Food Additives to avoid but not always possible
Posted on August 23rd, 2014

Dr Hector Perera London

Herbal, natural food flavouring are added in most of the Asian food such as in fish, meat and vegetable curries. Usually curry leaves, pandam leaves, lemon grass, cardamom, clove and cinnamon are some common herbal food flavourings. Apart from that cumin seeds, coriander, mustard, pepper and chillies are also added in correct proportions to bring out the flavour to foods. I have my doubts if anyone shown any allergic reactions to any of these natural herbal food flavourings.

It is reported there are about 14,000 manmade chemicals added to American food supply and one cannot safely say how many are in other food as well. It is better to talk about a few commonly using food additives such as MSG or Monosodium glutamate or Ajina Motto, artificial colourings, sugar substitutes such as Aspartame, Caffeine and a few more because we come across these chemicals in our daily food. Most of the food we eat and drink are not always selected due to too many reasons. If possible one may either eat them occasionally or in small portions with a balanced diet but this is always not possible.

This sugar substitute is sold commercially as equal and NutraSweet and was hailed as a saviour for dieters unhappy with saccharine’s unpleasant after-taste. Unfortunately, one out of 20,000 babies is born without the ability to metabolize phenylalanine, one of the two amino acids in Aspartame. As a result, it’s not recommended for pregnant women or infants.

Aspartame is made from two amino acids, the building blocks of protein that occur widely in everyday foods and drinks. When we consume products with aspartame, it is digested to small amounts of common dietary components. Apart from an excellent sweet taste without calories, aspartame brings nothing new to our diet.

Aspartame tastes like sugar, many taste tests have shown that people cannot tell the difference between products sweetened with aspartame and those sweetened with sugar. It means that we can all enjoy many sweet foods and drinks, without having to worry about calorie intake.

One of the artificial sweeteners for diabetes’s is aspartame or (NutraSweet, Equal). You can use it in both cold and warm foods. It may lose some sweetness at high temperatures. People who have a condition called phenylketonuria should avoid this sweetener.


Caffeine is found naturally in tea, coffee, and cocoa. It is also added to many soft drinks. It is one of the few drugs, a stimulant added to foods. Caffeine promotes stomach acid secretion (possibly increasing the symptoms of peptic ulcers), temporarily raises blood pressure, and dilates some blood vessels while constricting others.

Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

Early in this century a Japanese chemist identified MSG as the substance in certain seasonings that added to the flavour of protein-containing foods. Unfortunately, too much MSG can lead to headaches, tightness in the chest, and a burning sensation in the forearms and the back of the neck. If you think you are sensitive to MSG, look at ingredient listings. Also, avoid hydrolysed vegetable protein, or HVP, which may contain MSG.

There was much hue and cry years ago when the public learned Chinese restaurants commonly added MSG to Chinese foods as a flavour enhancer. We then learned MSG could be found in many other processed products, such as salad dressings, condiments, seasonings, bouillons and snack chips. While MSG is made of components found in our body’s water, sodium and glutamate (a common amino acid) ingesting it is an entirely different matter. This chemical is also sold in some Indian grocery shops as well just like salt packets.

Nitrite and Nitrate

Sodium nitrite and sodium nitrate are two closely related chemicals used for centuries to preserve meat. While nitrate itself is harmless, it is readily converted to nitrite. When nitrite combines with compounds called secondary amines, it forms nitrosamines, extremely powerful cancer-causing chemicals. The chemical reaction occurs most readily at the high temperatures of frying. Nitrite has long been suspected as being a cause of stomach cancer. Look for nitrite-free processed meats some of which are frozen, refrigeration reduces the need for nitrites at some health food and grocery stores. But regardless of the presence of nitrite or nitrosamines, the high-fat, high-sodium content of most processed meats should be enough to discourage you from choosing them. And don’t cook with bacon drippings.

A few years ago, I sprinkled some sodium nitrite on a piece of beef and on the following day, I used a fork to comb the piece of beef. To my surprise strings of beef came out just like corned beef and smelled like real corned beef. One mystery about corned beef is the colour. What makes it pink? Does it have to be pink? Is it bad for you? And what the heck does “corned” mean, anyway?

Despite the name, corned beef has nothing to do with corn. In this case corn refers to salt, and dates back to a time when anything small and granular was generically referred to as corn. Corning – or salting – a piece of beef was a way to preserve it. Now, corned beef is all about the flavour.
The distinctive pink colour in commercial corned beef comes from the use of sodium nitrite. Nitrite turns meat a reddish-pink colour and contributes unique flavour.

This is the same substance that’s used for curing a variety of meats, including hot dogs, sausages, and bacon. Sodium nitrite is a common ingredient added to processed meats and fish that helps preserve the food and prevent bacterial growth that can cause botulism. This food additive also adds attractive colour to meat and fish. While sodium nitrite is naturally present in many fruits and vegetables, its use as a food preservative can be damaging to your health. This additive is present in foods like bacon, lunch meat and hot dogs, and knowing more about it will help you make healthier food choices.

Eating a diet high in foods that contain sodium nitrites can cause irritation to your digestive system, including your mouth, oesophagus and stomach. If irritation occurs, you may experience pain, particularly abdominal pain. High consumption of sodium nitrites is also associated with damage to your blood and your blood vessels. At toxic levels, sodium nitrites can also lead to rapid heart rate and difficulty in breathing.

Inhibited Oxygen Transportation

Your body relies on sufficient production of haemoglobin to ensure that all internal systems get the oxygen they need to function properly. According to the American Medical Association, a diet high in sodium nitrites may lead to a health condition called methemoglobinemia, which is the inability of your red blood cells to transport oxygen throughout your body. This condition causes respiratory problems and can be fatal. Reducing your intake of foods with sodium nitrites can help prevent this condition.

Evidence is mounting that nitrite actually does have numerous health benefits. Studies have shown that nitrite is part of the body’s healthy nitrogen cycle.

The body converts nitrate to nitrite to regulate blood pressure, promote wound healing, and destroy pathogens in the gut and even to prevent preeclampsia during pregnancy. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health over the last several years have announced a number of studies that document the health benefits of nitrite.

Often added to milk and meat products, these preservatives are used in many foods, including drinks, low-sugar products, cereals and meats. Both temporarily inhibit the proper functioning of digestive enzymes and cause headaches, stomach upset, asthma attacks and hyperactivity in children.

High-fructose Corn Syrup HFCS
This ubiquitous sweetener helps maintain moisture while preserving freshness. A little fructose isn’t a problem but the sheer quantity of “hidden” fructose in processed foods is startling. The consumption of large quantities has been fingered as a causative factor in heart disease. It raises blood levels of cholesterol and triglyceride fats, while making blood cells more prone to clotting and accelerating the aging process.
Sugar in any form causes obesity and disease when consumed in pharmacologic doses. HFCS and cane sugar are NOT biochemically identical or processed the same way by the body. HFCS contains contaminants including mercury that are not regulated or measured by the FDA.

What is High Fructose Corn Syrup?
High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) is a calorie-providing sweetener used to sweeten foods and beverages, particularly processed and store-bought foods. It is made by an enzymatic process from glucose syrup that is derived from corn. A relatively new food ingredient, it was first produced in Japan in the late 1960s, then entered the American food supply system in the early 1970s. HFCS is a desirable food ingredient for food manufacturers because it is equally as sweet as table sugar, blends well with other foods, helps foods to maintain a longer shelf life, and is less expensive (due to government subsidies on corn) than other sweeteners. It can be found in a variety of food products including soft drinks, salad dressings, ketchup, jams, sauces, ice cream and even bread.
Most of these chemicals were created in the lab to improve shelf life, reduce mass food production costs or enhance visual appearance of colorful additives; certainly not for health purposes! Your comments are welcomed

One Response to “Food Additives to avoid but not always possible”

  1. AnuD Says:

    What is bad with processed foods is those foods have additives.

    If people establishes a food pattern in which when one regularly eats these foods that can lead to many unheqalthy results. For example, Fructose, or fruit sugar in HFCS is toxic to the body in large amounts.

    Particularly, beef is supposed to cause many unhealthy effects such as obesity, cardiac problems and cancer.

    Nitrate and nitrite both are toxic to the human body. Now, there is a habit of eating sausages in Sri Lanka. A compound called NITROSO AMINES are added to sausages and nitrosoamines are carcinogenic.

    It is the same with many food dyes all of which are carcinogenic in the long run.

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