| Food additives are hardly
new: they have been with us for thousands of years, probably starting with
the discovery that salted meat lasted longer. And they are not likely to
go away, since Americans depend on an ever-wider variety of convenience
foods that require additives. Some of these substances offer indisputable
health benefits, but most additives are used solely to make foods more attractive
and palatable to consumers. Surveys show that few things worry consumers
more than additives, particularly "chemicals" or "artificial
ingredients" in foods. The question is whether these fears are well
Our food supply is more closely scrutinized and additives more strictly regulated than ever before. In the "good old days" a century ago, eating was really risky, since foods weren't well preserved or carefully handled. Adulteration of foods was common - for instance, toxic metals were used in food coloring, and copper sulfate in bread. No one claims that such acutely toxic compounds are being added to our foods today. Instead, consumers worry about long-term safety. Their fears have been heightened in recent years by the banning of the artificial sweetener cyclamate and substances approved by the FDA that were subsequently shown to cause cancer in animals. In addition, food scientists are well as consumers are concerned about the health implications of "indirect" additives - that is, substances that find their way into foods during packaging and storage.
The most commonly used additives are sugar, salt, and corn syrup, which together with baking soda, pepper, and a dozen other substances, make up about 98 percent (by weight) of all additives in the United States. Notice that these are all "natural." Yet natural substances can be health hazards - just look at sassafras bark extract (known as safrole and formerly used to flavor root beer) or aflatoxin (found in a mold that grows on peanuts), both known as carcinogens. On the other hand, there's no reason to worry about the majority of artificial ingredients. Laboratory-made vitamins and some flavors, for instance, are exact replicas of natural substances, and since they have identical chemical structures, the body can't tell them apart. Other chemicals have no natural counterparts, and while this isn't necessarily bad, they arouse the most fear in consumers.
|Reading the fine print in food labeling
Most foods are not standardized, so they must list their ingredients. Even so, an ingredients list can be deceptive when it comes to sugar and sodium, and less than clear about flavoring and colorings.
Food labels tell little about the two problem nutrients that may be most important to you - fat and cholesterol. A nutrition label must list how many grams of fat there are in a serving, but seldom anything beyond that, and very few foods indicate what percentage of their calories come from fat. A breakdown of the fats into unsaturated and saturated fatty acids is optional. Cholesterol content is also optional, unless a claim is made about it.
The smart choices
Eat fresh or minimally processed foods as much as possible, since they usually have few additives. Avoid junk foods (such as cookies, candy, and soda), which are not only chock-full of artificial colors and other additives, but are also of little nutritional value - high in calories, sugar, fats and/or sodium. This is especially good advice for children, who are the main consumers of junk foods and are at increased risk if there are any health problems with additives.
| Did you know? |
Stabilizers, thickeners, and texturizers such as gums, carrageenan, gelatin, flour, pectin, cellulose, and starch are additivies added to improve consistency and provide desired texture. Many are natural carbohydrates that absorb water in foods. These additives affect "mouth feel" of foods - i.e., prevent ice crystals from forming in ice cream.
Protein - Defined, Requirements, Food Sources |
Facts and Benefits of Fiber
Healthy Eating - Fitness tips
Twelve Steps to a Healthy Diet
Nutrition and Exercise
|The health and fitness materials provided on this Site (including links to information provided by other Web sites) are to be used for informational purposes only. The health and fitness materials are not intended as a substitute for seeking professional fitness and/or medical care.|