Now, we continue the treading the thin line of nutrition with the final 12 in our series of food additives; which will be good, which bad, and most pressing: Which neutral?
Continue forward to find out!
13. Corn Syrup Solids
These are just solidified versions of corn syrup; they’re mostly used to prevent sugar crystallization and help an item retain moisture. As they’re technically just sugars and often used together with sugars, they are empty calories that raise blood insulin levels, amongst other bad things, and should be avoided.
The verdict: Didn’t you see? I said avoid ‘em! Oh yeah, this “verdict” thing is my idea to make me look like an authority. Sorry.
14. Mono & Diglycerides
Minus the science on what these things are (basically the same as triglycerides, but with bonds to one or two fatty acids instead of the three in triglycerides), they are used as emulsifiers by the food industry, as they are both readily-soluble in both fat and water.
Their sources can vary; they can be synthetically made or derived from plant or animal fatty acids. There surely isn’t a surfeit of information about these guys in peer-reviewed studies, at least not in relation to anything but chemical properties of glycerides; certainly not much in the way of their use as food additives.
In searching “normal” internet channels, I’ve seen them called many things, from trans fats dressed in sheep’s clothing to ingredients which are allowed by the FDA to not be scrutinized in the way that their sources be identified. I suppose the latter is true, as I have never seen “mono- and diglycerides from ______” on any food label. They’re very suspicious in that way, so at the very least I’d recommend that vegans avoid them.
The verdict: Draw another line in the “iffy” book. I’d say avoid them, but I really couldn’t find sufficient evidence for doing so. Still, being in the dark about what you’re eating and from where it came seems foolish to me.
Tocopherols are organic compounds that are mostly added to food to supplement whatever product with vitamin E. They are often added to oils like soybean oil to decrease incidence of spoiling as they prevent oxidation and rancidity.
In solving the problem of oxidation, the antioxidants found in tocopherols and vitamin E thereby prevent atherosclerosis. Still, heating these oils for use in frying applications generally destroys all the activity of the tocopherols, especially if the oil contains some amount of ascorbic acid as a preservative.
Detrimental effects of tocopherols/antioxidants only occur at very high levels of consumption, and seem to be closely related to those seen in synthetic antioxidants like the aforementioned BHA/BHT; though most studies find them safe, and certainly moreso than those synthetics.
The verdict: These guys seem to be fine, as they provide vitamin E and curb at least some of the ill effects of certain not-so-great vegetable oils.
Citrates are bases of citric acid, which is the acid found in most orange-like fruits (Lemon, lime, grapefruit, etcetera). They are used in food as an emulsifier, as they can hold oil and water together and prevent crystallization of sugars.
Citrate as a non-additive is found as potassium citrate in many natural foods, including fruits, vegetables, and fish, and is touted for its ability to lower blood pressure and maintaining electrolyte balance.
The verdict: Couldn’t find a rap sheet on citrates, and as they do come from a natural source they seem fine and dandy.
Phosphates are natural, inorganic compounds containing phosphorous and other minerals. As a food additive, phosphates act as leavening agents; that is, they help in the rising of breads and thus in such products’ desirable texture.
They also help cold cut meats retain moisture longer, and sodium phosphate seems to be a good agent for clearing salmonella from produce. However, a high amount of phosphates in the diet may be a bad thing.
Phosphate has been found, in large amounts, to speed up the aging process in rats. Maybe a thought to those constantly consuming phosphate-containing sodas (as if the sugar wasn’t age-enhancing enough with the superfluous reactive oxygen species it creates).
Phosphates have also been implicated in cases of lung cancer, again in rats, but scientists say overuse may result in lung tumors especially for those more genetically predisposed to the disease.
These results were actually found in rats consuming the “normal” amount of phosphate per body weight as most people. Still, phosphorus is an essential nutrient in our regimen.
The verdict: Just two things: 1) Don’t go overboard with the stuff and 2) one should probably stay away from most of the products in which phosphates are used. Hate to sound so strict all the time, but soft drinks, refined breads and cold cuts don’t exactly make up a balanced or healthy diet. Phosphorus may be essential, but it can also be found in more healthy places like carrots and tomatoes.
No, not grandma Esther. Okay, dumb joke. AHEM; Anyway, esters are compounds formed from a reaction between fatty acids and alcohols. In foods, they are used to mimic natural flavorings and to replace fats for their binding properties.
Though esters are technically fats themselves, they are well-known for their ability to lower total blood cholesterol and especially LDL cholesterol (lowering cholesterol 10-14% at 2-2.5g a day).
Toxicological studies found no danger in consumption of phytosterol esters on reproduction, even at 6.6 grams per kilogram of bodyweight a day though it is advisable to supplement yourself with extra carotenoid-containing foods (Like spinach, carrots, and sweet potatoes), as esters tend to lower these beneficial chemicals.
The verdict: Again, another food additive with nary a rap sheet as far as I can tell. Like anything though, I suppose they’re best in moderation.
19. Acesulfame K
Acesulfame K is an artificial sweetener along the lines of aspartame or sucralose. This alone makes me want to avoid it, but I reviewed the evidence to come to a conclusion.
Acesulfame-K causes some degree of clastogenicity; that is, it damages cell chromosomes. Those cells not killed by this damage may become cancerous. It is also seen to increase insulin in blood like the sweeteners (sugar) it’s meant to replace. Acesulfame K also is more DNA-damaging than its “original” counterpart, aspartame.
The verdict: Stay far, far away. I only included this one in the list since it’s a much lesser-known artificial sweetener than aspartame or sucralose (both terrible). However, it’s about the same old story. You’d be better off simply using sugar; not that I recommend such an action, of course.
20. Citric Acid
Citric acid, as explained above with citrates, is the acid found in orange/lemon-like fruits. It imparts sour flavor in foods, and like citrates helps in emulsion.
The verdict: Keeping with the laconic nature of the description, I’ll simply say “it’s fine.”
21. Ascorbic Acid
Ascorbic acid is vitamin C. It is added to foods for its antioxidant properties.
The verdict: Can’t argue with vitamin C!
22- Natural Flavors
I’m sure you’ve seen this gem on an ingredients label and wondered why something could claim to be natural without being very specific; I feel the same way.
The U.S. Code of Federal Regulations mandates natural flavorings as such: “the essential oil, oleoresin, essence or extractive, protein hydrolysate, distillate, or any product of roasting, heating or enzymolysis, which contains the flavoring constituents derived from a spice, fruit or fruit juice, vegetable or vegetable juice, edible yeast, herb, bark, bud, root, leaf or any other edible portions of a plant, meat, seafood, poultry, eggs, dairy products, or fermentation products thereof, whose primary function in food is flavoring rather than nutritional.”
Well, that certainly clears things up. Gary Reineccius, flavor chemist and Professor of Food Science and Nutrition at the University of Minnesota, contends that these “natural” flavorings are often less-safe than their artificial counterparts.
The artificial flavors, he says, all have to be made within the confines of certain regulations; every ingredient must be approved. The natural ones apparently receive much less scrutiny, and the good professor has also added that since they are naturally-derived, they are much more costly to produce and of no better quality than artifical flavorings.
I’m not sure I buy that from a person whose life is spent making artificial flavorings, but the fact of the matter is that “natural flavors” are basically intellectual copyrights of sorts; companies can hide behind “natural flavors” to hide proprietary blends, leaving consumers in the dark about what is actually flavoring the products they consume.
Even in organic food, these mystery flavors can be listed (that is, if the product is not 100% organic). Many organic convenience foods, you may notice, say “made with organic ingredients” or “70%” or some odd-percentage organic. As flavorings in foods, even organic, are allowed to constitute up to 5% of total ingredients, any food under 100% organic can contain these mystery flavorings (though I found a list of allowed flavorings/extra ingredients for organic foods here).
The verdict: Have I used the word “iffy” enough in this piece? I’d say to go ahead and avoid these, as they’re just a big mystery. In my view, if something is natural, divulging what it is shouldn’t be a problem.
23. Potassium Sorbate
Potassium sorbate is a potassium salt produced by introducing the inorganic compound, potassium hydroxide, with sorbic acid (found in some berries). In foods, it’s added for its use as a preservative as it inhibits molds and yeasts. It has also been shown to inhibit growth for e.coli, salmonella, botulism, and staph.
It is used in some nasal sprays for those same properties, but at least one study has found that, even in small amounts, it has caused nasal lesions. Though, genotoxicity tests with mice and hamsters revealed no signs of toxicity for potassium sorbate.
The verdict: Eh; not really thrilled about this one, but there isn’t a mountain of evidence claiming it “bad.” Go with the “moderation” thing; oh, and you probably shouldn’t use it as a natural helper in sniffing coke, if that one study is any indication.
24. Sodium Benzoate
Sodium benzoate is a salt of benzoic acid. It’s used, like potassium sorbate, as a preservative which inhibits fungus and bacteria. However, some caution has been suggested with its use. In soft drinks, for example, it can form benzene (Yeah, that stuff that removes paint); though the levels are so low that it is supposedly safe for consumption.
Sodium benzoate has also been implicated as a food additive which may cause hyperactivity in children, though not all trials came to that conclusion and the effects may be dependent on a mixture of sodium benzoate and certain food dyes.
Studies subjecting rats to high ingested levels of sodium benzoate have resulted in increased levels of ammonia in the liver, with decreases in liver cell energy and respiration mechanisms. Also; sodium benzoate, in large quantities in processed foods, may contribute to oxidative stress in the cells lining the walls of the gastrointestinal tract.
The verdict: Have to say “NO” on this one, and the capslock on no was NO accident. It’s mostly a preservative in foods that are terrible for you, anyhow, and it can form benzene in foods? Come on. Like all these preservatives, it hides behind the “a little won’t kill you” doctrine, but when it’s in so much stuff…
The biggest conclusion I come to, and I hope you’ll agree, is that ingesting any of these preservatives (whether “good” or “bad”) should be unnecessary. I attested at the beginning of this to some degree of laziness and wish for convenience in my quest for food, but honestly: Most produce is very-much ready-to-eat and heating a natural grass-fed meat or what have you in an oven doesn’t take that long.
I don’t even blame the food industry or the FDA for their respective use and pathetic oversight of these preservatives; for one, it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves.
Secondly, these food factories are just trying their best to preserve already “dead” foods for as long as possible for as cheaply as possible to make a product.
Having outrage when we can’t have the time to think ahead, prepare meals for ease-of-eating later and etcetera, is foolish. Now, there is something to be said for protesting and wanting decent oversight of GMO foods and the like, but eating quick over-the-counter convenience foods is our fault and ours alone.
I urge you to make a new, healthful habit out of careful blueprinting of your meals, and I think you’ll find (like I have) that it’s much easier done than previously thought. Not only that, but I have found that foods I previously thought of as bland i.e. cabbage can find new flavor in various recipes with interesting spices like curry or even simply with salt.
If it’s true that “it’s the journey, not the destination,” then our food endeavors should be filled with much more passion in the cooking aspect than opening a plastic package and inhaling who knows what, and I hope this article might be the catalyst that gets you in the kitchen! Bon appetit! ?
Kiko Rex is the self-proclaimed “Editor-in-King” of Dehydrogenated.net, where he tackles all manner of food issues, aiming to learn and thereby teach the way to optimal health (and tastiness!) through eating. Have a look-see, or like it on facebook to keep up with “the Wily Rex’s” edible escapades!