Food additives, preservatives and processed food

Published 10:00 pm Thursday, October 6, 2016

Food additives have long been a subject of controversy. Some believe these 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 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 corn starch) or Xanthan gum (adds texture). This adds to the controversy.

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

Some ingredients 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 usually added to processed meats to prevent spoilage, and to preserve color. The problem is 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 recommend that if you eat processed meats like ham, bacon, hotdogs, deli meats and such products, you first drink a glass of orange juice. Vitamin C (ascorbic acid) is a type of “ascorbate,” and also inhibits the conversion of nitrites and nitrates into nitrosamines.

Remember, too, that these preservatives are found even in “high quality” meats. You can get preservative (nitrite and nitrate) free meats from your local health food store, like Nature’s Storehouse, in Tryon.

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

My advice to consumers is to do research, but keep an open mind. While it’s true 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.

Diet or exercise question? Email me at David Crocker of Landrum has been a nutritionist and master personal trainer for 29 years. He served as strength director of the Spartanburg Y.M.C.A., head strength coach for the USC Upstate baseball team, the SC state champion girls gymnastic team, and the Converse College equestrian team. He served as a water safety instructor to the United States Marine Corps, lead trainer to L.H. Fields modeling agency, and taught for four semesters at USC Union. David was also a regular guest of the Pam Stone radio show.