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Those harmful additives in food – how can you protect your family?

Added October 30, 2010, Under: Children's Health, Diets, Nutrition, Parents

In recent years it has become the habit in so many families to buy convenience foods or fast food “take outs” to save time especially when both parents are working. But these come at a high cost in both money spent and damage to your health and the whole family.

According to Patty James, a certified natural chef who has a master’s degree in holistic nutrition and is author of the cookbook More Vegetables, Please! Over 100 Easy and Delicious Recipes for Eating Healthy Foods Each and Every Day, she feels that the economic downtown has a silver lining in that people have had to re-think their spending habits and the need to get back to basics. Patty says: “I’ve been saying for years that we need to eat at home so that people realize what’s important: family, conversing, reconnecting. I hope it sticks with us.”

Much of the problem, she says, is that Americans are so accustomed to the convenience of processed foods and the taste of high-fat, high-sugar products that they are disconnected from natural foods. “Parents want to do the right thing,” she says. “They simply don’t know how.” James teaches them simple ways to adjust their eating habits such as substituting carrot sticks for potato chips and an apple for cookies in the lunches they prepare for their children. “When they know the phosphoric acid in sodas prevents the uptake of calcium and that all of our bone mass is laid down when we’re kids up to age 18, they realize that all these kids who are drinking soft drinks and caffeine are going to pay for it later. It doesn’t mean you can’t have a soft drink or two every week, just do it in moderation.”

The best way to get away from these bad eating habits is to change to fresh, unprocessed foods grown by local farmers. Since these foods are local, they don’t need to be packaged or pumped full of preservatives to keep them from going off before reaching you. And since they are whole and unprocessed, they won’t contain additives, colorings or artificial flavors.  Plus you will be supporting your local economy.

Every grocery store has fresh fruit and vegetable sections – even Target has introduced this just very recently and then there are dedicated healthy grocery stores such as Whole Foods and Trader Joe. So it makes it that much easier for you to change to healthier, natural foods even if you don’t have a farmer’s market close by.

It is important when shopping to check labels for additives. If you can buy more whole foods and fewer convenience foods, the time you spend preparing an additive-free meal will pay off in fresh flavor and increased food safety for you and your family.

Read the list of ingredients on your food package. If you don’t recognize the word or even find it difficult to pronounce, it is probably a food additive.

Here are some common additives found in many processed foods.

- Benzoates (used to kill microorganisms)
- Potassium Sorbate (used for killing mold)
- Carrageenan (used to create a smooth texture and thicken foods)
- Propylene Glycol (thickener and texturizer but also used as antifreeze for cars and airplanes – imagine!)
- Calcium Pantothenate (calcium supplement)
- Aspartame (sweetener)
- Disodium Guanylate (flavor enhancer)

When checking the label on goods, remember that ingredients are listed in order so you get an idea of how much of each ingredient is in the food. When something is listed first, second or third, you know that this food probably contains a lot of it. The food will contain smaller amounts of the ingredients mentioned at the end of the list. For example, check ingredient lists to see where sugar appears. Limit foods that mention sugar in the first few ingredients because that means it’s a very sugary food. Sugar substitutes have different names, so it might also be called high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn sugar, sucrose, or glucose. Watch out for that – they are as bad, if not worse than the sugar itself.

Patty James goes on to echo what we all know to be true – that Americans consume too many calories, sugars, salt, cholesterol and saturated and trans fats. Adults don’t get enough vitamins A, C and E, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber, and children’s diets lack adequate vitamin E, calcium, magnesium, potassium and fiber.

She says: “Most people get less than half the fiber they need, consuming only 10 to 14 grams a day when they should get 30 to 35 grams. Fiber is a key to health because basically there are a whole lot of constipated people out there, even children. It’s a much bigger problem than people recognize. You need to drink enough water and eat enough fiber. I find that most people who get migraines are constipated; the toxins are getting reabsorbed.”

If you are constipated, you can be at risk from other conditions too apart from migraines. Conditions such as hemorrhoids and anal fissures.

Once you get used to reading ingredient labels on food, you will get to know those dangerous food additves that can have serious health implications. Just some of these dangerous additives are:

- Sodium nitrite (nitrate) – this is a preservative and a colourant in processed/cured meats like bacon, sausage and hot dogs and has been found to cause cancer.

- Hydrogenated oils (sometimes called plastic fat) – this is used to extend the shelf life of the food such as cookies, crackers and salad dressings. These oils are linked to heart disease.

Food Colourings are added to food to improve the appearance and make it more attractive to the consumer but…

- Blue 1 and Blue 2 are the food colourings found in candy, beverages and baked goods and been linked to cancer.

- Red 3 is the food colouring used in baked goods, cherries and candy to make it more attractive but may cause thyroid tumors.

- Tartrazine (Yellow 5/E102) is an azo dye that produces a yellow colour. It is used as a food colouring in soft drinks, sweets, instant puddings, cake mixes, custard powder, soups, sauces, ice cream, chewing gum, jelly, mustard, yoghurt and other convenience foods but it is known to cause allergic reactions in sensitive individuals and hyperactivity in children.

There are many more.

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