There are additives in so much of the food we consume. Ingredients are often unfamiliar, and what’s considered safe is changing constantly, as all food additives undergo periodic safety reviews as understanding and methods of testing improve. There are over 2,800 different chemicals that are added to our food and certain ones may have possible unwanted side effects. Following is a brief overview of questionable additives which may help you with food decisions.

Artificial colors: Man-made dyes are added to offset color losses and for color enhancement. There is a concern that these may create a small risk of cancer. Additionally there is a possible link to learning disabilities and hyperactivity in children.

Aspartame: An artificial sweetener and low-cal sugar substitute. There are reports of dizziness, headache and behavior changes caused by aspartame.

MSG (monosodium glutamate): used to flavor foods. This much used additive is linked to reactions including headache, nausea, weakness and difficulty in breathing. It’s also referred to as hydrolyzed soy protein or autolyzed yeast. Most of us know it’s an ingredient in Chinese food, but it’s even in goldfish crackers and low-fat yogurts.

Sodium nitrates: coloring and flavor preservative, also prevents the growth of bacteria. In the stomach, acids can convert nitrites into potentially cancer causing compounds. Conversion also occurs during intensive heating, such as frying bacon to a crispy stage. Vitamin C is routinely added to cured meats to inhibit the formation of nitrosamines.

Sulfites: preservatives used to prevent discoloration, often added to dried fruits and fried or frozen potatoes. It also controls “blackspot” in fresh shrimp and lobster. Side effects can include hives and breathing problems. Those with asthma and aspirin allergies should avoid due to risk of anaphylactic shock, indicated by swelling of airways.

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