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The Worst Chemical Food Additives to Avoid
Beth Ley Knotts, Ph.D.



Many people assume that the ingredients and chemicals in our foods on the market today have passed some sort of government testing. This is simply not true.

For the most part, substances are added to food either as food additives or as GRAS (Generally Regarded As Safe). The difference between the two paths is significant: FDA must sign off on food additives (requiring safety testing and approval), but companies can use GRAS substances without FDA approval.

Basically, companies make their own GRAS determinations, which they may or may not voluntarily submit to the FDA for review. FDA can de-GRAS a substance and therefore require pre-market approval if it chooses to exercise that power. These chemicals listed here all have the ‘loosely regulated” GRAS status. There are well over 2,000 chemicals with GRAS status that have never undergone any safety studies. Here is a list of some of the worst.

1. Sodium Nitrate
Sodium nitrite is a synthetic preservative added to meats like bacon, hot dogs and deli meat to help them maintain color. The problem is, in the presence of heat—especially high heat—nitrites can combine with amines in processed meat to form nitrosamines, and these are carcinogenic, especially for colon/rectal cancer, thyroid and gastric cancers.

2. Potassium Bromate
The use of potassium bromate as an additive in commercial breads and baked goods (Hamburger or hotdog buns. etc) has been a huge contributor to bromide overload in Western cultures. Bromated flour is "enriched" with potassium bromate. Commercial baking companies use it because it makes the dough more elastic and better able to stand up to bread hooks. Studies link potassium bromate to kidney and nervous system damage, thyroid problems (competes with iodine, causing iodine deficiency), gastrointestinal discomfort and cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer classifies potassium bromate as a possible carcinogen. Potassium bromate is banned for food use in Canada, China, and the European Union (EU). Bromine is a central nervous system depressant, and can trigger a number of psychological symptoms such as acute paranoia and other psychotic symptoms. Bromine toxicity can also manifest as skin rashes, acne, loss of appetite, fatigue, and cardiac arrhythmias. Also watch out for brominated vegetables oils (BVO) found in soda. (This is banned in Europe and Japan). BVO was first patented by chemical companies as a flame retardant.

3. Propyl Paraben
Propyl paraben is an endocrine-disrupting chemical used as a food preservative. It's commonly found in tortillas, muffins, and food dyes and may also contaminate foods via packaging. Research has shown that 91% of Americans have propyl paraben in their urine, and tests on beverages, dairy products, meat, and vegetables found the chemical in about half of the samples.4 Propyl paraben has weak estrogenic activity, which makes it relevant when it comes to estrogen-sensitive cancers like breast cancer. This substance has been found to accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells, impair fertility in women, and reduce sperm counts and testosterone levels.

4. Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA)
Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) is a preservative that affects the neurological system of your brain, alters behavior, and has the potential to cause cancer. It can be found in breakfast cereal, nut mixes, chewing gum, butter spread, meat, dehydrated potatoes, popcorn, chips, and beer, just to name a few.
BHA is known to cause cancer in rats, and may be a cancer-causing agent in humans as well. According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, National Toxicology Program's 2011 Report on Carcinogens, BHA "is reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen."
The international cancer agency categorizes it as a possible human carcinogen, and it's listed as a known carcinogen under California's Proposition 65. BHA may also trigger allergic reactions and hyperactivity. BHA is banned from infant foods in the UK and is banned from use in all foods in certain parts of the EU and Japan. In the US, the FDA considers BHA to be a GRAS additive.

5. Butylated Hydroxytoluene (BHT)
BHT is chemically similar to BHA and the two preservatives are often used together. While BHT is not considered a carcinogen like BHA, it has been linked to tumor development in animals. It's also been linked to developmental effects and thyroid changes in animal studies, which suggests it may be an endocrine-disrupting chemical. In the US, BHT is given GRAS status.

6. Propyl Gallate
Propyl gallate is a preservative used to prevent fats and oils from spoiling. It's often found in sausage, frozen pizza, and other processed foods. The National Toxicology Program reported that propyl gallate is associated with tumors, including rare brain tumors, in rats. propyl gallate is an endocrine disruptor; some evidence suggests it may have estrogenic activity.

7. Theobromine
Theobromine is an alkaloid found in chocolate. It has effects similar to caffeine, and is the reason why chocolate is so highly toxic to dogs. In 2010, a company (Theocorp) requested that the FDA grant theobromine GRAS status so it could be added to bread, cereal, sports drinks, and other foods. The FDA raised several important questions, including whether reproductive and developmental effects seen in animals exposed to theobromine would apply to humans.
They also estimated that human consumption could be up to 5 times higher than the company reported as safe. The company withdrew their GRAS request, but it was later granted GRAS status anyway, and now is used in foods "outside of FDA oversight." As EWG reported.
"Theobromine is just one example of an enormous loophole in the FDA's voluntary GRAS notification process. The food additive industry is allowed to designate a substance as GRAS without even notifying the agency, relying instead on 'expert panels.' Theocorp's submission triggered important questions from FDA scientists about the additive's safety. Instead of addressing them, the company withdrew the request, and the GRAS designation was made later without FDA approval. In some cases, companies forego FDA's notification process altogether."

8. Natural and Artificial Flavors
What's particularly alarming when you see a word like "artificial flavor" or even "natural flavor" on an ingredients label is that there's no way to know what it actually means. It could mean that one unnatural additive is included, or it could be a blend of hundreds of additives. Strawberry artificial flavor can contain nearly 50 chemical ingredients, for example.
Most people assume that a natural flavor describes something like strawberries, garlic, or chili pepper used to naturally season food. In reality, most natural flavors are created in a laboratory, just like artificial flavors. The only difference is that natural flavors must be sourced from a natural product, whereas artificial flavors do not. According to the Code of Federal Regulations.
"The term natural flavor or natural flavoring means the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis. These contain the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or similar plant material, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose significant function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional."
In the end, natural flavors often bear little resemblance to the natural product from which they came. Many times, the resulting chemical may even be identical to those created synthetically to make artificial flavors, yet it will likely be more expensive. Natural flavors include MSG, propylene glycol, a solvent, or the preservative BHA! Genetically engineered flavor enhancers can also be listed under the artificial flavor (or natural flavor) label.

9. Artificial Colors
Every year, food manufacturers pour 15 million pounds of artificial food dyes into US foods -- and that amount only factors in eight different varieties.10 As of July 2010, most foods in the EU that contain artificial food dyes were labeled with warning labels stating the food "may have an adverse effect on activity and attention in children." The British government also asked that food manufacturers remove most artificial colors from foods back in 2009 due to health concerns.
Nine of the food dyes currently approved for use in the US are linked to health issues ranging from cancer and hyperactivity to allergy-like reactions -- and these results were from studies conducted by the chemical industry itself.11 For instance, Red # 40, which is the most widely used dye, may accelerate the appearance of immune system tumors in mice, while also triggering hyperactivity in children.
Blue # 2, used in candies, beverages, pet foods and more, was linked to brain tumors. Yellow # 5, used in baked goods, candies, cereal, and more, may not only be contaminated with several cancer-causing chemicals, but it's also linked to hyperactivity, hypersensitivity, and other behavioral effects in children.
Caramel color, which is widely used in brown soft drinks, may cause cancer due to 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), a chemical byproduct formed when certain types of caramel coloring are manufactured.

10. Diacetyl
The artificial flavoring called diacetyl is often used as a butter flavoring in microwave popcorn. It's also used to flavor dairy products, including yogurt and cheese, and exists in some "brown flavorings," including maple, strawberry, and raspberry flavors. Research shows diacetyl has several concerning properties for brain health and may trigger Alzheimer's disease. Diacetyl has also been linked to respiratory damage, including inflammation and permanent scarring of the airways, in workers at a microwave popcorn plant.

11. Phosphates
Phosphates are added to more than 20,000 products, including fast food, baked goods, and processed meats. They're used to reduce acid, improve moisture retention, and facilitate leavening. Phosphates have been linked to some concerning health conditions, including heart disease. The European Food Safety Authority is currently reevaluating adding phosphates to food, but the results of their study aren't expected until the end of 2018.

12. Aluminum Additives
Aluminum additives are found in processed foods as stabilizers. This metal can accumulate and persist in your body, especially in your bones, and animal studies show aluminum may cause neurological effects, including changes in behavior, learning, and motor response. A link between Alzheimer's disease and other neurodegenerative disorders and aluminum exposure may also exist.

In general, it’s best to avoid all processed foods.
Processing modifies or removes important components of food, like fiber, water, and nutrients, changing the way they are digested and assimilated in your body. Unlike whole foods, which contain a mix of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, fiber, and water to help you feel satisfied, processed foods stimulate dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter, making you feel good even though the food lacks nutrients and fiber. This artificial dopamine stimulation can lead to excessive food cravings and, ultimately, food addiction.
Cancer, obesity, mood swings, memory problems and even depression are often the result of a heavily processed-food diet. In fact, the greatest concentration of serotonin, which is involved in mood control, depression, and aggression, is found in your intestines, not your brain!

Eat unprocessed whole foods the way God made them as much as possible for optimal health and longevity!!