Oftentimes, you can look at the back of a food package and identify artificial ingredients, preservatives or some long name that doesn't exactly sound like food. But though they can spot them and know they aren't a healthy option, most people don't bother to seek these "ingredients" out. In our culture, with such easy access to food, it's easy to ignore the fact that most of the items we purchase in traditional supermarkets are processed and contain additives.
Man-made preservatives give food and cosmetics a longer shelf life, which allows manufacturers to bring in a bigger revenue. Additives are also used to preserve flavor and color. For centuries people have used salts, vinegars, herbs, boiling and refrigeration to naturally hold food items, but in the last 50 years man-made preservatives have become the common method.
The most popular chemical additives in the food industry today are benzoates, nitrites, sulphites and sorbates. These additives kill and prevent molds and yeast from growing on food. Sulfur dioxide is the most common man-made preservative; it acts as a bleaching agent in food. There are more than 300 additives used today. Read a complete list.
It is not uncommon for a food additive that was orignally believed to be safe for consumers to later be found toxic. Some studies have found additives are a source of headaches, nausea, weakness and difficulty breathing. New research has shown that the mixture of additives and certain foods can damage human nerve cells [Source: Karen Lau]. The truth is, we do not understand all of the long-term effects that additives could have on our health because man-made additives are a relatively new invention. More than likely your grandparents ate organic foods. For now, it is up to consumers to choose not to buy food with additives. They will not be banned until enough research is collected to determine the exact effects they have on the body.
Buying organic is becoming increasingly popular as consumers become more aware of the adverse health effects of processed foods. Although it is a healthier alternative, buying organic is more expensive. If you are on a budget, you will have to buy less, and make it last. You can also learn to grow your own food if you have room for a garden. This option is more affordable than going to the supermarket. Canning food year-round is a great way to have food available throughout the seasons. Remember, when buying organic, always look for the USDA Certified Organic seal. You can also buy from local farmers which may grow organically, but may not have the USDA Certified seal due to the process and costs involved with getting certified. Just make sure to find out the farmer’s growing principles if you chose to buy from someone who is not certified. Farmers markets are another great resource.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest. (2004). CSPI's guide to food additives'. Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- Karen Lau, W., McLean, G., Williams, D., Howard, C. (2006). Synergistic interactions between commonly used food additives in a developmental neurotoxicity test. Toxicological Sciences, 90(1):178-187.