According to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), a food additive is a substance or its byproducts that are used to affect the characteristics of a food. They are usually chemicals but do not include spices, seasonings, and flavorings. The additive may become part of the food product directly or indirectly during preparation, storage, or packing. Direct additives are added to a product to preserve or replace a specific feature. Indirect additives are found in tiny amounts and get into foods during growing, storing, and packaging.
About 3,000 additives are used in small amounts to prevent spoilage and extend shelf-life. In America over 10,000 chemical additives are legally approved. Highly processed and packaged foods usually contain the most additives.
Monitoring additives in the food supply is one of the jobs of the FDA. In 1906 the Pure Food and Drug Act was passed, which gave the government control over the safety of the food supply chain. Before this time, food processors used many harmful substances to preserve products. For example, formaldehyde was added to milk; sulfurous acid preserved meat; borax was added to butter. The following is the history of government efforts at regulation of additives:
- 1938. The Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act gave FDA additional control of ingredients in food and labeling of food.
- 1958. A Food Additives Amendment required manufacturers to prove and additive's safety. Part of this amendment was the Delaney Clause that prohibits additives that cause cancer in humans or animals, even in the tiniest amount.
- 1960. The Color Additive Amendment required prior approval of all dyes used in foods, cosmetics, and drugs. Of 200 of the original additives, only nine were approved.
The FDA has an Adverse Reaction Monitoring System (ARMS) where complaints arising from a particular food additive are investigated. To report an adverse reaction to an additive, FDA in Appendix B, Organizations. Some studies have shown that additives can cause reactions. Dr. Michael Lyon is a proponent of the new science of functional medicine. He says that because ADHD may be inherited, sensitivities to certain chemicals may fit into this picture. These are not true allergies but are sensitivities that may affect the ability of the liver or other systems to detoxify these chemicals. Therefore, the toxic buildup may affect the behavior adversely. Eliminating these additives may pay great dividends in improved behavior, according to Dr. Lyon.
The following are some of the food additives that some individuals may be sensitive to:
- Sulfites. Sulfites are compounds of sulfur and are used as a preservative in canned vegetables, dehydrated vegetables, dried fruits, peeled and processed potatoes, shrimp, wine, beer, and other processed products. These additives are known to cause adverse reactions in people who are sensitive to them. In 1986 the FDA banned their use on fruits and vegetables to be eaten raw. The Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) is a consumer advocacy group that monitors food safety and questions the safety of additives.
- Artificial sweeteners. Sweeteners such as aspartame, saccharin, and acesulfame K are controversial, and studies are inconclusive. Stevia is a less controversial artificial sweetener that is 200 to 300 times sweeter than sugar and is used in Japan.
- Antioxidants. Antioxidants prevent fats in foods from becoming rancid. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT) and butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) are commonly used antioxidants. The FDA has determined that small amounts are not harmful; however, some people who are sensitive to the substances may develop rashes. Propyl gallate, an antioxidant commonly used with BHA and BHT, may have cancer-causing properties; CSPI recommends avoiding propyl gallate because testing has been inadequate.
- Color enhancers. Food dyes were originally derived from coal-tar oil, but today are made from petroleum. One of the underlying principles of the Feingold Diet is that food dye or coloring could be a source of ADHD. The top six food coloring offenders are Blue No. 1, found in baked goods and candies, Citrus Red 2 used to color the skins of oranges, Green No. 3 used in baked goods; Red No. 3, used in baked goods; Yellow No. 5 (tartrazine), used in cereals and other foods; and Yellow No. 6, found in many processed foods.
- Flavor enhancers. One of the most common flavor enhancers monosodium glutamate (MSG) can cause reactions such as nausea, headaches, sweating, and burning sensations in people who are sensitive. MSG is found in bouillon cubes, hot dogs, frozen foods, instant soup, poultry, restaurant foods, salad dressings, sauce mixes, seafood, stews, and other processed foods.
- Antimicrobial preservatives. Nitrates and nitrites are used a preservatives in processed meats such as bacon, bologna, hot dogs, and corned beef. Nitrites and nitrates contain small amounts of nitrosamines, which are known as cancer-causing agents.
- Fat substitutes. These substances may cause mild to severe cramps and also inhibit the absorption of certain fat-soluble vitamins. These may be found in chips, crackers, and other processed foods.
- Hydrogenated fats. Trans-fatty acids have been recognized as a source of health problems. The substances are found in baked goods, chips, margarine, vegetable shortening, and many processed foods.
- Other additives. Phosphates and potassium bromate are additives that are used in the bread-making process. Sugars, including dextrose and corn syrup, are highly suspected of contributing to ADHD. Other substances that may contribute to ADHD include carrageenan, a derivative of sea weed, and xanthan gum, derived from the fermentation of corn sugar using Xanthomonas campestris, a bacterium.
The following is a list of suggestions for avoiding food additives in the diet:
- Eat only fresh, wholesome food such as fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
- Shop around the edge of the supermarket where the fresh foods, dairy, and meats are found. The aisles with canned goods also have additives and preservatives.
- Learn to read labels to avoid the substances that are questionable.
- Eat fewer foods with labels.
- Eat organically grown fruits and vegetables, organically raised livestock and eggs, and kosher meats.
- When eating out at restaurants, know the additives that may be in foods and ask about them.
- Carry a list of the additives that you want to avoid and refer to it often.
1) Lyon, M. 2000. Healing the hyperactive brain: Through the new science of functional medicine. Calgary, AB, Canada: Focused Publishing.
2) Rhodes, Richard. 1998. Deadly feasts. New York: Simon & Schuster; Schwartz, George R. 1988. In bad taste: The MSG syndrome. Abingdon, UK: Health Press.
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