Newsweek on Controversial Food additives

From Newsweek

BY THE NUMBERS
Five Controversial Food Additives

Most food ingredients we consume are safe, but a few have raised concerns among some health experts.
By Temma Ehrenfeld | Newsweek Web Exclusive

The majority of food additives are safe. But manufacturers still add some ingredients best avoided–often to food products that aren’t especially good for you anyway (think soft drinks or hot dogs). “Choose foods in the form closest to nature,” advises dietician Joanne Larsen. Those will typically contain more vitamins and minerals. In other words, opt for fresh foods rather than those that have been processed with additives for a longer shelf life or to fill other needs of modern food production.

The Center for Science in the Public Interest, a nonprofit educational and advocacy organization that focuses on food safety, offers a chart on the merits and demerits of most food additives, both natural and manufactured. Here are five of the most controversial additives from CSPI’s list. All have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, but some health experts suggest that we cut back or eliminate them from our diet whenever possible.

Sodium nitrite. Bacon, sausage, hot dogs and smoked foods typically contain this preservative, which combines with amines in the stomach to form nitrosamines, a carcinogen also found in tobacco smoke. Although there’s no proof that nitrite in food causes cancer, there’s evidence linking it to the disease. One good reason not make those ballpark hot dogs a habit: in a 20-year study reported in 2006, researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm concluded that out of 61,433 Swedish women, those who ate the most cured meat doubled their chances of getting stomach cancer. Meat isn’t the only place you’ll get nitrates, though. Researchers in Barcelona recently reported a link between stomach cancer and fish, vegetables and smoked foods preserved with sodium nitrite.

Potassium bromate. Used to process flour, bromate has been the subject of much scrutiny and concern. A study by the FDA concluded that “it is reasonable, based on an extensive database, to assume that bromate induces tumors via oxidative damage.” A committee of experts from the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization deemed its use as a flour agent “unacceptable” based on evidence that it causes cancer in animals. It also appears to cause abnormalities in human blood cells in lab experiments. While potassium bromate has not been banned in the U.S., the FDA discourages bakers from using it–and at least one state, California, has approved a warning-label requirement that has led many bread makers to abandon the additive. Still, it’s a good idea to check labels yourself if you want to avoid the additive.

Acesulfame potassium (or acesulfame-K). You’re most likely to see this sugar substitute in products advertised as sweetened by Splenda, or sucralose, which manufacturers sometimes blend with acesulfame-K in baked goods, gelatin desserts, ice cream, iced tea and soft drinks. As Splenda became the top artificial sweetener, overtaking Nutrasweet (or aspartame), acesulfame-K became much more common in supermarkets.

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~ by sunil khemaney on September 29, 2008.

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