In the last 100 years, the food industry has advanced by leaps and bound. The food-processing revolution began soon after World War II, as women joined the workforce and their available time for cooking was greatly diminished. Today, more than three-quarters of supermarket shelves are stocked with packaged and processed foods. These boxed, canned, and frozen concoctions in most cases only require boiling or microwaving to become edible.
In total, there are more than 3,000 food chemicals added to our food supply. A typical American household spends about 90 percent of their food budget on processed foods, and, in doing so, are exposed to a variety of artificial food additives, which many believe could have serious consequences to our health.
Let’s analyze a “healthy” breakfast cereal. Let’s take a look at the ingredients of Kellogg’s® Smart Start® Strong Heart Antioxidants:
Rice, whole grain wheat, sugar, oat clusters, sugar, toasted oats [rolled oats, sugar, canola oil with TBHQ and citric acid to preserve freshness, molasses, honey, BHT for freshness, soy lecithin], wheat flakes, crisp rice [rice, sugar, malt, salt], corn syrup, polydextrose, honey, cinnamon, BHT [preservative], artificial vanilla flavor, high fructose corn syrup, salt, honey, malt flavoring, alpha tocopherol acetate [vitamin E], niacinamide, zinc oxide, reduced iron, sodium ascorbate and ascorbic acid (vitamin C), calcium pantothenate, Yellow #5, pyridoxine hydrochloride (vitamin B6), riboflavin (vitamin B2), thiamin hydrochloride (vitamin B1), BHT (preservative), vitamin A palmitate, folic acid, beta carotene (a source of vitamin A), vitamin B12 and vitamin D.
Ingredients of key concern:
- BHT (Butylated Hydroxytoluene): this common additive, used to prevent oxidation in a wide variety of foods and cosmetics, is listed by the National Toxicology Program (NTP) in 2005 as “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen” on the basis of experimental findings in animals. It is also used in jet fuels, rubber petroleum products, transformer oil, and embalming fluid. As if this were not enough, the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) warns that BHT should not be allowed to enter the environment, can cause liver damage, and is harmful to aquatic organisms.
- High Fructose Corn Syrup (HFCS): Loaded with “unbound” fructose and glucose molecules, studies have shown that the reactive carbonyl molecules can cause tissue damage that may lead to obesity, diabetes, and also heart disease. So much for this “Strong Heart Antioxidants” cereal recipe! HFCS is made from genetically modified corn and processed with genetically modified enzymes. To make matters worse, studies have recently revealed that nearly half of tested samples of HFCS contained mercury.
- Yellow #5: Almost all colorants approved for use in food are derived from coal tar and may contain up to 10ppm of lead and arsenic. Also—and not surprisingly—most coal-tar colors could potentially cause cancer.
What to Believe?
There are certainly differences of opinion out there…. Let’s look at aspartame. Aspartame is an artificial sweetener known by various brand names, including Equal and NutraSweet.
You can go to one website and read that “Aspartame is not your friend. Aspartame is a neurotoxin and carcinogen. Known to erode intelligence and affect short-term memory, the components of this toxic sweetener may lead to a wide variety of ailments, including brain tumor, diseases like lymphoma, diabetes, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, fibromyalgia, and chronic fatigue, emotional disorders like depression and anxiety attacks, dizziness, headaches, nausea, mental confusion, migraines, and seizures.”
Then another site shows no evidence of harm… “Dozens of studies in people and animals have tested for effects possibly related to aspartame. The majority of these studies show that things such as headaches, seizures, and mental and emotional problems didn’t occur with aspartame more often than with placebo, even at doses many times higher than anyone would likely ever consume. Large epidemiological studies haven’t found a link between aspartame and cancer. A study of about 500,000 people, sponsored by the National Cancer Institute, compared those who drank beverages containing aspartame with those who didn’t. It found that people who drank increasing amounts of beverages containing aspartame did not have a greater risk for lymphomas, leukemias, or brain cancer.”
What to Do?
As for the cereal example, there are many tasty varieties of boxed cereals that truly contain all-natural ingredients – just read the label and avoid synthetic ingredients. In general, try to eat foods in the most unadulterated “original” format as often as possible and avoid those with a long list of ingredients with names that you can’t pronounce!
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