Additives could add more than shelf life

Published 6:02 pm Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Food additives have long been a subject of controversy.

Some believe they make our food tastier and healthier, while others believe they are literally poisoning us. Technically speaking, food additives are substances that do not occur naturally in foods. Food additives are used to reduce spoilage, improve flavor, color and texture. According to the Food and Drug Administration, there are about 2,800 substances that fall into the category of food additive.

Even&bsp; though some of these are natural components of other foods, they sometimes have chemical-sounding names, like Potassium Chloride (a salt substitute), Maltodextrin (a carbohydrate from potato or cornstarch) or Xanthan Gum (adds texture).

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This adds to the controversy.

Sugar, salt and corn sweetener make up about 93 percent by weight of all food additives consumed in the United States each year. Another 6 percent is made up of 32 common ingredients like mustard, pepper, vegetable colors, yeast and baking soda. The remaining substances are flavor enhancers.

Some of the substances added to foods to prevent spoilage and extend shelf life can be all natural, like salt, sugar or ascorbic acid (vitamin C). Other added substances may not be natural. These could include nitrites and nitrates.

Nitrites and nitrates are added to processed meats to prevent spoilage and to preserve color. The problem is that nitrites and nitrates, when in the body, turn into substances called nitrosamines.

Nitrosamines are known carcinogens. United States law requires that five parts ascorbate be added to each part nitrite or nitrate to help prevent the conversion of these substances into nitrosamines.

I also recommend if you eat processed meats like ham, hot dogs, deli meats and such products, you first drink a glass of orange juice. Vitamin C is a type of ascorbate, and also inhibits the conversion of nitrites and nitrates to nitrosamines.

Remember, these preservatives are found even in high quality meats. You can get preservative (nitrite and nitrate) free meats from your local health food store.

One misconception many still have is that food additives and supplements that are all natural and herbal are always safe. This is not true. For example, by definition, arsenic is all natural, but poisonous. Also, technically, azalea, holly berries and mistletoe are herbal, but also poisonous.

My advice to consumers is to do research, but keep an open mind. While its true that in some cases, there is an overabundance of unnecessary food additives used in processing our food, it is equally true that food storage today is now safer than at any time in history.

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