By Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP
Odds are…you’re going to find some kind of food additive in many foods that you eat!
Food additives are typically added to enhance the flavor, appearance or texture of a product, or to extend its shelf life. Although generally tested for their safety, studies show that some of these substances have been associated with adverse health effects and should be avoided, while others are safe and can be consumed with minimal risk.
Even the healthiest eaters and most careful label-readers find it difficult to completely avoid food additives. Many foods that are considered healthy choices, such as many paleo-friendly or gluten-free foods, contain some kind of additives.
This can create a lot of confusion, such as: If cow’s milk contains no additives, is it a better choice than something like almond milk, which often contains the additive carrageenan? Or, is a dietary supplement with soy lecithin actually harming your health?
Soy lecithin is commonly found in dietary supplements, chocolate, ice cream, and some breads. Its purpose is to act as an emulsifier helping ingredients that don’t typically blend, such as oil and water, to combine together. Emulsifiers also reduce stickiness, control crystallization, and prevent separation.
Soy lecithin is extracted from raw soybeans, and many people choose to avoid soy products. One reason for this is that soy is a common allergen, which is triggered by soy protein. However, the amount of soy lecithin in foods is typically very small, and the amount of soy protein is even smaller, so people with soy allergies don’t usually experience adverse effects. Of course, any reaction will depend on the severity of your allergy, so always proceed with caution if you have a soy allergy, and discuss the use of soy lecithin with a healthcare practitioner.
Carrageenan is typically found in almond milk, coconut milk, some meats, and some yogurts. Carrageenan acts as an emulsifier and thickening agent.
Some studies on animals found a connection between carrageenan intake and gastrointestinal issues, including cancerous colon lesions. More studies need to be done regarding any impact on human health, particularly since the levels of the additive used in the animal studies didn’t mirror typical human consumption. However, some in-vitro studies did find a link between certain kinds of intestinal inflammation and carrageenan consumption. These studies raised enough concern that the National Organic Standards Board has removed carrageenan from its list of approved ingredients.
Flavor and Color Enhancers
Monosodium glutamate, or MSG, is added to enhance the flavor of many processed foods, canned soups, frozen meals and is commonly found in fast food and prepared meals at restaurants. MSG has been a subject of controversy for many years – from its effects on brain health to weight gain and metabolic syndrome – studies have shown it to have some negative effects on those that are sensitive to the additive. It has also been linked to headaches and sweating when consumed in large amounts.
If you experience any of the negative side effects mentioned it’s best to avoid MSG whenever possible.
Artificial food coloring
Artificial food coloring is used to brighten the appearance of everything from candy to condiments. There have been concerns about the negative effects of food coloring in recent years, specifically Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6. These dyes have been associated with allergic reactions and hyperactivity in children. In recent studies, Red 3 has been associated with an increased risk of thyroid tumors in mice.
More and more studies show that food dyes may have negative effects on health so it’s best to avoid them as much as possible.
Common artificial sweeteners include aspartame, sucralose, saccharin and acesulfame potassium. These sweeteners can be found in many diet or low calorie foods as a flavor enhancer with little to no caloric content.
While this might sound great in theory and may benefit those who need to monitor blood sugar levels, artificial sweeteners have been linked in animal studies to cause weight gain, brain tumors, bladder cancer and many other health hazards. Those that are sensitive to artificial sweeteners typically experience headaches.
Although everyone has their unique individual needs, avoiding artificial sweeteners in favor of natural sweeteners such as raw honey, maple syrup or coconut sugar may be a better option.
Gums and Thickening Agents
Xanthan gum is commonly found in gluten-free baked goods. Xanthan gum acts as a thickener, stabilizer, or emulsifying agent.
Xanthan gum is produced when the Xanthomonas campestris bacterium ferments on sugar, which creates a substance that can be dried and ground into a powder. Studies on humans have found that larger amounts (more than a typical diet would contain) of xanthan gum have a noted laxative effect, and can produce gas and other digestive activity. Other studies show a possible link between lower blood sugar levels and xanthan consumption, possibly because it slows sugar absorption.
People with sensitive digestive systems may want to limit their xanthan gum consumption. As well, anyone with severe corn, soy, wheat, or dairy allergies should confirm the product they use is free of any allergens, as those elements can be used in the fermentation process. Overall, however, this additive is largely safe for adults.
Of course, it’s ideal to avoid food additives altogether, but it may not always be realistic for everyone to prepare all food from scratch. The overall quality of your diet is far more important than how well you avoid these additives. Eating fewer packages and processed foods, more whole foods and cooking as much as possible is always recommended.
Remember, your health and longevity are an investment! If you’d like to learn more about the foundations of a healthy diet and what to include and what to avoid, call us and we can create a health plan tailored to you and your individual needs!
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Randi Mann, WHNP-BC, NCMP, APNP, is the area’s leading female hormone expert and the owner of Wise Woman Wellness LLC, an innovative wellness and hormone care center at 1480 Swan Road, De Pere. Mann is the author of the eBook: A Guide to Gluten and Going Gluten Free. She is a board- certified Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner and NAMS Certified Menopause Practitioner, one of a handful in Wisconsin and less than 1600 worldwide to achieve this distinction. She combines the best of functional, integrative and conventional medicine to help women with female, thyroid and adrenal hormone issues to live healthier, more abundant, joy-filled lives using a blend of compassion, cutting edge science, practical guidance and humor. Contact her at 920-339-5252 or via the Internet at www.wisewomanwellness.com. Join the introductory virtual seminar, “End Hormone Havoc – Crazy Hormones Cause Fatigue, Weight Gain and Brain Fog and How to Fix Them!”, offered monthly, to learn about specialized thyroid, adrenal and female hormone testing and customized, bioidentical hormone treatments to achieve lifelong optimal hormone balance, increased vitality and longevity.