Organic foods cost, on average, 30% more than your typical grocery-store produce. Do you tend to skip over the organic aisle, writing it off as a clever marketing scam designed to encourage you to part with almost a third more than you'd normally spend? Or are you a conscientious label-checker, who realises that less is more when it comes to the 'ingredients' list on the back of that pack of pasta?
It may be difficult, and admittedly more expensive, but you may want to try being that bit more aware; because it's not just those addictive, neon-coloured comfort foods that are bad for you. Even the most common of foods can contain some of the most dangerous artificial flavors, chemical preservatives and additives in the world. Whether we're reaching for a canned drink full of caffeine to buy some time before the inevitable afternoon crash, or digging in our desk drawer for that unopened bag of candy, many of us are suckers for those products that the health journals commonly warn us about. But would you have guessed that grabbing a plain breakfast roll is potentially damaging your health?
As more and more studies are being released about the hidden ingredients in common foods, more of us are starting to pay attention - especially parents. Weight gain, temper tantrums, mood swings, restlessness, and insomnia are just some of the effects that additives have on children, and let's be honest: kids probably don't need extra energy or irritability! Other reports have linked insomnia and irritability in adults to the additives present in some of our favorite foods. These additives generally have no nutritional value, either, so those pesky side effects aren't even worth it for a greater good.
Of course,the severity of the problem depends on where you're living: a lot of countries in Europe, for example, have actually banned some of the nastier food additives or at least released them to the general public with compulsory warning labels. For those North Americans among us, the situation is less controlled and so food companies can sneak in a plethora of potentially dangerous additives without letting consumers know.
So in a quest to keep our The Richest writers happy and healthy, we've had a look at the most prevalent dangerous additives in 10 of the most commonly-consumed foodstuffs. After reading the list of the additives that you should be avoiding at all costs, you may find yourself surreptitiously checking the ingredients list on the back of that cookie packet next lunch time...
9 Potassium Bromate- Found in Bread
This additive is most commonly found in store-bought breads. It's used to increase the volume in some breads, white flour, or dinner rolls. Studies have linked the additive to the development of cancer, and because of its carcinogenic effect potassium bromate has been banned in several countries - including the E.U. countries and Canada. It's still present in foods in the U.S. though.
8 Sulfur Dioxide (E220)- Found in Alcohol and Soda
Even the name of this additive makes it sound toxic. Sulfur dioxide is toxic to humans and thankfully, the FDA has forbidden its use on raw vegetables and fruits. However, sulfur additives can commonly be found in products like beer and soft drinks, so make sure you check the labels before purchasing. It's been listed as safe for consumption by the FDA, except for people who suffer with asthma. Bronchial problems, hypertension, and even anaphylactic shock can occur from ingestion if you have a sensitivity to the chemical.
7 BHA and BHT (E320)- Found in Potato Chips
Ever wondered at the unnatural phenomena of food that would naturally rot within days being kept crisp and delicious for months? Both butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) are instrumental in this process, acting as preservatives. They keep your food from changing color and flavor, as well as preventing it from becoming rancid. These additives have been linked to a staggering range of dangerous side effects: They primarily effect the neurological system of the brain which can alter behavior and cause cancer if large quantities are ingested over time. Pregnant women or couples trying for a baby need to stay away from these additives, in particular; it's been reported that they could be linked to infertility or birth defects. That delicious (!) additive is also found in gum, some cereals, frozen sausages, lard, candy, and jello.
6 Sodium Nitrate- Found in Bacon
Sodium Nitrite and Sodium Nitrate are preservatives, that also add coloring and flavor to some of your favorite processed meats including bacon and lunch meats. The additives are responsible for giving your meat that vibrant red color... However, sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate give that same healthy-looking colour to stale meats as well as fresh meat, which can be misleading. When either one of these preservatives enter the digestive system, they can become highly carcinogenic. These become particularly dangerous when the meat is charred, so you might want to keep those processed hot dogs off the barbecue... Of course, it's possible to buy 'natural' meats, nitrate-free, for an extra expense.
5 Sodium Sulfite (E221)- Found in Wine
Yes, unfortunately your wines are at risk of containing this additive. This preservative is used primarily in the wine-making process and may appear in other processed foods like dried fruit. According to the FDA, about one in every one hundred people have adverse reactions to sulfites, but the reactions can be fairly serious and include: headaches, breathing problems, rashes and cardiac arrest. Those who suffer from asthma are particularly sensitive to sodium sulfite.
4 Common Food Dyes- Found in Candy
Dyes are, of course, common in so many more foods than just your average candy. There are three different dyes in particular that the health-conscious consumer needs to be most aware of: Blue, red and yellow artificial dyes. These are particularly concerning for children's health - yet they're present in many candies and sweet foods aimed at children. Many of these artificial dyes have been cited as aggravating factors in attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder in young people. A vast array of natural alternatives have reduced the need for these artificial dyes, so although they're still present in many foods a quick glance at the ingredients list will allow you to avoid them. UK readers, look out for the 'E numbers'; in the US, these artificial dyes are classified as FD&C numbers.
3 Trans Fat- Common In Fast Food
Trans fat is used to extend the shelf life of products and seems to be one of the worst and most prevalent additives in our food. Trans fat is known to increase LDL cholesterol levels while lowering good cholesterol levels, increasing the risk of heart attacks, heart disease, strokes, inflammation, diabetes, and other serious health problems. The Danish market has banned foods that contain more than 2% trans fat because of the risks associated with consumption. These nasty fats are common in your typical fast food combo meal, as well as in margarine, chips, and crackers.
2 Monosodium Glutamate (MSG/E621)- Found in Chinese Food
MSG is another additive that should probably be avoided like the plague. It's an amino acid, used to add flavor to food. MSG overexcites cells, damaging or killing them, and has also been known to have side effects like depression, disorientation, fatigue, eye damage, and diabetes. MSG can cause weight gain, too, since it prevents your brain from deciding that you've had enough to eat. Referred to as Chinese Food Syndrome, it allows you to feel full for a short duration of time, before making you feel hungry again. You have probably felt this way after eating Chinese food; this is due in part to the MSG that is present within the foods. This additive can also be found in chips, certain seasonings, Campbell soup products and ready meals.
1 High Fructose Corn Syrup- Found in Many Processed Foods
High fructose corn syrup has been talked about a lot recently. Studies have been done on this artificial sweetener and groups have taken to both the internet and television in efforts to reduce and eliminate our consumption of high fructose corn syrup. This additive has become the leading sweetener in the United States, causing rapid weight gain. Diabetes and tissue damage are common in those that consume a lot of high fructose corn syrup, too. Go for natural, unprocessed sugars and stay away from foods that have this on the ingredients list - including many types of candy, bread, flavored yogurt, dressings, and ceral.
Artificial sweeteners are almost impossible to avoid. They're particularly prevalent in anything that claims to be 'sugar free' like diet sodas and mints. Aspartame is almost always present in these sugar free items. It's believed to cause cancer and accounts for more reports of adverse effects than any other food or additive out there. It can affect your intelligence, short-term memory, and has been linked with varying reliability to a wide variety of ailments including brain tumors, lymphoma, diabetes, Alzheimer's, fibromyalgia, depression, anxiety attacks, seizures, and migraines. Other than diet soda, keep an eye out for this additive in gum, baking goods, table top sweeteners and cereals.