How to Protect Yourself from Harmful Foods and Additives



I try to be as positive as possible about my outlook on things, but there are some heavy topics that I think are important to discuss. This one is also timely considering what has been circulating in the news regarding questionable food additives in popular packaged foods that are marketed as diet-friendly and healthy.


Navigating the grocery store to find healthy food options and deciphering food labels to avoid toxic ingredients can be difficult. FDA allows more than 10,000 chemical additives in food, many of which have never been independently tested for safety. The best thing we can do to make changes to our food system is to buy products that are supporting the health of all humans and the health of our earth. We are all the most important agents of change!


Here are three tips to avoid exposure to toxic ingredients found in our food supply:


  1. Buy USDA Certified Organic

Shopping organic is important for both our health and for supporting a healthy earth. Organic crops are grown without the use of unsafe synthetic pesticides and artificial fertilizers. They also preserve agricultural diversity which is important for the long term survival of all crop species. Organic meat and milk are grown without antibiotics or synthetic growth hormones, traces of which often make their way to the consumer in conventional options which is linked to an increased risk of cancer and other diseases.


In terms of packaged foods, we can benefit greatly from shopping organic to limit our exposure to thousands of chemical preservatives, chemical flavors, and synthetic colors that are found in conventional packaged foods. Two common additives are BHA, and BHT which are both considered human carcinogens. An estimated 2,000 synthetic chemicals can legally be in conventionally packaged foods, and less than 40 synthetic substances can be put into organic packaged foods. This list of substances allow in organic foods is also reviewed and approved every five years by the Organic Standards Board.


Organic standards also prohibit products where their use or disposal will cause negative impacts for the environment, which is another important reason to look for organic options.


I know it can be difficult and expensive to buy exclusively organic, but the Environmental Working Group helps us out. Each year they publish a list of the twelve most dangerous conventional crops to consume, called the Dirty Dozen. They also publish a list annually of the safest conventional crops to consume, called Clean 15.


Make sure to look out for the USDA Organic Seal, which certifies products have followed strict labeling, handling, and production standards, and are at least 95% organic. Other organic label claims may not have as strict of safety standards.


EWG Dirty Dozen for 2020
strawberries, spinach, apple, kale, nectarines, grapes, peaches, cherries, pears, tomatoes, celery, potatoes 

EWG Clean 15 for 2020 
avocados, sweet corn, pineapple, onions, papaya, frozen sweet peas, eggplant, asparagus, cauliflower, cantaloupe, broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, honeydew melon, kiwi 

2. Buy Certified Non-GMO products


Genetically modified crops that end up both in the produce we eat and the packaged products we consume can have a wide range of negative impacts on our health. They have been known to cause headaches, fatigue, brain fog, skin conditions, liver, and kidney problems, in addition to a variety of other negative health conditions.


There are two main toxins that end up in GM crops, BT toxins and Glyphosate. Roundup, which contains the chemical Glyphosate, is used on GM plants. It is an herbicide that is a probable human carcinogen, and is also an endocrine disruptor, and an antibiotic. Studies show that the use of Roundup also interferes with the bioavailability of the nutrients that these crops naturally provide.


Two of the most genetically modified crops are corn and soy. Almost all corn and soy crops are genetically modified at this point, so it is a good rule of thumb to avoid both in all forms when possible. Look out for foods that contain corn or corn byproducts as an ingredient including corn oil, corn syrup, and corn starch. Because corn is also one of the most subsidized crops in the US, it’s a cheap ingredient so it's very prevalent in our food supply. Soy is also subsidized and widely used in processed foods in the form of soy sauce, textured vegetable protein, soy protein powder and soy lecithin, among others.


Make sure to look out for the Non-GMO Project Verified seal, which is the most trusted source of verification and means all products have been third party tested to confirm that they meet non-GM standards.


3. Look at your labels


As a general rule of thumb I try to stay away from products that have ingredients that i’m not familiar with, but there are a few important ones that I look out for and try my best to avoid.


It can be hard to decipher which products are good for us when so many processed foods now advertise health claims on their packaging. I try to look past claims and to make my own conclusions about the products by looking at labels. I even find that at “healthy” grocery stores or food markets, there are a lot of unhealthy products on the shelves that we need to look out for.


Ingredients to avoid:

  • partially-hydrogenated and hydrogenated oils - these are liquid unsaturated fats that are turned into solid fat by adding hydrogen, which create the most unhealthy type of fat, trans fat (including corn oil, vegetable oil, soybean oil and canola oil).

  • citric acid - the manufactured form is a corn derivative that can cause irritation for some, and best to avoid if possible.

  • artificial flavors & natural flavors - when the word flavor is used on food labels, it's hard to know what chemicals are included - these flavoring mixtures can include more than 100 different substances and most often contain multiple synthetic chemicals and preservatives.

  • artificial sweeteners - most of these sweeteners act as neurotoxins which negatively affect our nervous system and neurons. Brands containing artificial sweepers include Stevia in the Raw, Truvia, Splenda, Sweet ’N Low and Equal. Also look out for the sweeteners themselves (acesulfame potassium, aspartame, neotame, saccharin, sucralose, and advantame).

  • MSG - a salt in glutamic acid that builds up in the body, which can cause obesity, neurotoxic effects, and negative effects on reproductive organs (MSG can be labeled as glutamate, calcium caseinate, hydrolysed protein and whey protein, among others).

Below are a few resources that I have found helpful for navigating our food supply to find healthy options. There is guidance on additional food additives to look out for, and resources to find packaged foods with clean ingredients.


https://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives

https://www.responsibletechnology.org

https://www.ewg.org/foodscores/


_______________

References:

1. https://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/reports/2013/11/07/fixing-the-oversight-of-chemicals-added-to-our-food

2. https://www.ewg.org/research/packagedorganic/

3. https://www.usda.gov/media/blog/2016/07/22/understanding-usda-organic-label

4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4756530/

5. https://earthopensource.org/gmomythsandtruths/sample-page/3-health-hazards-gm-foods/3-1-myth-gm-foods-safe-eat/

6. https://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/issues/311/ge-foods/about-ge-foods

7. https://www.ajpmonline.org/article/s0749-3797(13)00320-6/fulltext?mobileUi=0

8. https://www.nongmoproject.org/product-verification/

9. http://www.publichealth.lacounty.gov/eh/docs/WhatsNew/Regulations_PHO.pdf

10. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/citric-acid

11. ps://www.ewg.org/research/ewg-s-dirty-dozen-guide-food-additives/fda-failed-us#flavors

12. https://vitals.lifehacker.com/the-difference-between-splenda-sweet-and-low-equal-a-1789220391

13. https://www.fda.gov/food/food-additives-petitions/additional-information-about-high-intensity-sweeteners-permitted-use-food-united-states#AceK

14. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5938543/

Recent Posts

See All

Shop the post: