If food comes in a packet, don’t buy it!

Yea, I know it’s a bit of an exaggeration to say that you shouldn’t buy food that comes in a packet, but you get the idea of where I’m going with this…’Toxins‘ in prepared foods – from tins of veg soup to loaves of bread – include substances with both familiar and unrecognisable names, but they can all be roughly classified into three groups:

  • food additives
  • artificial sweeteners, and
  • artificial colours

This brief blog outlines just some of the ever-increasing list of those ingredients we might be wise to avoid. It may well help food manufacturers to make profits by producing cheap junk with unnaturally long shelf lives, but it’s our long-term health that eventually picks up the bill.

You know that I’m going to suggest that you avoid all animal products and added salt, oil and sugar as a starter; but even those who might still consider it okay to chew on a bit of cheese or chicken from time to time might be interested in looking through what follows. And it’s not that they are all equally harmful, nor that they are necessarily harmful when found naturally-occurring in whole plant foods; but when they are synthesised or concentrated and added to ‘improve’ something in the product, you’ve got to ask “improve for whom?” and “who benefits financially?”

Food additives

Aluminium (Aluminum to our American cousins): A preservative in some packaged foods that can cause cancer. 1

Azodicarbonamide: Used in bagels and buns. Can cause asthma. 2

BHA/BHT: A fat preservative, used in foods to extend shelf life. Linked to cancerous tumour growth. 3

Brominated vegetable oil (BVO): Maintains the suspension of flavour oils in soft drinks. Bromate is a poison and can cause organ damage and birth defects. Not required to be listed on food labels. 4

Butane (as BTHQ): Put in chicken nuggets, cheese crackers etc to keep them tasting fresh. A known carcinogen. 5

Carnauba wax: Used in chewing gums and to glaze certain foods. Can cause cancer and tumours. 6

Carrageenan: Stabilizer and thickening agent used in many prepared foods. Can cause ulcers and cancer. 7

Chlorine dioxide: Used in bleaching flour. Can cause tumours and hyperactivity in children. 8

Disodium inosinate & disodium guanylate: In snack foods. Contains MSG. 9

Enriched flour: Used in many snack foods. A refined starch that is made from toxic ingredients. 10

Gums (Stabilisers): These hydrocolloids are used in salad dressings etc and include guar, tragacanth, and xanthan gum. Xanthan gum is a common gum used in salad dressings and may trigger individual allergic reactions including headaches and gastrointestinal syndromes such as bloating and diarrhoea 11 . Tragacanth gum has been linked in the past to potential allergic reactions in certain individuals, especially those suffering from coeliac disease, because of its gluten residues. 12

Monosodium glutamate (MSG): Flavour enhancer that can cause headaches. Linked in animal studies to nerve damage, heart problems and seizures. 13

Olestra: Fat-like substance that is unabsorbed by the body. Used in place of natural fats in some snack foods. Can cause digestive problems, and also not healthy for the heart. 14

Paraben: Used to stop mould and yeast forming in foods. Can disrupt hormones in the body, and could be linked to breast cancer. 15

Polysorbate 60: A thickener that is used in baked goods. Can cause cancer in laboratory animals. 16

Potassium bromate: Added to breads to increase volume. Linked to cancer in humans. 17

Potassium/Sodium nitrate (E 249-252): Added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth.18

Propyl gallate: Added to fat-containing products. Found in meats, popcorn, soup mixes and frozen dinners. Linked to cancer in humans. 19

Propylene glycol: Better known as antifreeze. Thickens dairy products and salad dressing. Deemed ‘generally’ safe by FDA. 20

Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH): Geneticially-engineered version of natural growth hormone in cows. Boosts milk production in cows. Contains high levels of IGF-1, which is thought to cause various types of cancer. 21

Refined vegetable oil: Includes soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, canola oil, and peanut oil. High in omega-6 fats, which are thought to cause heart disease and cancer. 22

Sulphites: Used to keep prepared foods fresh. Can cause breathing difficulties in those sensitive to the ingredient. 23

Sodium benzoate: Used as a preservative in salad dressing and carbonated beverages. A known carcinogen and may cause damage to our DNA. 24

Sodium carboxymethyl cellulose: Used as a thickener in salad dressings. In high quantities it could cause cancer. 25

Artificial sweeteners

Acesulfame potassium (Ace-K): Used with other artificial sweeteners in diet sodas and ice cream. Linked to lung and breast tumours in rats. 26

Agave nectar: Sweetener derived from a cactus. Contains high levels of fructose, which causes insulin resistance, liver disease and inflammation of body tissues. 27

Aspartame: An excitotoxin and thought to be a carcinogen. Can cause dizziness, headaches, blurred vision and stomach problems. 28

Bleached starch: Can be used in many dairy products. Thought to be related to asthma and skin irritations. 29

High fructose corn syrup: Sweetener made from corn starch. Made from genetically-modified corn. Causes obesity, diabetes, heart problems, arthritis and insulin resistance. 30

Saccharin: Carcinogen found to cause bladder cancer in rats. (Worst Offender) 31

Sucralose: Splenda. Can cause swelling of liver and kidneys and a shrinkage of the thymus gland. 32

Tert butylhydroquinone: Used to preserve fish products. Could cause stomach tumours at high doses. 33

Artificial colours

Annatto (E160b): Food colouring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma. 34

Bixin: an apocarotenoid found in annatto, (see above). Can cause hyperactivity in children, asthma and potential liver damage. 35 36

Blue No. 1 (brilliant blue, E133): Used in bakery products, candy and soft drinks. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer. 37

Blue No. 2 (indigotine, E132): Used in candy and pet food beverages. Can cause brain tumours 37

Brown HT (E155): Used in many packaged foods. Can cause hyperactivity in children, asthma and cancer. 38

Caramel colouring: In soft drinks, sauces, pastries and breads. When made with ammonia, it can cause cancer in mice. Food companies are not required to disclose if this ingredient is made with ammonia.  39

Citrus red No. 1 (E121): Sprayed on oranges to make them look ripe. Can damage chromosomes and lead to cancer. 40

Citrus red No. 2 (Solvent red): Used to colour oranges. Can cause cancer if you eat the peel. 40

Green No. 3 (fast green): Used in candy and beverages. May cause bladder tumours. 41

Norbixin: Food colouring that can cause hyperactivity in children and asthma.

Orange B: A food dye that is used in hot dog and sausage casings. High doses are bad for the liver and bile duct. 40

Red No. 2 (Amaranth, E143): A food colouring that may cause both asthma and cancer. 42

Red No. 3  (Erythrozine, E127): A carcinogen. that is added to cherry pie filling, ice cream and baked goods. May cause nerve damage and thyroid cancer. 43

Red No. 40 (Allura red, E129): Found in many foods to alter colour. All modern food dyes are derived from petroleum. A carcinogen that is linked to cancer in some studies. Also can cause hyperactivity in children. Banned in some European countries. But in McDonald’s strawberry sundaes within the USA. (Worst Offender) 44

Yellow No. 5 (Tartrazine, E102): Used in desserts, candy and baked goods.Thought to cause kidney tumours, according to some studies. 44 45

Yellow No. 6 (Sunset yellow, FD&C yellow): A carcinogen used in sausage, beverages and baked goods. Thought to cause kidney tumours, according to some studies.44 46

With thanks to MPH 47  for selected data.

Final thoughts

If something comes in a box, packet, bottle, tin or jar that you are about to put inside your body – be suspicious!

If some product looks unnaturally colourful and lasts for ages, then leave it in the shop to look pretty and age on their shelf, not yours…


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