By now you’ve probably heard of the EWG’s “dirty dozen” foods. This phrase is used to describe the dozen fruits and vegetables that contain the most pesticides and should be replaced with organic counterparts. Well, Dr. Bill Sears has developed a “Dirty Dozen” list of ingredients to avoid in common foods. Most of these ingredients influence the taste, structure, and/or shelf life of processed foods. Below is his list of these ingredients. I have added an explanation for why you should avoid them.
Researching the ingredients in this article has prompted me to re-read food labels on my organic processed foods (organic chicken stock, hummus, bread, cereal, etc.) and I was shocked to find several of these ingredients in my pantry/refrigerator. I make most of our family’s meals from scratch these days. But even making meals from ‘scratch’ (using mostly whole foods) oftentimes means adding chicken stock or other processed foods to complete the recipe. Processed food companies have become really smart, especially organic food companies, at “hiding” ingredients that health foodies try to avoid. My biggest surprises were learning more about the bacon I buy my family (celery salt added to cured meats can = 10x more nitrates than regular bacon!), as well as the organic chicken stock (contains “autolyzed yeast,” or a hidden name for MSG) and hummus (contains sodium benzoate as a preservative) that I have been buying and feeding my family.
-Are you surprised by any of these ingredients/findings?
-What do you have in your pantry that contains these ingredient(s)?
1. Hydrogenated/partially hydrogenated oils
Examples of foods that can contain hydrogenated oils: margarine, vegetable shortening, white bread, non-dairy coffee creamers, tortillas, fast food, donuts, ice cream, peanut butter.
Trans fats are made by adding hydrogen to vegetable oil through a process called hydrogenation. Trans fats gives oil a longer shelf life, which helps food stay fresh longer. However, trans fat, also known as trans-fatty acids, raises your “bad” (LDL) cholesterol and lowers your “good” (HDL) cholesterol.
High LDL cholesterol and low HDL cholesterol increases your risk of heart disease, which happens to be the leading cause of death in the U.S.
2. Aspartame (NutraSweet, Equal)
Examples of foods that can contain aspartame: diet sodas, cereals, chewing gum, flavored water, no sugar added ice creams, fat free/sugar free yogurt, juice drinks, jams and jellies
Aspartame is made of methanol, phenylalanine and aspartic acid, and is used in diet sodas and thousands of other products worldwide. Research has linked aspartame to diabetes, fibromyalgia, vision problems, and certain forms of cancer (i.e. brain tumors).
And did you know that formaldehyde is a product of methanol? Formaldehyde gathers in specific areas of the brain over time and causes degenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Pregnant women especially beware! Aspartame is an excitotoxin, or a substance that has the potential to damage or kill cells in the nervous system. Before a baby is born, its nervous system is extremely vulnerable to dangerous excitotoxins that the mother consumes. Too much exposure to phenylalanine or aspartic acid can cause irreversible brain damage and other serious birth defects.
3. MSG (monosodium glutamate)
Examples of foods that can contain MSG: lunch meats, canned soups, bouillon cubes, instant noodles, cake mixes, fast foods, chips, snack foods, frozen dinners, salad dressings, chicken/beef stocks
Other “hidden” names for MSG on food packages: Monosodium Glutamate, Monopotassium Glutamate, Glutamate, Glutamic Acid, Hydrolized Vegetable Protein, Hydrolized Plant Protein, Autolyzed Plant Protein, Sodium Caseinate, Autolyzed Yeast, Yeast Food or Nutrient, Yeast Extract, Calcium Caseinate, Gelatin
MSG is used in processed foods as a flavor enhancer. However, it stimulates the pancreas to produce insulin, which effectively drops your blood sugar because of this flood of insulin. As a result, you end up hungry again an hour or so later, which is why you’re always hungry an hour after a major chow-down on Chinese food. Research studies have linked MSG to adverse reactions such as headaches, heart palpitations, chest pain, nausea, and other physical symptoms.
4. Hydrolyzed vegetable protein (one of MSG’s hidden names)
Examples of foods that can contain hydrolyzed vegetable protein: soups, sauces, chilis, stews, hot dogs, gravies, seasoned snack foods, dips, and dressings
According to the Food Poison Journal, hydrolyzed vegetable protein (HVP), is “produced by boiling cereals or legumes, such as soy, corn, or wheat, in hydrochloric acid and then neutralizing the solution with sodium hydroxide. The acid hydrolyzes, or breaks down, the protein in vegetables into their component amino acids. The resulting dark colored liquid contains, among other amino acids, glutamic acid, which consumers are more familiar with in the form of its sodium salt, monosodium glutamate, or MSG. It is used as a flavor enhancer in many processed foods.”
5. BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole)
Examples of foods that can contain BHA: butter, enriched rice, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods, dehydrated potatoes, beer. It’s also found in several other types of products including animal feed, food packaging, cosmetics, rubber products, and petroleum products
BHA is used in the food industry as a preservative to maintain food odor, color, and flavor. The same chemical properties which make BHA a good preservative may also cause health effects. The oxidative characteristics and/or metabolites of BHA (and BHT – see #6 below) may cause cancer and/or tumors. Also, there is evidence that some people may have difficulty metabolizing BHA and BHT, resulting in health and behavior changes.
6. BHT (butylated hyroxytoluene)
Examples of foods that can contain BHT: Cereals, shortening, foods high in fats and oils
Like BHA, BHT also prevents foods from becoming rancid and is used to preserve food odor, color, and flavoring. Additionally, packaging materials often incorporate BHT. The oxidative characteristics and/or metabolites of BHT (and BHA- see #5 above) may cause cancer and/or tumors. Also, there is evidence that some people may have difficulty metabolizing BHA and BHT, resulting in health and behavior changes.
7. Acesulfame potassium (K)
Examples of foods that can contain acesulfame potassium: tabletop sweeteners, desserts, puddings, baked goods, soft drinks, candies and canned foods
Acesulfame potassium is used as a calorie-free artificial sweetener. In the 1970s, two rat studies suggested that acesulfame potassium might cause cancer. In 1996 the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting acesulfame-K in soft drinks. Large doses of acetoacetamide, a breakdown product of acesulfame potassium, have been shown to cause adverse reactions in the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs.
8. Potassium bromate
Examples of foods that can contain potassium bromate: breads, rolls or flour
Potassium bromate is added to foods to increase its volume. Potassium bromate has been known to cause cancer in laboratory animals since 1982, yet the FDA still declares it safe to eat. Potassium bromate has been linked to renal cell tumors and thyroid tumors, and can cause damage to our central nervous system.
9. Sodium nitrate
Examples of foods that can contain sodium nitrate: bacon, ham, sausage, hot dogs, lunch meats, corned beef and smoked fish
Sodium nitrate is a type of salt used in the food industry to preserve meat. When sodium nitrate is used as a curing agent in the food manufacturing industry, the sodium nitrate is converted to sodium nitrite (which is why you’ll see “without nitrates and nitrites” on some packages of bacon, sausages, etc.).
According to this site, “The reality is that companies that make nitrate-free hot dogs have to use something to substitute for the sodium nitrate. Celery juice is a popular choice. And guess what celery juice contains lots of? Sodium nitrate. And guess what that sodium nitrate turns into when you eat it? Sodium nitrite!
As we said earlier, celery is a natural source of sodium nitrate. (Notice that no one is currently claiming that celery causes cancer or that people should reduce their intake of celery.) But by adding celery juice to their hot dogs, manufacturers can make products loaded with sodium nitrate while legally being able to claim “no added nitrates.” Because all the nitrates are in the celery juice. As a matter of fact, these supposedly “natural” or “organic” products sometimes contain twice as much sodium nitrate, even up to a whopping ten times as much sodium nitrate, as conventional products. “
That being said, a Natural News article suggests that sodium nitrite is a poisonous compound. According to the article, consuming processed meats (hot dogs, bacon, lunch meats) results in:
- A 67% increase in pancreatic cancer
- A 74% higher risk of leukemia
- A 40% higher risk of diabetes
Yikes! I won’t be buying bacon anytime soon!
10. Propyl gallate
Examples of foods that can contain propyl gallate: microwaveable popcorn, soup mixes, chewing gum, mayonnaise, and frozen meals
Studies on rats have shown that propyl gallate may cause cancer. Other potential side effect of consuming propyl gallate are stomach and skin irritability, as well as allergic reactions that constrict breathing. Propyl gallate may also cause kidney and liver problems.
Although the FDA considers propyl gallate safe, many other countries have banned its use, or limit use of this ingredient. the substance did not require a pre-market review or approval process. Since the FDA lists propyl gallate as “generally recognized as safe,” the substance did not require a pre-market review or approval process.
11. Sodium benzoate
Examples of foods that can contain sodium benzoate: Soft drinks, packaged hummus, packaged beverages, fruit preserves and jellies, concentrated orange juice, margarine, fast-food burgers, fruit pies, relishes and sauerkraut
Sodium benzoate is used as a preservative in processed foods to prevent the growth of bacteria, yeast or other microorganisms. Sodium benzoate is sometimes used as a preservative in soft drinks, along with ascorbic acid (vitamin C). With excessive heat exposure, the two additives combined may interact to form benzene, which is known to cause cancer.
Sodium benzoate can also cause hyperactivity in children. A research study published in the Lancet, a British medical journal, illustrates that drinks containing food colorings and sodium benzoate nearly double children’s hyperactivity levels. The study included 300 children in two age groups: 3 year olds and 8-9 year olds.
12. Artificial colors
Examples of foods that can contain artificial colors: Candy (M&M’s, Skittles, Starburst Chews), pickles, boxed mac-n-cheese, loli-pops, fruit juices, flavored drinks, bottled pedialyte, boxed muffins with added “fruit”. You want to check any processed foods that are colorful – most contain artificial colors.
Studies have revealed a link between artificial colors and a range of attention and behavior disorders in children, including ADHD, hyperactivity, allergies, asthma, and migraines.
It’s easy to decipher ingredient lists that contain artificial food coloring. Look for any color followed by a number (e.g. Blue 1 or Yellow No.6). Of particular concern are Yellow No.5, Blue No.2, and Red No.3.