Sep 30, 2023

An ABC of toxic food additives

Better living through chemistry, a gift from the food industry or is it? And why should we care?

We have been told for the past 25 years or longer to avoid foods with too much sugar, fat and salt, and we are obsessing with getting too many calories. However, what we are not being told is that the majority of foods in the supermarkets, attractively packaged and touted as “healthy with less sugar and salt and low in fat,” are largely unfit for human consumption.

The reason? Many of the additives — usually listed in fine print, if you look closely — can have a detrimental effect on your health. Untold numbers of Americans are sickened or dying prematurely by diseases these additives have been linked to, namely diabetes, obesity and fatty liver disease, not to mention cancers and neurological problems such as Alzheimer's, dementia and ADHD in children. ADHD was rare 50 years ago, but its numbers have skyrocketed. Instead of looking at what our children eat, we treat them with drugs.

Dr. Eva Abbo

The winners are Big Food and Big Pharma. Don’t expect to hear from the FDA — it only acts if forced into it, as with the hydrogenated oils, driven by consumer groups in 2016. Still, it left the industry with a loophole by not having to list hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fat on the label if the serving size of the food item contains less than 0.5 gram of hydrogenated fat. But who keeps counting and just eats five Pringle potato chips so they don’t go over the limit?

So what are the additives that are so bad for our health? I am going to list the worst of the worst in alphabetical order:

Aluminum, a menace to your brain, is implicated in causing or accelerating neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Aluminum is correlated with dialysis associated encephalopathy in patients with kidney failure. Lately, it has also been implicated in the rise of autism in children due to the childhood vaccines containing aluminum. Babies these days get up to 21 vaccines in their first year of life.

Aluminum, used as an adjuvant in some of the vaccines — such as the Hepatitis B, Tetanus Diphtheria Pertussis and flu vaccines — appears to be particularly damaging to the developing brain. You may want to talk to your pediatrician to space out the vaccines over two years. In general, however, it takes prolonged exposure over many years to put you at risk. Lots of foods in your local supermarket contain aluminum, mostly in the form of sodium aluminum phosphate as in cake mixes by Duncan Hines or Pillsbury, but also in Kellogg’s Eggo Nutri-Grain frozen waffles, Beer Battered Fish Tenders and Crispy Battered Fish Fillets, pickled vegetables and processed cheeses.

If you are baking at home, be aware that some baking powders contain the sodium aluminum phosphate, as does self-rising flour. Other ways to get aluminum is baking meats or fish wrapped in aluminum foil or using aluminum cookware, especially when cooking acidic foods such as tomatoes. Finally, if you use a lot of antacids to treat your heartburn, check for the presence of aluminum. Aluminum is also contained in under-arm deodorants. Once you start looking you find this toxin everywhere.

Artificial Food Colors, putting your kids on the road to Ritalin. If you really want to know how broken the American food system is, walk into a grocery store in Europe and check the ingredients of their soft drinks. You will see that Mountain Dew gets its bright yellow color from beta carotene (a natural color derived from carrots) not from Yellow No. 5, a petroleum-based dye, as here in the U.S. It is marketed by Pepsi Cola. Gatorade is another example, while the U.S. versions are artificially colored with Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 40, the European counterpart contains carrot juice concentrate. These artificial colors are associated with hyperactivity in children but they are also implicated in hyperactivity in adults.

The connection between certain food colors and additives resulting in hyperactivity was first described in the 1970s by Dr. Benjamin Feingold, a pediatrician in California. He created the Feingold Program — “A food-based, drug-free approach to ADHD,” which helped many children get better without drugs. Other artificial colors are Yellow No. 6 and Blue No. 1. In addition to hyperactivity, these compounds can cause allergies such as asthma, hives, migraines and gastrointestinal problems. They also contain trace amounts of heavy metals such as mercury and arsenic, which in itself is a reason to avoid them. What to do? You really have to read the labels listing the ingredients, the one in fine print, not just the bigger one giving you the quantities of total carbs, sugar, fat and protein. You will find these artificial colors in all kinds of food items such as pickles, pizza and cereals but also children’s vitamins.

Aspartame, fingerlicking good, has a colorful history. It was discovered accidentally by a chemist working for the drug company Searle in 1965. He was looking for a drug to cure stomach ulcers, but, serendipitously, discovered a noncaloric sweetener 200 times sweeter than sugar or sucrose. Aspartame is the composite of the aspartyl-phenylalanine-methyl ester and, in contrast to Saccharin, an older artificial sweetener, leaves no bitter aftertaste.

It is marketed as Nutrasweet or Equal. There was only one problem — the early studies on mice done by Searle itself revealed an unusual high incidence of brain tumors in the animals. Searle falsified the data and misrepresented the findings to the FDA. In 1980, the public board of inquiry determined that there was not enough proof for the safety of Aspartame as a food additive, acknowledged by 3 out of the 6 in-house FDA scientists. But then Reagan became president, vowing to curtail the power of government regulators.

Donald Rumsfeld, later to become President George W. Bush’s defense secretary, happened to be the CEO of Searle at the time and was involved in choosing the next FDA commissioner Dr. Arthur Hull Hayes. Dr. Hayes succeeded getting Nutrasweet the GRAS or Generally Regarded As Safe label from the FDA. That accomplished, Hayes quit his FDA post after only two years to become senior scientific consultant at Burson-Marseller, the PR firm recruited by Searle. This is a classic example of the revolving door between government and industry. Searle was later bought out by Monsanto of “Round Up or Glyphosate” fame

Aside from the mouse data on Aspartame causing brain cancer, there are studies showing a huge increase in brain tumors in people over 65 between 1973 and 1990 and the National Cancer Institute looking into childhood cancer between 1975 and 1995, found a statistically significant increase in brain cancers. One possible contributing factor is that the methanol or wood alcohol of moonshine fame, contained in Aspartame, breaks down to formaldehyde, which accumulates within the body’s cells damaging the DNA, thus increasing your risk of cancer down the road. Think hard about that when you reach for that next Diet Coke or zero-calorie yogurt.

To make matters worse, more and more large epidemiological studies show that the intake of artificial sweeteners, such as Nutrasweet and Equal, impart a higher risk for weight gain, obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes and heart disease with the consumption of only two diet drinks a day. The verdict, no benefit and only health problems in your future.

BHA and BHT are derived from petroleum products. Humans, however, are not designed to eat petroleum, but when they do, bad things happen.

BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole) and BHT (butylated hydroxytoluene) are used as industrial preservatives. So, it comes as no surprise that these substances like the artificial colors come with a wide range of health concerns, such as cancer, and behavioral problems, such as ADHD in children. How did these toxins get into our food supply? They were used as nerve gases in World War II and adapted for use as pesticides, but also added to the soldiers’ rations to keep them from going rancid. All natural food spoils eventually. So, what better way to put BHA and BHT to work in the production of “forever foods,” giving them the appearance of being fresh even after two to three years on the shelves in your local grocery store or pantry. Excessive consumption of these “forever foods” leads to behavioral problems in children and weakening of the immune system. They promote tumor growth by their toxic effect on your body’s cells and organs.

Be on the alert for these toxins by reading your labels. Non-organic processed foods that contain oils such as canola or soybean are a red flag for hiding BHA and BTA. Buy the organic versions of processed items, such as cereals, baked goods or snack foods, whenever possible.

Carragenan, the thickener that is a sickener! It is used as a thickening, gelling and stabilizing agent in ice cream, smoothies, jellies, chocolate milk, the artificial milks derived from almonds, coconut and soy, cottage cheese, coffee creamers, deli meats and infant formula, to name a few.

Millions of Americans suffer from myriad gastrointestinal problems — heartburn, bloating, diarrhea or constipation, diagnosed by doctors as GERD, IBS, gluten sensitivity, lactose intolerance and food allergies. But could it be that all these various maladies are the result of a single “badditive”? Carrageenan has been considered safe by virtue of its being “natural.”

It is even allowed in organic foods. Carrageenan is derived from red seaweed and is processed into food-grade and degraded varieties. Degraded Carrageenan is recognized as a “possible human carcinogen” and is not permitted in food due to it being extremely inflammatory.

While the food-grade Carrageenan sounds safe enough, numerous studies have shown that even small amounts added to food products can cause inflammation in the human colon, triggering an immune response similar to a salmonella infection from food poisoning. As you may be aware, chronic inflammation over time can lead to the development of cancer.

And if this is not bad enough, none of the several samples analyzed by six different laboratories at the request of the European Commission were free of the degraded version of Carrageenan containing anywhere from 5 percent to 25 percent of the degraded, highly toxic Carrageenan.

So, if you are one of those Americans suffering from chronic indigestion — be it heartburn, bloating, abdominal pain, diarrhea or constipation, unrelieved by the “purple pill” antacids and probiotics — it is time to look at the ingredient list on your salad dressing, coconut water, rice milk. You may have to pull out a magnifying glass to pick out the Carrageenan. Then go through your pantry and do house cleaning, eliminating this “badditive” from your life. You may be able to throw away all those pills and get back to enjoying real food, including real cream in your coffee and whole grains.

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