Reading food labels may not be the most efficient thing to do in the grocery store but taking this extra step can help ensure you’re eating the most nutritious items available. Research on how specific chemicals and additives affect the body is still emerging but many scientists agree that following a diet consisting of mainly whole foods is the safest bet for your continued health and longevity.
People have been preserving food since the beginning of time using salt, sugar, and vinegar. But in more recent times, food manufacturers have added benzoates, sulfates, propionates, nitrates, and sorbates to prevent food from going rancid and extend their salability. These chemicals work by preventing oxidation of fats and slowing the growth of yeasts and bacteria. When digested, these chemicals have the potential to form carcinogenic chemicals and negatively impact the body.
Nitrates and other preservative salts have been shown to affect the thyroid and how efficiently that blood can deliver oxygen to tissue. Nitrates are most commonly found in deli meats and other animal products. A recent meta-analysis of research showed an inconclusive link between nitrate consumption and gastric cancer. But other studies have shown links between high-nitrate consumption and heart disease, which can be caused by hardened arteries and damaged blood vessels.
Research by the Mayo Clinic has linked a diet high in sulfites to increased breathing problems among people with asthma and breathing problems. Sulfites can also cause sometimes deadly anaphylactic reactions. These additives are most common in dried fruits, wine, and frozen shrimp.
Artificial food coloring
Additives like red dye and blue coloring show a tentative link to hyperactivity in children. While there is insubstantial evidence to show a direct link between food color additives and ADHD, research suggests that artificial food dyes may increase histamine production and influence how nutrients are absorbed.
In order to increase shelf-life and palatability, palm oil and other liquid oils are combined with hydrogen to form solids at room temperature. Sometimes called partially-hydrogenated oils, these additives form trans fats which reduce your good (HDL) cholesterol and increase your bad (LDL) cholesterol. Having a higher ratio of bad to good cholesterol puts you at risk for heart disease, hypertension, and diabetes.
High fructose corn syrup
First used as a cheaper alternative to sugar, this artificial sweetener isn’t processed by the body the same way cane sugar or honey is. High fructose corn syrup is processed in the liver and can lead to an increase in both triglycerides and cholesterol. It can also increase inflammation in the body and decrease satiety; meaning it takes longer for you to feel full. As with any added sugars, HFCS provides additional calories with very little nutritional value. Studies have linked high consumption of high fructose corn syrup to insulin-resistance, diabetes, and obesity.
Two notable items that are not shown on food labels are pesticides and hormones. Neither the USDA nor the FDA require food manufacturers to disclose the chemicals used to grow and produce their foods.Added hormones used in meat and dairy animals can also contribute to hormonal imbalances and disorders in humans. Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone (rBGH/rBST) is one of the most common hormones given to cows and can pass through their milk and meat to minimic hormones in humans. There is inconclusive evidence linking rBGH/rBST to colon, breast, and prostate cancers.
One way to avoid the hidden dangers of pesticides is to choose USDA-certified organic items which are guaranteed to be free of hormones, pesticides, additives, and preservatives.