As we head into the holiday season we are faced with one of the biggest health challenges of the entire year. Dinner parties, family gatherings, and business events all seem to focus on one thing during this time…Food.
Now, I’m not here to lecture you on how much you eat during the holidays. I’m not even going to tell you to stay away from the dessert table. What I want you to do is to ask yourself one thing as you spoon the food onto your plate. What exactly is in it?
Because of strict food labeling laws, most ingredients now have to be listed on food packaging, but how do you know what all those ingredients mean? How do you know if what you’re eating is good for you? The fact is, most of the time we can’t even pronounce the words on the ingredient list.
The best thing for us all is to eat fresh organic food that we prepare ourselves, but the reality is we don’t always have access to fresh food and even when we do, it takes time to prepare fresh meals – time that we don’t always have with our busy lifestyle!
In researching for my book, I found an incredibly disturbing statistic from the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA): the FDA currently lists approximately 2,800 international food additives and about 3,000 chemicals which are deliberately (and legally) added to our food supply. When you consider the number of chemicals used to grow and process food, it is possible that we will consume between 10,000 and 15,000 chemicals a day by the time our food reaches our stomach. Just pause for a moment and really think about that. Ask yourself, “Is that the kind of thing you really want to be feeding your family?”
With all of the many chemicals and additives that we ingest each day through processed foods, there has been growing concern over their health impact on North Americans. Some of the major health concerns include: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and cancer.
There’s no better time to toss out the old and begin new habits than when heading into a new year. So, this holiday season, when you fill your plate ask yourself – “What’s really in this and is it good for my body?”
Before you reach for your next package of processed food, you might want to familiarize yourself with these definitions – some of them may change your mind.
- Anti-microbial agents – preservatives that prevent spoilage and inhibit the growth of microbes such as bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Less harmful examples include acetic acid (vinegar) and sodium chloride (salt), but nitrates and nitrites are also used to preserve foods. The problem is, these anti-microbial agents may be creating super bugs, which are learning to procreate in ways that are resistant to anti-microbial agents and rendering us sick as our bodies have not learned to deal with them.
- Antioxidants – preservatives that prevent rancidity of fats in foods and other damage to food caused by oxygen. Some examples of preservatives are ascorbic acid (vitamin C), and tocopherols (vitamin E). While these vitamins can be used by our bodies, the synthetic kind or those derived from genetically-modified foods are not recommended because of their potential dangerous health effects.
- Artificial colors – food coloring is added to foods to enhance its appearance. Food colors are a mix of vegetable dyes and synthetic dyes approved by the FDA for use in foods. Some of these were primarily deemed safe and then later de-listed; others are still being studied. Some have already been linked to ADD and ADHD in children.
- Artificial flavors, flavor enhancers – chemicals that mimic natural flavors. They are just that, “chemicals”.
- Bleaching agents – substances used to whiten foods such as flour and cheese, such as peroxides. Chemicals again!
- Nutrient additives – vitamins and minerals added to improve nutritive value. Most often these are derived from genetically modified foods. It’s much better to get your nutrients from real, wholesome foods.
- Thickening and stabilizing agents – ingredients that maintain emulsions, foams or suspensions or lend a desirable thick consistency to foods. More chemicals.
Particularly Problematic Dyes and Additives
Synthetic food dyes are used to color our food. Use and regulation differ from one country to the other. The FDA has recently been petitioned to ban eight artificial dyes: two yellow (Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow FCF), two reds (Erythosine and Allura Red), two blues (Brilliant Blue FCF and Indogotine) and Fast Green FCF and Orange B. Other more natural alternatives are currently in use in some European countries. North American companies need to follow suit.
Tartrazine (yellow number 5) – this food coloring can cause an allergic reaction in some people – about 1 in 10,000. Symptoms include hives, itching and nasal congestion, sometimes severe enough to require medical attention. There is a reported link between Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) in children and the use of this food coloring. The law requires that tartrazine be listed on all labels of food that contain it.
MSG(monosodium glutate) – is used widely in restaurants, especially Asian restaurants. MSG provides a basic taste called ‘umami’, which gives food a meaty taste. In some people, MSG produces an adverse reaction called the ‘MSG symptom complex’. Symptoms of this include burning or sensation in the chest, facial flushing, and throbbing headaches. MSG has also been linked to eye problems, fatigue, disorientation and depression. Meals containing carbohydrates seem less likely to induce these adverse effects than meals with broth. Despite this, MSG has been deemed safe for consumption but it is kept out of foods for infants because very large doses have been shown to destroy brain cells in developing mice. MSG is used as a flavor enhancer in countless processed foods. But while it works to enhance your food’s flavors, it is also at work doing potential damage to your brain and body.It’s hard to know how much MSG you’re eating because it has many different names. Choosing fresh, unprocessed foods is your best bet or trying to become familiar with the hidden names for MSG. To find out more about the different aliases of MSG and which foods contain it log on to: www.msgmyth.com.
For a more in depth look at the additives and preservatives used in our foods and how to make better choices for your health, make sure to get your copy of my book Wellness on the Go!