Food

Food is an essential element of survival and a major contributor to overall health and well-being. Food is indispensable to nourish our bodies and minds and to improve health. It also has the potential to contribute to disease and increase the toxic burden on the body due to numerous food additives. Choosing healthy foods is not always a simple task as there are thousands of chemicals and food additives which may be used in growing food or added to food during processing. There is a lot to be aware of when it comes to food. Following basic principles like reading labels and eating whole foods are an important first step. 

Where Do They Come From?

Food Additives and Processing:

There are currently several thousand different additives that are used in food to enhance flavour, change the texture, add colour and to help preserve the food. Processing food is anything that changes the original nature of the food. The further food is from its original form, the more processed it is and generally the more food additives it has. The additives used vary somewhat by country, with some of the more common additives being:

Sugar is a broad category of sweeteners. In small quantities sugar can be helpful as the body uses glucose as an energy source, but diets high in sugar can be harmful. The sugar category includes sucrose, fructose, dextrose, anything ending in ‘ose', high fructose corn syrup, cane sugar, coconut sugar, organic cane sugar, brown sugar and any type of sugar are added sugars. Sugar and sweeteners are found in most packaged products including:

  • Cookies, desserts and candies

  • Sauces and dressings

  • Bread, crackers and other baked goods

  • Most beverages and flavored dairy products

Artificial Sweeteners, like Aspartame, NutraSweet, Saccharin, Equal, Sweet n Low, Sucralose and Splenda, are commonly used as sugar alternatives. They are often found in: 

  • “Diet” soft drinks

  • “sugar-free” foods

  • “low-calorie” foods

Preservatives are a category of additives including butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA), butylated hydroxytolunene (BHT), sodium benzoate, sulfites, sorbates, propionic acid and sulfur dioxide. They are added to foods to keep fats from going rancid, to extend the shelf life of food and when food is being consumed a long distance from where it was produced.  They are commonly found in:

  • Breakfast cereals and baked goods

  • Frozen dinners

  • Fats and oils

  • Chewing gum

Salt is often added to food as a preservative. Salt is an essential part of our diets, but too much salt comes with many health risks. 75% of dietary intake of salt comes from manufactured food in industrialized countries.  Foods that commonly have large amounts of added salt include: 

  • Processed food

  • Cured and canned meats

  • Canned soup and other canned foods

  • Water (to soften the water)

  • Restaurant food

 

Flavour Enhancers include all “artificial flavours,” MSG (monosodium glutamate), “natural flavors” and any other “flavouring”.  These are mainly found in:

  • Packaged food, including canned vegetables and soups, sauces and marinades

  • Processed meats

  • Fast food and some restaurant food.

 

Dyes and Colouring make food have richer and brighter colours. Some food colourings are natural while others are synthetic. Synthetic food colourings include all “artificial colouring” or “colour” and may have different labelling depending on the country. Canada uses names such as tartrazine, brilliant blue or erythrosine. European countries use a 3-digit number such as 102, 133, 137. The United States uses numbered colours such as FD & C Blue #1 or Red #3. Common foods with colouring are:

  • Candy, beverages, condiments, icing and other processed foods

  • Non-organic fruits and vegetables like oranges

  • Maraschino cherries, candied fruits, jams

  • Canned foods

 

Emulsifiers help to change the texture of food. Common emulsifiers include: Polysorbates (like Polysorbate 80), Carrageenan, Carboxymethylcellulose, mono-and diglycerides and guar gum. Some products they are commonly found in are:

  • Mayonnaise, creamy sauces, ice cream, candy and margarine

  • Non-dairy milks

  • Breads and baked goods

  • Processed meats

Nitrates and Nitrites, used as preservatives to cure meats, are commonly in the form of sodium or potassium nitrate, or celery juice and then reduced to nitrites by bacteria. They are commonly found in:

  • Processed and cured meats such as sandwich meat, hot dogs, sausage and jerky

Potassium Bromate [2] is banned in many countries but can still be found in food in some countries like the United States. It is used to make brominated flour and vegetable oil which are most commonly used in: 

  • Baking, pizza dough, pastries and buns

  • Soft drinks

Phosphates [1,3] are used for acid balancing, leavening, moisture retention and anticaking. Common foods with added phosphate are:

  • Processed meat, ham, sausages and canned fish 

  • Breads and baked goods

  • Cola drinks and other carbonated beverages

 

Refined Carbohydrates [4] have less fiber, a higher glycemic index which raises blood sugar faster, and less nutritional value than whole grains. They include refined flours, potato starch, other refined starches and some commonly eaten foods such as:

  • White rice

  • Most breakfast cereals

  • Gluten free flour mixes

  • Most breads and baking

Biochemical or Genetic Alterations of Food:

Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils [5] are a type of trans fat produced by a chemical reaction of oils to create a longer shelf life. The World Health Organization is working towards removing industrially produced trans-fat from global food within the next few years. They are most commonly found in: 

  • Margarine, vegetable shortening

  • Fried foods

  • Packaged foods, premade snacks and ready-made dough

  • Powdered creamer and some non-dairy creamers

Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO’s)

Common crops that have been genetically modified are:

  • Corn, wheat, soybeans, sugar beets, potatoes, papaya, canola, apples and rice. [6]

Application of chemicals while food is being grown


Persistent chemicals in soil and water that are accumulated in our food


Meat and Dairy products can accumulate toxicants depending on where and how the animals were raised, what they were fed, whether or not there were antibiotics in the feed or if they were treated with hormones.

Heavy metals are accumulated in some of our foods mainly from soil, water, some manure fertilizers and feed sources.  They include mercury, cadmium and arsenic. Some common foods that often contain heavy metals and should not be eaten regularly are:  

  • Seafood (Tuna, Atlantic Salmon, Mackerel, Swordfish

  • Tofu

  • Chicken

  • Rice

  • Tap Water - can contain many heavy metals depending on the location

Food Packaging such as cans, plastic containers, plastic wrap, and Styrofoam. 

 

During the cooking process

How They Affect You

Dietary patterns of eating too many foods that are highly refined, contain multiple additives, are low in nutrients and not eating enough nutritious foods are one of the main contributors to chronic diseases. Not eating enough healthy foods like fruits, nuts, seeds, vegetables and whole grains contributes to millions of deaths every year. Eating a diet high in ultra-processed foods increases risk of chronic diseases. [7] [4] [8]

Obesity: Many of the things we eat have the ability to contribute to weight gain including artificial sweeteners like aspartame, high fructose corn syrup, sugar, refine carbohydrates, emulsifiers (polysorbate 80, carboxymethylcellulose (CMC)and carrageenan.) [9] In general,  with every percent increase of calories consumed from ultra-processed food in a country, there is also an increased prevalence in obesity. [8] Obesity is a major risk factor for developing heart disease, diabetes, many types of cancer and osteoarthritis, and is associated with depression. [10]

Diabetes is one of the leading causes of death in the world. High blood sugar levels also cause a lot of damage to the body, including to blood vessels, nerves, eyes, kidneys and heart. [11] Sugar and refined carbohydrates contribute to developing diabetes along with many food additives, as they contribute to inflammation and insulin resistance. [9]

Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Irritable Bowel Disease (IBD): Diets high in ultra-processed foods increase the risk for IBS. [12] Food additives, like artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers along with sugar and processed carbohydrates, can disrupt the bacteria that live in our digestive tract and lead to inflammation and IBS. This increases the risk of developing IBD (Crohn’s and Colitis). [13]

Cardiovascular Disease: Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death worldwide. A high intake of ultra-processed foods, sugar and refined foods, trans fats and added phosphates has been associated with increased risk of heart disease including high blood pressure, stroke and coronary artery disease. [1–3] [14] Artificial sweeteners have been associated with high risk of stroke. [15]

Cancer: The risk of cancer decreases the more organic food a person eats [16] and risk increases with more sugary drink consumption. [17] Many other additives are associated with increased cancer risk, including high fructose corn syrup, nitrates and nitrites, emulsifiers, BHT, potassium bromate, [13] [2] [18] and some artificial colorings, have been shown to cause tumors in animals. [19] [20]

Liver Disease: The liver processes most of the toxins that you eat. Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is becoming increasingly common, especially in people with obesity, high cholesterol and diabetes. High fructose corn syrup, trans fats and sugar all contribute to developing fatty liver which then increases risk of end stage liver disease. [1]

 

Kidney Disease: The kidneys filter our blood and excrete all toxins that can be dissolved in water. The more food additives eaten, the harder they have to work and the risk of kidney toxicity increases. Tartrazine, phosphates, BHA, BHT and glyphosate contribute to kidney toxicity. [1] [19] Excess salt and phosphate additives both increase the risk of developing kidney stones. [21]

Mental Health Issues: Depression is more prevalent in those who eat higher amounts of sugar.   Sugary beverages have been associated with depression and common mental disorders. [22] Diets higher in ultra-processed foods, especially beverages and sauces,  are associated with increased depression. [23] Emulsifiers (Polysorbate 80 and carboxymethylcellulose) have had negative impacts on anxiety and social behaviors in animal studies. [24] Any additives that have a negative on the microbiome can also affect mental health.


Hyperactivity: Multiple artificial colourings (tartrazine, quinoline yellow, sunset yellow FCF, carmoisine, ponceau 4R and allura red) [25] and sodium benzoate have been associated with hyperactivity in children.  Improvement is seen with elimination of these additives. Not all studies have shown these results, but they are likely a factor in multifactorial conditions like ADD/ADHD. [26]


Asthma: Diets containing ultra-processed food have been connected with asthma in children and adolescents. [12] Sulfites can worsen asthma symptoms, and those with asthma have a higher prevalence of sulfite sensitivity. MSG also worsens asthma in some people. [27]

Allergies: Children who have allergies are more prone to having reactions to food additives. A small percentage of people will have allergic reactions to different food additives, including hives, swelling, itching and rarely anaphylaxis. MSG is a more common cause of chronic itching. [27]


Skin Issues: Many food additives can worsen eczema, including sodium benzoate, tartrazine, carmine sulfites, glutamate derivatives (MSG), tyramine and acetylsalicylic acid. [28]

 

Candida: Diets high in sugar and high blood sugar levels contribute to candida overgrowth and yeast infections. Food additives that disrupt the microbiome also can contribute to an overgrowth of candida.

 

Osteoporosis: High salt diets have been linked with osteoporosis. [1] Inorganic phosphate food additives have also been shown to negatively impact bone metabolism. [29]

Memory Issues and Dementia: High sugar diets have been connected with poor cognitive and memory function, and having diabetes or higher blood sugar levels increases risk of developing dementia. [30] Artificial sweeteners have also been associated with higher risk of dementia.

 

Fatigue: Some food additives that can contribute to fatigue are MSG, phosphates, aspartame and other artificial sweeteners. Diets high in sugar and refined carbohydrates are also associated with fatigue.

 

Impaired Immune Function: Many food additives lead to impaired immune function which also increases inflammation. Tartrazine, amaranth, [20] propionic acid, [31] and sodium benzoate [32] can suppress immune function.  Sodium sorbate is toxic to human white blood cells. [33] Artificial sweeteners and emulsifiers can disrupt the microbiome, a major part of the immune system. [9] High salt and trans fats can contribute to the induction of autoimmune processes. [34]

 

Headaches and Migraines: Artificial food colorings like tartrazine, artificial sweeteners like aspartame, and MSG have been associated with chronic headaches and migraines. [27]

 

Hormone Dysregulation: Some food additives can mimic hormones in the body, affecting things like fertility, reproductive hormones, mental health and the thyroid. Artificial sweeteners, some artificial colorings and BHT are some examples of additives that affect hormones. [27] 

 

Sleep Issues and Insomnia:  Tartrazine is associated with sleep disturbances especially in children. [35] MSG and aspartame can also cause sleep disturbance and insomnia. [36] 

 

Dehydration: Consuming large amounts of salt at one time can cause dehydration, which can cause short term fatigue, dizziness and confusion. Long term it can lead to urinary tract infections and kidney stones. Electrolyte imbalance from dehydration can cause muscle cramps and even seizures if severe. [37]

 

Combinations of Food Additives: There has been very little research on the effects of combining food additives on the human body. Many foods contain up to 5 additives, meaning there could be many health effects that we are unaware of. [38]

How To Protect Yourself

The health effects from food and food additives listed above is far from exhaustive and many of them are interconnected, such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease and depression. This also means that making dietary changes can have interconnected significant positive impacts on health.

Eat whole foods: This means anything that can be grown from the ground, or animals that were fed only plants, or that didn’t need a factory or a chemistry lab to be made.

  • This includes fresh vegetables and fruits, whole grains, eggs, meat, dairy and seafood. 

  • This means avoiding most of the food that comes in a package and has a long list of ingredients. In some places a relevant strategy is mainly shop around the perimeter of the grocery store and avoid going down the aisles. 

  • Eat locally grown and produced food as much as possible.

Avoid Highly Processed Foods:

  • Most ready-made meals, sweetened breakfast cereals, microwave popcorn, soft drinks, candy, boxed cookies and crackers, mass produced bread and anything that has a long list of ingredients.

Read Labels: You will need to read labels of all food that you buy in order to avoid many of the common ingredients in food that have been discussed above and many others, as these lists are far from complete. If you do not know what something is, it is likely best to avoid it. 

  • Do not be fooled by the front of a label.  A highly processed sugary food may say “low fat” or “gluten free” but there is no way to know what you are actually eating unless you read the label. 

  • Contact companies to find out what the “natural flavors” are that they use. 

Eat Antioxidant Rich Foods

Salt: Limit salt intake to 4-6 grams of salt per day or 1600-2400 mg of sodium.

  • Replace high salt foods with potassium rich fruits and vegetables.

Sweeteners: Use maple syrup, honey, stevia and monk fruit for sweetening. 

  • Buy unsweetened foods and add your own small amounts of sweetener if needed. Always read labels to see if there is added sugar or artificial sweetener. 

  • Avoid all artificial sweeteners.

Buy organic food: 

  • Lentils, peas and beans 

  • Vegetables and fruit

  • Grains

  • Grass fed and organic meat.

Buy locally grown food.


Grow your own food.

Work with a naturopathic doctor / naturopath to help you assess for environmental pollutants and to understand how they may be affecting your health. The information on this website is a guide for ways to protect you and your family from environmental pollutants.  It is not meant to replace advice from a healthcare professional.

3 Essentials

  1. Eat whole foods

  2. Read all food labels and avoid foods with any additives

  3. Buy organic food as much as possible

Additional Key Recommendations

  1. How “Plastics” affect food

  2. How “Packaging” affects our food

  3. How “Farming Practices” affect our food

  4. How “Kitchen Products and Cooking” affects our food

  5. How “Gardening” affects our food.

  6. How “Heavy Metals” affect our food

References

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