July 1, 2014

Chemicals in Food – Part 1


The marriage of food and science has changed our diets and grocery shopping experience significantly, especially over the last few decades. Grocery shopping was a whole lot different when it came from farms. Now chemical additives are unfortunately a significant part of our diet if you’re reaching for boxes, cans, and bags. The question of pesticides and herbicides aside, thank goodness farm-to-table eating has become a trend. I just hope it’s not a trend that fades away.


Here are twelve additives that you’ll commonly find in your foods. Some you may know well, others you may not. Some are well labelled, while others presence is not required to be made known. Some of these chemicals and additives should send swirling red warning sirens, especially since their use is banned in many other countries.

For some of the others the verdict is still out, with some studies raising questionable doubt while others showing just the opposite. Nonetheless, I’d prefer not to be the guinea pig while we continue to find out whether or not they’re definitely “safe.”

1. Aspartame

Saccharin, Sucralose, Acesulfame Potassium, Neotame

Used for:         Artificial Sweeteners, Sugar Substitutes

The vast majority of people are well-familiarized with aspartame, saccharin, and sucralose. Neotame is a little newer to the market, though. If you’re not familiar, Neotame is produced by NutraSweet, the same makers of aspartame, and is also chemically related to aspartame. The difference is its chemical stability that allows it to be used in baked foods now. It was approved by the FDA in 2002 and the EU in 2010, but still isn’t as widely circulated as the others.


Image by themedicalblog.net

Acesulfame Potassium is actually manufactured by a German company. Before 1998 it was only allowed to be used in certain foods; but at that time the FDA allowed its use in sodas as well. It’s often used together with sucralose.

1970s: Two rat studies suggest that the additive might cause cancer. It was for those reasons that in 1996 the Center for Science in the Public Interest urged the FDA to require better testing before permitting acesulfame-K in soft drinks. In addition, large doses of acetoacetamide, a breakdown product, have been shown to affect the thyroid in rats, rabbits, and dogs. Consumers should avoid this ingredient until it is better tested or banned.


Image by happydeviant.files.wordpress.com

Is Aspartame bad for you?

Unfortunately studies have been going back and forth on artificial sweeteners since the 1970’s. Many studies have shown their role in cancer development in lab rats. Yet, the argument goes that these studies are irrelevant due to flaws or the lack of the same mechanism in the human body. That’s why artificial sweeteners are such a debate.

Here are a few findings on the negative side:

Artificial sweeteners still feed our “sweet tooth,” leaving us with the desire/addiction for more. Rats given sweeteners over a long period of time increased their intake, and therefore body weight, and therefore adipose tissue.

Our body’s natural response to eating sugary foods is muted by the consumption of artificial sweeteners. Without the normal reaction to an average sugar intake, our bodies still crave more food. The natural responses to eat less at the next meal and use calories to warm our body after a sugary meal are diminished.


An Italian study group decided to re-visit the question of aspartame since it was left a few decades ago. A study in 2005 and 2007 again showed that rats developed lymphomas, leukemias, and other tumors. (The European Food Safety Authority discounted the study because of claimed flaws).

A Danish study in 2010 began to question the link they found between consumption of artificially sweetened beverages and preterm delivery of babies (versus sugar-sweetened beverages).

No one denies that saccharin causes bladder cancer in rats. The argument, however, goes is that the human body doesn't have the same functioning mechanism that caused these tumors in the rats.

Questions were released in 2012 regarding the finding that the incidence of IBD in different regions of the world was closely correlated with the use of saccharin and sucralose. Correlation, however, is not scientific evidence. It only serves to raise eyebrows. A study in rats indicated that sucralose may have been the cause of shrinkage of the thymus gland. As all of the above, the study is still in question.

A 2002 study also found that mice given large doses of sucralose encountered DNA damage. The sugar industry itself actually sponsored a study in 2008 that reported their findings of sucralose’s role in reducing the beneficial bacteria in the rats’ gut.

Common foods it is found in:

  • Diet Drinks
  • Diet Sodas
  • Chewing Gum
  • Gelatin Desserts
  • Baked Goods
  • Other Packaged / Processed Foods

Image by thewatchers.adorraeli.com

Whether or not these foods are deemed as “safe,” the bottom line is that they are what they claim – artificial. Nature has given us sweetener: honey, maple syrup, and sugar cane. Using these in moderation (imagine how much sugar you would be using if you actually had to cut the sugar cane and get the sugar yourself, or tap the maple syrup from the tree) is, in my opinion, a better option.

They are mostly processed in nature, and contain trace amount of some nutrients, as well as studies that point to some of their potential benefits (possible suppression of air-born allergens when consuming local honey, for example).

Chemicals in Food - Part 2

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