5 Common Food Additives You Should Avoid at All Costs

woman reading food labels

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If you’ve spent time roaming the aisles of a supermarket internationally, you’ve probably noticed that packaged food is not exactly the same here as it is overseas. Even if you’re looking at a brand name product that appears to be the same, a closer look at the actual ingredients will reveal discrepancies. In fact, there are many ingredients that we commonly find in packaged products here that are banned in other countries. Unfortunately, deciphering chemical-laden ingredient lists can “be like trying to interpret the meaning of crop circles,” as author of The Fallacy of The Calorie Dr. Michael S. Fenster, FACC, FSCAI, PEM puts it.

The Fallacy of The Calorie Dr. Michael S. Fenster, FACC, FSCAI, PEMWe asked the renowned doctor, who in addition to being an interventional cardiologist has lectured at the national convention of the American Culinary Federation, to single out five commonly found processed food ingredients that we should avoid at all costs.

“The following list is the scarlet letter of the ingredient world,” says Fenster. “Think of it as an introductory Rosetta Stone to help you pick out those products which you should probably put down. It’s by no means exhaustive and like the learning of any language, as your proficiency increases, so will your vocabulary of the additives to avoid.” How’s that for motivation to reach for an apple?

Carboxymethylcellulose (CMC)

CMC is a cellulose gum that’s used to stabilize various food products. It’s commonly found in ice cream, baked goods, frozen desserts, salad dressings, processed cheeses and cheese spreads, candies, icings, toppings, gelatinous desserts and even infant and baby formulas. Since it’s not absorbed by the human gastrointestinal tract, it’s sometimes represented in the labeling process as “dietary fiber.” While it’s true that it’s not absorbed by the human gastrointestinal tract, recent studies suggest that it may affect the human gut microbiome. In rodent studies, it was shown to cause ongoing low-level inflammation in the intestinal tract. This was associated with the development of obesity and metabolic syndrome, a precursor to diabetes. In susceptible individuals, it was associated with the development of overt colitis.

Polysorbate 80 (P80)

This is another common emulsifier that was studied along with CMC. It’s found in many of the same foods as mentioned above in the description of CMC as it performs a similar function. It was part of the same rodent study that demonstrated through alterations of the gut microbiome the development of ongoing inflammation, obesity and metabolic syndrome (and in susceptible individuals, active colitis) at doses likely encountered when consuming the modern Western diet.

High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS)

HFCS is produced by the enzymatic and industrial reaction of corn to produce corn syrup. Some of the glucose in the corn syrup is then converted to fructose in varying concentrations with varying amounts of sweetness. There’s little argument over the excessive amount of highly refined sugars within the modern Western diet. As a ubiquitous and cheap sweetener introduced in the 70s, HFCS has continued to creep its way into an ever-expanding array of products. You may be amazed to find it in the most unexpected places, like vegetable juices and energy bars.

Non-Caloric Artificial Sweeteners (NAS)

These are found in almost every type of lower calorie and diet or weight loss-oriented food product. Since these products are often marketed as lower calorie alternatives, they are often perceived by the general public as more healthful choices compared to their naturally sweetened counterparts. Recent rodent studies, however, have suggested that consumption of NAS at doses found within the modern Western diet can alter the gut microbiome. These alterations associated with NAS consumption were related to the development of glucose intolerance, the hallmark of diabetes. This study also was able to demonstrate similar NAS-induced dysbiosis and glucose intolerance in healthy human subjects. It also highlights the importance of focusing on the quality of our comestibles and the fallacy of identifying food value predominantly in quantitative measures, such as calories.

Bisphenol A (BPA)

BPA is an industrial chemical commonly used in making the containers that store food and beverages. It serves as a reminder that in our modern age of processing and packaging, which allows us to ship and receive products across the globe, we must now be wary of the packages bearing our gastronomic gifts. Research has confirmed that the BPA present in the container can leach into certain foodstuffs and have possible effects on behavior, the brain and potential fetal effects. Other studies have correlated lifetime exposure with the development of diseases like asthma. According to research, the urinary BPA concentration can increase after consuming beverages from BPA-containing vessels by over 1600 percent compared with that after consuming glass-bottled beverages, which do not contain BPA. Such increases correlated with the acute development of significant increases in blood pressure.