Top 5 FOOD ADDITIVES to Avoid and Why

Written By Elizabeth McLean @ Health Wiz

Today’s consumer is more knowledgeable than ever before and as with all knowledge comes power. As a savvy shopper, you have the ability to select healthy foods, foods that will sustain you, support your health and maintain your body systems. Of course the reverse is also true, if you remain ignorant about the foods you eat, or are ill-informed you may unknowingly select foods that will lead to illness, allergy, and even cancer. Most of the foods available to you in supermarkets today are pre-packaged and processed, containing a myriad of artificial colorings and flavorings, some more harmful than others and each cryptically labelled to keep you guessing. Well, enough is enough – it is time to start making some informed choices!

Here are the top 5 food additives to avoid and why…..


Number 1. Aspartame (951/ E951)

Consisting of two amino acids aspartate and phenylalanine, aspartame is commonly used as an artificial sweetener and is 180-200 times sweeter than sucrose. It can be found in diet soft drinks, sugar-free juices and beverages, chewing gum, confectionery, snack foods, sugar-free desserts and even in some medicines and vitamins. Aspartame has been controversial since Italian research trials in the 1990’s investigated a proposed link between brain cancer and high intakes of aspartame. Since these trials, other research has been undertaken with a recent European trial finding that long term exposure led to increased incidence of leukemia and lymphoma in rats.

Aspartame has also been implicated in the development of heart disease and kidney disease and miscellaneous symptoms associated with aspartame intake include asthma, behavioral problems, depression, headache, migraine, hyperactivity in children and skin ailments including eczema, dermatitis, hives and skin rashes. So think twice before you pick up that diet soda! It could just be contributing to your health troubles, now and in the long term.


Number 2. Monosodium L-glutamate or MSG (621/E621)

Used as a flavor enhancer, MSG is made from sugar beet molasses, wheat gluten or corn starch. Commonly added to sauces, stocks, seasonings, packet noodles, potato crisps, malt extract, yeast extract and thousands of other products, MSG has become a highly controversial food additive in the last 20 years. MSG is implicated in hyper-sensitivity reactions such as anaphylaxis, and is believed to contribute to allergy, asthma, headaches, depression, migraine, behavioural problems and learning difficulties. When checking labels, be sure to look for Hydrolysed Vegetable Protein (HPV) as this is often comprised of 10-30% MSG! Choose MSG free alternatives, and avoid adding flavour enhancers to your stir-fries, sauces and curries. When dining out, look for restaurants that are MSG-free or alternatively ask waiting staff if there are MSG-free alternatives on the menu.


Number 3. Sodium nitrite (250/E250)

This is an inorganic or synthetically made chemical used to preserve processed meats such as bacon, ham and smoked salmon. Not only does it prevent the growth of harmful bacteria such as Clostridium botulinum, it also acts to preserve the color of foods. While it is an effective agent for preventing growth of bacteria, it has been found to be a causative agent in asthma, headaches, nausea, cardiovascular disease, liver disease, kidney disease and neurotoxicity.


Sodium nitrite has been linked with the development of cancer, particularly when used in conjunction with another common preservative potassium sorbate. When these two chemicals are combined the by-products produced namely ethylnitrolic acid and 1,4-dinitro-2-methylpyrrole are known mutagens or cancer causing substances. Similarly, a carcinogenic agent known as dimethylnitrosamine formed from nitrites and their derivatives nitrosamines were first reported in the literature in the 1950’s when it was discovered that they produced cancer in rats. Interestingly nitrosamines and their by-products cannot be formed in the presence of high levels of ascorbic acid (vitamin C!)


Number 4. Sunset yellow FCF (110/E110)

This pigment is used as an artificial color in drinks, sweets, jams, ice creams and soups. It is derived from petroleum and is also commonly found in cosmetics and medicines. Symptoms associated with use of this coloring include allergic and hyper-sensitivity reactions, asthma, behavioral problems, learning difficulties and allergic skin conditions such as eczema, hives, dermatitis and skin rash. It may come as no surprise to discover that colored food additives have been implicated in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and several studies have found that children with this condition display increased hyperactivity aggregate scores when given drinks containing food coloring versus placebo.


Number 5. Erythrozine red (127/E127)

This pigment is used to color biscuits, canned fruit, cocktail mixes and glace cherries. It has been linked to asthma, hyperactivity, learning difficulties, thyroid conditions, photo-sensitivity and is also thought to be carcinogenic to both animals and humans although further studies are required to confirm this.

So how can we best avoid these subtle yet undeniable threats to our health?

The best advice is to always read the label, and refrain from purchasing anything that contains the above ingredients. When shopping, select predominantly foods from the ‘edge’ of the supermarket, this is where the fresh produce tends to be located! Choose whole foods such as whole grains, free-range meats, fresh organic vegetables and good quality dairy products such as natural yoghurt to form the bulk of your diet. Select fewer packaged and processed foods from the ‘centre’ of the supermarket and steer clear of anything that looks heavily preserved!


Choosing chemical free foods doesn’t have to be hard work. Try making small changes to your shopping list each week and take just a little extra time to consider what you put into your trolley. Ultimately your health and the health of your family is what counts! Lastly, remember that it’s not what you eat every now and then that matters most. It’s what you eat most of the time that truly matters.

Elizabeth is an Australian physiotherapist, health writer and naturopath-in-the-making. Visit the Health Wiz page for daily posts about nutrition, fitness, herbal medicines and more! http://www.facebook.com/healthwiz

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  1. Elizabeth says:

    Thanks to everyone for all of the facebook shares! Hope you enjoyed the article!

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