine our data and if necessary establish the best way to reduce dietary intake of these preservatives.” (9) What this actually achieves and how long it takes remains to be seen.
Last summer I noticed at one of our major supermarkets the words under the fresh grapes for sale – “may contain sulphur dioxide”. Sulphur dioxide (220) is considered one of the worst. It is a suspected mutagen and is linked to a wide range of adverse health effects such as gastric irritation, nausea, diarrhoea, rashes and liver toxicity. It is almost always used as a preservative for dried fruits such as sultanas and apricots to preserve the colour, so check your labels in these foods and foods that contain them such as muesli bars, muesli, cakes etc.
3. Benzoates (210-213)
In 2006 authorities in the US and UK found disturbing levels of cancer causing benzene residue in many popular brands of soft drinks. Following this study the FSANZ conducted their own study and confirmed that over 55% of those tested had benzene levels well above the Australian guidelines for drinking water. Benzene is a chemical that has been linked with cancer, particularly leukaemia.
4. Calcium Propionate (282)
This preservative is appearing more and more in bread products including breadcrumbs and products containing breadcrumbs such as some fish fingers, sausage rolls etc. Often it is not labelled due the 5% loophole (ie the breadcrumbs containing 282 do not exceed 5% of the total food content) – so be on the lookout! It is banned in the UK due to adverse skin reactions with bakers and a recent study in Darwin confirmed that this preservative can adversely affect children’s behaviour. It is found in the majority of bread on our supermarket shelves, so read the labels carefully. Bakers Delight and Brumby’s have said that they do not use this preservative in their breads.
What to look for on labels –
- The Nitrites and Nitrates - Potassium Nitrite (249), Sodium Nitrite (250), Sodium Nitrate (251) and Potassium Nitrate (252).
- Sulphites (220 – 228) – including Sulphur dioxide (220), Sodium sulphite (221) and Potassium sulphite (225).
- Benzoates (210-213) – including Sodium benzoate (211), Potassium benzoate (212) and calcium benzoate (213).
- Look for Propionates (280 – 283) including Propionic acid (280), Sodium propionate (281), Calcium propionate (282) and Potassium propionate (282).
What you can Do:
- Avoid Nitrites where possible. Avoid your intake of processed hams, bacon, frankfurts, etc or buy “nitrate free” ham and bacon available from good delis and organic butchers and preservative free sausages. The taste of these is amazing – preserved the way they used with a good old fashioned farm taste.
- Avoid sulphur dioxide (220) and other sulphites where possible – ie. Buy fresh organic foods and dried fruits where possible.
- Avoid any juices and soft drinks that contain these any benzoates. Go with good ol’ water and real juice with no preservatives.
- Buy fresh breads from a bakery or organic store that do not add 282 to their breads – they taste nicer and are better for you!
4. Artificial Colours
Why are they used?
They seems to be on the increase like most other additives and Why Why are they used?
They seem to be on the increase like most other additives and why? Most of us avoid things that look unnaturally coloured, so things that are bright red or blue. But what we don’t realise is that we probably consume a lot of colours every day without ever realising it. Many of our chocolate biscuits (yes, even our beloved Tim Tam) now contains a combination of Trartrazine (102), Sunset Yellow (110), Allura Red (129), Brilliant Blue (133) and Caramel (150). (8) All to make the chocolate look, um… brown. Forgive me, but I thought real chocolate was brown.
What are they?
We all know and joke about the effects of “Red Cordial” or too many sweets at a Birthday Party, but why are they so bad?
The main culprit with most colours is increased hyperactivity as well as some that are known carcinogens. What I find so distressing is that many colours (and additives in general) that are banned in other countries are still allowed in Australia due to their proven links with cancer.
There are many food colourings which are known or suspected carcinogens (cancer causing) or mutagens (promote cell mutation), and many are known to cause hyperactivity. I choose not to feed my children anything with Brilliant Blue (133) in it on a regular basis due to it being a known carcinogen.
Below is a list of Colours that are currently banned or restricted for use in other countries
yet still allowed in Australia.
|Code||Name||Banned or restricted in other countries||Adverse Health Effects|
|102||Tartrazine||UK, EU, previously banned in Norway*||Linked to hyperactivity, skin rashes, migraines, behavioural problems, thyroid problems and chromosome damage.|
|104||Quinoline Yellow||UK, EU, USA, Japan, Canada, previously banned in Norway*||Linked to hyperactivity, skin rashes, asthmatics should avoid.|
|110||Sunset Yellow||UK, EU, previously banned in Norway*||Suspected carcinogen, allergies, upset stomach, hyperactivity, kidney tumours and chromosome damage.|
|122||Azorubine, Carmoisine||UK, EU, USA, Canada, Japan, previously banned in Norway*||Suspected carcinogen and mutagen, skin rashes, oedema, hyperactivity.|
|123||Amaranth||USA(1976), previously banned in Norway*||Suspected carcinogen and mutagen. Linked to asthma, hyperactivity and eczema.|
|124||Ponceau, Brilliant Scarlet||UK, EU, USA, previously banned in Norway*||Suspected carcinogen and mutagen. Linked to asthma and hyperactivity.|
|127||Erythrosine||previously banned in Norway*||Suspected carcinogen, linked to thyroid abnormality, brain dysfunction, hyperactivity.|
|129||Allura Red||UK, EU, previously banned in Norway, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria*||Suspected carcinogen, skin rashes and hyperactivity.|
|132||Indigotine||previously banned in Norway*||Suspected carcinogen. Linked to nausea, hyperactivity, breathing difficulties, skin reactions.|
|133||Brilliant Blue||previously banned in Norway*, Denmark, Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria*||Suspected carcinogen. Linked to hyperactivity, skin rashes, asthmatics should avoid.|
|142||Green S||USA, Japan, Canada, previously banned in Norway*, Sweeden.||Hypersensitivity, allergic reactions. Asthmatics should avoid.|
|143||Fast Green FCF||UK, EU, previously banned in Norway*||Can cause bladder tumours.|
|151||Brilliant Black||USA, Canada, Japan, previously banned in Norway *, Denmark, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria||Linked to Bowel disorders, hyperactivity, asthmatics should avoid.|
|155||Brown HT||USA, Canada, Japan, previously banned in Norway||Suspected carcinogen and mutagen. Linked to asthma and skin rashes.|
|160b||Annatto Extracts||Concerns about toxicity yet still freely used. Marketed aggressively as “natural” – avoid – this is used widely in ice cream, biscuits etc.||Hypersensivity, allergic reactions, skin irritations. Linked to behavioural and learning disorders. Concerns about toxicity are still being evaluated.|
* In 2001 many European countries came under the new EC Directives on food additives.
This information is adapted from Sue Dengate and Julie Eady. (10)
What to look for on labels –
Beware also the use of aggressive marketing such no artificial colours – these often include 2 main ones Annato (160b) – which I find in most white ice creams, and Caramel (150a-d), which both have quite nasty health effects.
Buy a comprehensive additive book like those I’ve mentioned and become an expert.
What you can do:
- If this seems daunting – start with avoiding just 5 colours to begin with – I would suggest Sunset Yellow (110), Allura red (129), Brilliant Blue (133) and Annatto (160b).
- Avoid anything that looks un-naturally coloured.
- Avoid these colours – 102, 104 110, 122, 123, 124, 127, 129, 131, 132, 133, 151, 153, 155, 160b, 173, 174, 175 – A big list I know but what is your health worth?
- There is a great website called Hullabaloo Foods which sells natural food colours for all these kids Birthday parties. http://hullabaloofood.com
Where to from Here?
I’m not expecting you to change your whole diet but rather to look at individual brands to determine how good they are. I now know a lot of foods and brands that are generally good to use regularly and others that are ok on a limited basis.
Look between the lines – what isn’t listed e.g. I have often seem products claiming “no preservatives, no artificial colours or colours” that DO contain msg (621), and other questionable ingredients – that are clearly marketed towards our children.
Julie Eady in her book Additive Alert clearly and smartly sets out how by simply changing the brands of what we buy we can make a huge difference to our intake of additives with adverse health effects. I have taken this info from the breakfast, and I recommend you see the other examples for lunch and dinner – you will be amazed. (11)
Muffin with spread and jam
|Product||Additives contained||# additives linked to health risks
|Kellogg’s Corn Pops||500 150 102 110||3|
|Buttercup Cheese and Bacon Muffins||472e 200 282 554 621 102 110 150||7||choose plain muffins without all the flavours|
|Country Gold Soft and Light Butter||440 322 470 471 202 160a 320||3||Choose real butter – it’s better for you and tastes better!|
|Cottee’s Raspberry Conserve diet||1200 440a 401 407 330 331 951 202||3||Choose real “jams” not conserves made the way grandmas used to.|
|Daily Juice Co Orange Fruit Drink||330 300 202 211 160b||3||Avoid “fruit drinks” and go for “fruit juice”.|
|Better Choice Breakfast|
|Kellogg’s Corn Flakes||0|
|Tip Top English Muffins||341 282 200 481||2||choose plain muffins without all the flavours|
|Farmland Butter||0||real butter – cream, salt and water|
|Cottee’s Raspberry Conserve||440a 330 331||0||Jams should be: fruit, sugar , lemon juice and pectin!|
|Crusta Orange Juice - Preservative Free||0||Even better – juice your own!!|
- You can see from this just how easy it can be to make some real changes with just a little extra time and effort. Read the Label!! It is often more important to learn to read between the lines, and recognise what’s not on the label.
- It is up to us to make informed decisions about our well-being and health.
- Until Part 2 – Live Well !
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(1) Extracted from Additive Alert – p.27
(2) Eady, Julie: “Additive Alert” , 2008 www.additivealert.com.au p.24
(3) Lau K & others: Synergistic Interactions between Commonly Used Food Additives in a Developmental Neurotoxicity Test: Toxicol, Dec 2005
(4) Eady, Julie: “Additive Alert” , 2008 www.additivealert.com.au p.8
(5) Dengate, Sue. “ Fed Up with Asthma”, 2003
(6) ABS – Australian Bureau of Statistics, Commonwealth Department Health & Aged Care, 2000
(7) Extracted from Additive Alert – p.37-44.
(8) Epstein, Samuel: Unreasonable Risk, Environmental Toxicology, Illinois, 2002.
(9) Extracted from Additive Alert – p.50-53.
(10) FSANZ website: August 2010
(11) Dengate, Sue: Food Intolerance Network factsheet : http://www.fedupwithfoodadditives.info/factsheets/PDFconversions/Factcoloursworld.pdf
Eady, Julie: “Additive Alert” , 2008 www.additivealert.com.au p.110.
(12) Eady, Julie: “Additive Alert” , 2008 www.additivealert.com.au p.93
(13) ABS – Australian Bureau of Statistics, National Health Survey, 2008
(14) ASCIA – Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy
- Julie Eady: “Additive Alert” , 2008 www.additivealert.com.au
- Hullabaloo Foods
- Sue Dengate: “Fed Up”, Random House Australia, 2003 http://www.fedupwithfoodadditives.info/
- Sue Dengate: “Fed Up With Asthma”, Random House Australia, 2003