The 9 Scariest Food Additives You're Eating Right Now
Some of the so-called healthy snack foods and packaged goods you're tossing into your grocery cart each week may be filled with "extras" that can, in the long term, put your health at risk. Check out our rundown of the top nutrition label offenders—then double check to make sure you're not eating these words.
7. SODIUM BENZOATE AND BENZOIC ACID These (b)additives are used in some fruit juices, carbonated drinks and pickles to stymie the growth of microorganisms in acidic foods. Though they’re naturally occurring and generally affect only people with allergies, there's another problem: when sodium benzoate is used in beverages also containing ascorbic acid (aka vitamin C), the substances can form small amounts of benzene, a chemical that causes leukemia and other cancers. Though the benzene amounts are small, you should generally avoid it, especially in acid-containing foods and beverages.
8. POTASSIUM BROMATE Wonder bread may not be so wonderful. Potassium bromate—an additive used in breads (like Wonder bread) and rolls to increase their volume and produce a fine crumb structure—has been banned by every other industrialized country other than the U.S. and Japan. For the most part, it breaks down into inert bromide, but any leftover bromate that hangs around in the body has been shown to cause cancer in lab animals. You’ll find this (b)additive in Wonder breads, Gold Medal flours, ShopRite brand breads, and New York Flatbread brand. Potassium bromate may also be used to produce some types of malted barley, too, so double-check the labels of your favorite breads and crackers for PB in disguise. The good news: There are plenty of other baked goods that eschew potassium bromate in favor of safer alternatives.
9 .FOOD COLORINGS Turns out, following the rainbow as far as processed foods are concerned is a pretty bad idea. Although some foods are colored with natural substances like beta-carotene and carmine, some 17.8 million pounds of food dyes (many of which are petroleum derived) are consumed in America, according to a 2005 survey by the Feingold Association. The good news is that 17 of 24 synthetic dyes have been banned from use in American foods. So what’s wrong with a little color? Red #3, used in candy, baked goods and desserts, has demonstrated chromosomal damage and thyroid tumors. Red #40, found in drinks, desserts, candy and pet food, has spurred lymph tumors in lab testing. Yellow #5 (aka tartrazine) and #6 may cause thyroid and kidney tumors, lymphocytic lymphomas and chromosomal damage. Bottom Line: They’re used in pet food, beverages, baked goods, desserts, candy and sausage. Your best bet is to opt for foods that use natural dyes like beta-carotene or annatto, or those that are dye-free. To have a game plan before you hit the grocery store, get the facts on popular brand-name products at labelwatch.com.
*Kellogg's Frosted Flakes.