Part II: Sugars, Additives, and Preservatives.
Here is my way of treading lightly on this post, am I going to completely stop buying packaged food, never eat a potato chip again, and never let my kids eat fruit loops? No. But I am making a MUCH more conscientious effort to pay attention to labels on our foods, research the ingredients, and put more energy into making more of our meals totally from scratch – scouts honor.
That being said, we talked last week about sugars, so let’s bite into the bigger part of the apple for a bit, additives and preservatives. Surely you have heard on the news, internet, or wherever you get your “legit” sources from that certain things we add to our foods can cause cancer, disease, and basically could cause you to fall over right now and die. While some of this is slightly exaggerated, a portion is not. So let’s quit being lazy and wake up and smell the fake food coloring.
Food additives and preservatives are chemicals used to keep food fresh. They can pose a number of health risks including: increased risk of cancer, hyperactivity in children (who needs more of that?!), and can negatively affect heart health. Reducing the amount in your food as much as possible is the most effective way to keep you and your family healthy.
Here are a few of the biggest red flag preservatives to pay attention to:
Nitrates – they may affect the way our body processes sugar, and could be to blame for some types of diabetes.
Sodium Benzoate- this is used as a cheap way to extend shelf life, and is a proven carcinogen due to the way it deprives cells of oxygen.
On to additives. The two major additives are artificial colors and flavors. Here is their distinction:
Artificial Colors – these can cause reactions similar to food allergies. Research on these is limited and has always been a large source of debate. Eliminate from diet whenever possible.
Artificial Flavors– both artificial and natural flavors contain chemicals. The distinction in the two is the source of the chemicals. Natural flavors are created from anything edible (i.e. animals and vegetables), even if they are processed in a lab. Artificial flavors are created from inedible items (i.e. petroleum) to create chemicals for flavoring.
Some people SWEAR against artificial flavors and colors. Check out the stuff in your pantry though, I wouldn’t be shocked if a lot of it is flooded with them. Research is varied and debated, so again – eliminate it when you can and as a general rule of thumb: most of your basket should be filled with 90% fresh foods and 10% boxed or canned goods.
Some of the most harmful additives include:
Acesulfame-K – artificial sweetener in sugar free products. NO, SUGAR FREE DOES NOT MEAN IT IS GOOD FOR YOU PEOPLE.
BHA – found in cereal, chips, and vegetable oil products. Proven to cause cancer in animals but is currently still allowed by the FDA (Food and Drug Administration).
Aspartame – I know you have heard of this one. It is an artificial sweetener that consumed over time can cause cancer.
Sodium Cyclamate – another artificial sweetener. It was banned due to its cancer causing potential, but watch out for it.
Olestra – this is a fat substitute and has no calories. It is used frequently in potato chips. It has been shown to interfere with the body’s absorption of important compounds that protect our body from cancer.
Trans fat – contributes to heart disease.
Potassium Bromate – can promote the onset of kidney and thyroid tumors.
Saccharin – artificial sweetener, could cause cancer over a period of time.
Nitrites and Nitrates – debated and safety is unsure until further studies are done.
**Half of this list is artificial sweeteners, let that be your sounding board for their contribution to health.
To give you perspective, here are a few things that were the largest culprits in our home that I will NOT let back in my house.
Frozen Chicken Nuggets: So incredibly convenient, but AWFUL for the kids. They hold extreme amounts of sodium, fat, and preservatives. The ones we used, Fast Fixin’, have the caramel coloring additive in them that has been shown to cause cancer.
Lunchables: Their artificial colors and flavoring have been linked to allergic reactions, hyperactivity in kids, and possibly cancer. They are highly processed, and are not real cheese and meat products. They are also high in nitrites used for preservation which could cause cancer. (Yes I ate a lot of these as a kid and currently don’t have cancer. But why the hell would I take that chance for my own kids?!)
Mac ‘N Cheese – high levels of MSG – which could cause adverse reactions. They are another highly processed food. Processed food can increase phosphate levels in the blood and have been proven to possibly cause heart disease and kidney disorders.
Ways I replaced them that my kids literally didn’t even notice:
MADE MY OWN.
Chicken nuggets: 2 lbs. of chicken boiled until cooked through
Shred in a mixer with two eggs
Pat down chicken mixture and coat with panko bread crumbs
Pour a tablespoon of real butter on top
Pop in the oven at 350 degrees for 10 minutes
Cut up real cheese and ham. Very difficult I know.
What helped the boys here was buying these ziplock containers that have the separation just like lunchables. They eat them just as well!
This is all research I took from medical resources. Pay attention to the fact that some are distinguished between “could cause cancer” and “proven to cause cancer”. Most of the latter are not allowed by the FDA, but require attention.
The best advice I can give as a trainer, not a nutritionist, is to eat clean. Go back to the basics, chunk stuff you can look at and know is fake food (so long velveeta), and put more effort into cooking fresh. It is okay to eat some of that queso dip at the super bowl party, but treat your health and your family’s health as a priority, and set them up the best you can for a life free of disease and complications. Not everything can be prevented, or proven. But do what you KNOW you can to help.