Shopping for groceries can be quite an ordeal — particularly if you are in the habit of reading the labels of the products that find their way back into your pantry and fridge.
My boys hate shopping with me because I like to read the labels on everything but I like to remind them that if I was to rush and choose brands that contain additives, genetically modified ingredients and hormones then they are likely to end up with ‘man boobs’. That tends to keep them quiet for a little while longer.
Foods today are not what they used to be
I like to show the boys how quality brands have only a few wholesome ingredients while refined and processed eye-candy brands have more added extras than a luxury car! These foods are far from simple and when we eat false foods they are so lifeless and lacking in nutrition that your body does not register them as “real food”. So soon after you have eaten them your blood sugar levels drop, you become tired, your survival instincts kick in and you start foraging for more food. Before you know it, this can lead to mid-morning sugar benders and—for adults—espresso addictions.
More and more evidence shows that what we eat determines not only our short-term health (emotional physical and mental) but also our long-term health and our disease patterns in the future. Most chronic diseases today did not exist 100 years ago and do not exist in parts of the world that maintain traditional diets. Our genetics have not changed – but the foods eat have changed dramatically.
Quality of Food = Quality of Life
There is a direct relationship between what we eat and the quality of our life. When we eat foods that contain additives (colours, preservatives, etc) we strain and tax the body. When the body tries to metabolise and eliminate these toxins, important antioxidants, vitamins and minerals are depleted in the process. If the body cannot eliminate these toxins (typically due to toxin build-up) then it will place a layer of fat around the toxins or create excess mucus to smoother them.
The body uses WHOLESOME, simple foods (foods close to their natural state) like SOAP
If we wash everyday then we don’t need much soap. If we eat poorly, regularly, then it takes a heck of a lot longer to get ‘clean’.
So many of our foods are loaded with sugar, damaged fats, additives such as colours and preservatives, salt, genetically modified ingredients (soy and canola) and excito-toxins (which excite brain cells to death) such as MSG and aspartame. These additives are linked with an array of health issues including restlessness, mood swings, hyperactivity, anger, anxiety, lowered immunity, headaches, nausea, stomach aches, asthma, eczema, diabetes and obesity.
As consumers, not only do we need to think about how many processing steps have been involved to get a food item to the supermarket shelf—the fewer the better—but we also have to contend with over 3500 chemicals added to our foods. 1 Most of these are commonly found in packaged and convenience food items. These chemical additives also sneak their way into so-called ‘health foods’, such as reduced-sugar yoghurts, cheese, muesli bars and dried fruits—to name just a few.
Food additives are substances (or mixtures of substances) present in food as a result of any aspect of production, storage or packaging. Studies show that more than 100 of these chemicals have the potential to cause cancer, genetic defects and abnormalities in the developing foetus. 2
Additives often produce reactions and behavioural issues
Many of the chemicals currently found in foods also create intolerances known as Food Additive Reactions. These reactions are cumulative, difficult to identify (being dose-related) and often produce delayed reactions. Food additives have been used in increasing quantities since the 1960s, and since this time we have also seen a sharp increase in the number of children’s behavioural disorders.
I will go through some simple ways to select higher quality packaged items but first lets consider the effects of some of these additives in a little more detail. For a full description of additives and their effects please source books specifically on this topic, such as Bill Stratham’s book The Chemical Maze and Additive Alert by Julie Eddy—both excellent resources for parents (keep these with you when you shop). Some additives are harmless and help to keep foods safe while others are extremely dangerous.
What do the numbers listed on ingredient lists mean?
100-180 – Colours
COLOURINGS: Used to add or restore colour to foods. You will easily find food colourings in any bright and colourful item, often marketed directly to a child’s wandering eye.
Examples include cakes and cake mixes, muffins, doughnuts, ice-creams, lollies, soft drinks, jelly, biscuits and dried biscuits. Also spreadable butters and margarine, some breads, frozen pastry and sausage rolls.
Colours to definitely avoid are: 102, 104,107, 110, 120, 122–129, 132, 133, 142, 150, 151, 155, and 160b.
Tartrazine (102): Studies from the UK have shown that 79% of hyperactive children are allergic to this yellow colouring, a coal tar dye. Potential health effects include aggressive behaviour, headache, insomnia, hay fever, asthma and hyperactivity. 3 Coal tar dyes traditionally are used in shampoos to stop skin flaking and dandruff.
Tartrazine is banned from foods in Norway and its use is heavily restricted in Austria, Sweden and Germany. Sadly, this colouring is approved and frequently used in both the United States and in Australia. It is found in soft drinks, confectionery, cereals, snack foods, cordials and oral medications. 4
Brilliant Blue (133): Has an aluminium base and is found in dairy products, sweets and drinks. 5
Annatto (160b): Is red in colour and is used to dye cheese, butter, margarine, ice cream, yoghurt, cereals, snack foods and soaps. It has been known to cause urticaria (skin eruption with profound itching, red circular or irregularly shaped eruptions) and is implicated in childhood behavioural issues. 6
Colours numbered 102-155 may also contain sulphur (important for those with sulphur allergies) as part of their structure to prevent discolouration.
EDTA is also a colour-preserving agent.
200-290 — Additives and Preservatives
PRESERVATIVES: Increase a product’s shelf-life.
Preservatives have the potential to cause or exacerbate health disorders. As a general guide, preservatives include numbers from 200–321. Associated reactions include hyperactivity, nausea, headache, aggression, learning difficulties and asthma.
Parents need to be mindful of the following types of preservatives:
- Sorbates or sorbic acid, numbers 200–203.
- Benzoates, numbers 210–213; found in drinks and toppings. Benzoates or benzoic acid 210 are one of the most reactive additives, resulting in hyperactivity in susceptible children and exacerbating asthma. Additives 211 to 219 are all made from benzoic acid.
- Sulphites, numbers 220–228; prevent discolouration and fermentation. The Centre for Science in the Public Interest found six scientific studies proving that sulphites could provoke severe allergic reactions. 7 Example: Sulphur dioxide (220) is found in dried fruit, beer, wine, soft-drinks, fruit juice, jam and dairy products. It prevents discolouration of cut fruit and vegetables.
- Nitrates and nitrites, numbers 249–252. Sodium nitrite, a preservative commonly used in processed meats such as beef jerky and luncheon meat, has been found to break down into cancer-causing chemicals during digestion.
- Propionates 280–283; found in breads. Calcium propionate 282 was introduced 20 years ago and is commonly used in bread as a colourless, odourless and tasteless white powder. Calcium propionate builds up slowly in the body leading to chronic or recurrent symptoms such as irritability, restlessness, inattention and sleep disturbances. When breastfeeding mothers consume 282, infants can react with signs of irritability, screaming, chronic diarrhoea and colic. 8
300-321 — Antioxidants
Antioxidants numbered 310–321; found in oils, margarines and chewing gum. Beware of the antioxidants 319–321, known as tert-butylhydroquinone (TBHQ), butylatedhydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylatedhydroxytoluene (BHT). These are phenolic compounds that are added to food to preserve fats; they can trigger asthma, inflammation of the mucus membranes and severe skin reactions. 9
TBHQ (319) may be found in oils, fish products and carbonated soft drinks. BHA (302) can be found in margarine, meats, cereals, chewing gum, baked goods, snack foods, dehydrated potatoes and beer.
BHT (321) is used to preserve food odour, colour and flavour and can be found in shortening and cereals. Other possible sources of BHA and BHT are oils, dried vegetables, potato products, cocoa products, frozen fish products, ready-to-eat soups and broths, fish, flavourings (e.g. lemon and orange) and yeast products.
322-494 — Emulsifiers
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We’ll look at other nasties such as MSG – 621, Aspartame 951 (host health issues), Splenda (organochloride – pesticide) and HFCS next time. For further information, please see my book Well Adjusted Babies (2nd Edition).
From the desk of…
Dr Jennifer Barham-Floreani
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2–4 Stratham B. (2005). The Chemical Maze-Your Guide to Food Additives and Cosmetic Ingredients [Online]. Available: www.thechemicalmaze.com.baby .
i ii iii 5, 6 Salmon J. Pearce L. Autism & Attention Deficit Disorders. Bangor; Persimmon Press: 2006. 7 Stratham B. (2005). The Chemical Maze-Your Guide to Food Additives and Cosmetic Ingredients [Online]. Available: www.thechemicalmaze.com.baby .
8 Dengate S. Ruben A. Controlled trial of cumulative behavioural effects of a common bread preservative. J of Paediatrics and Child Health. 2002;38(4):373-6.
9 Salmon J. Pearce L. Autism & Attention Deficit Disorders. Bangor; Persimmon Press: 2006