What Toxins & Additives are in My Food?

What Toxins & Additives are in My Food?

What Toxins & Additives are in My Food?

Did you ever look at a food label and wonder what the heck all of those ingredients are? And then say to yourself, “Well, if it was bad for me, surely it wouldn’t be available in my local grocery store.” and then go ahead and buy it, eat it, feed it to your family?  I know I have. And, the more I learn about toxins and food additives, the more I realize that that was the wrong thing to do!


Additives in Food That Can Be Bad for You: 

A lot of those long, hard-to-pronounce ingredients are chemicals and toxic additives that are not good for us at all! In fact, many are even known to cause cancer and are banned in other countries. There are literally hundreds of chemicals that are added to our foods, but here are just a few of the top offenders to look out for:

  • Titanium Dioxide is added to some candy, chewing gum, pastries, chocolate, coffee creamers and cake decorations to enhance their color. It is a known carcinogen that has been banned in Europe. 
  • Sodium nitrate is added to processed meats to stop bacterial growth and is linked to cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and heart disease in humans.
  • Sulfites are used to keep prepared foods fresh. They have been known to cause breathing difficulties in those sensitive to the ingredient.
  • Potassium bromate is added to breads to increase volume. It has been linked to cancer in humans and has been banned in Europe.
  • Azodicarbonamide is used to make flour white and to enhance the dough by thickening gluten. It has been banned in Europe because it has been linked to cancer and damage to human DNA.
  • Propylparaben is used as a preservative in foods and has been banned in Europe because it has been shown to be an endocrine (estrogen) system disrupter. 
  • Refined vegetable oils (including soybean oil, corn oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, vegetable oil, canola oil, and peanut oil) are highly processed and contain a lot of omega-6 fats, which are linked to heart disease and cancer.


What Are Additives in Food?

Think about it this way - these additives are not food. They are chemicals that our bodies don’t recognize as food. With every bite we ingest, we are giving our body information about how to function. When we eat whole foods rich in nutrients, we are giving our body the building blocks it understands to function optimally. When we ingest things that our bodies don’t recognize (like these additives and chemicals), our bodies do what they are supposed to do and react to the “foreign invader” by launching an immune response. 

A large part of our natural immune response is inflammation. Therefore, if we consume these chemicals frequently, we can develop chronic inflammation. In study after study, chronic inflammation has been linked to cancer, Alzheimer's disease, heart disease, obesity and asthma. Clearly this is something we want to avoid if at all possible. And, it is possible! With knowledge and awareness, we can make better choices about what we put into our bodies and, therefore, mitigate some of the need for the constant immune response.

How To Avoid Bad Additives in Food:

Whenever I talk about this with people, the next question is inevitably, “How do we manage to avoid all of these “bad” additives if there are so many of them and we don’t really know what we are looking for?” It’s a good question because making dietary changes can feel completely overwhelming. 

Here are a few general rules of thumbs that I started with and work with my clients on implementing…

  • Steer Clear of Prepared and “Convenience” Foods: These are usually chock full of additives to keep them from spoiling and make them more colorful and flavorful. Typically the perimeter (and refrigerated part) of the grocery store is where the more nutritious foods are kept. 
  • Look at the Ingredients: I like to see fewer than five ingredients, all of which I can pronounce (without a science degree!). If you see a list of unrecognizable words (or any of the above ingredients) on the package, put it back on the shelf!
  • Eat as Many Whole Foods as you Can: These are foods that you recognize as coming from nature - fruits, vegetables, meats (preferably from grass fed animals and not processed), beans, nuts, seeds, eggs from pasture raised chickens. 
  • If Possible, Choose Organic: Why organic? Fruits and vegetables that are grown commercially on big farms are virtually depleted of nutrients. They are grown in soil that has been overused and over-plowed, sprayed with insecticides and pesticides, and does not contain the necessary ingredients to create nutrient-dense foods. We need the microorganisms and bacteria that comes from animals and bugs in the soil to keep it healthy - it’s all part of an ecosystem. To give you an idea of what I mean, we now need to eat EIGHT oranges to get the same amount of nutrients from ONE orange that we ate 40 years ago!  Typically, foods that are grown locally and organically come from soil that is rich in nutrients and not filled with chemicals. You are getting more vitamins and micronutrients in every bite of organic food than foods grown through big-crop agriculture. This holds true for animals that are raised commercially and fed with feed from the big mono-crop farms. That feed is depleted of nutrients and, therefore, the meat that we eat from those animals is deficient as well. 


I know that all of this information can feel overwhelming, so don’t make yourself crazy. Start with small changes. Just increased awareness is progress! Start with one step - look for added sugars on labels, switch from vegetable oil to olive oil, or choose an apple instead of a donut. This is a lifelong process, so don’t feel like you need to make all of the changes at one time. If you do that, I guarantee the changes will not stick. I try to focus on whole, nutritiously dense foods 80% of the time. That leaves room for angst-free dinners with friends, birthday cakes, bar-b-ques, and a brownie once in a while!


Changing Your Eating Habits – How to Get Started:

Even knowing all of this, eating healthy is hard for many reasons. It can be expensive, time-consuming, boring, confusing, and, at first, not very tasty. All of these things can be true, but they definitely don’t need to be true. If this feels overwhelming, here are a a few basic things to remember:

  • Decrease Added Sugar:  Sugar is added to most processed foods, so make sure you read the label before you buy something, Added sugars lead to energy spikes and crashes. We want sustained energy throughout the day. 
  • Focus on Whole Foods:  things that come from a farm. Choose foods that offer a lot of different colors. Different colors mean different nutrients - some call this the brainbow!
  • Choose Organic When Possible: I know it’s more costly to buy organic food but do it when you can. 
  • Make Sure You are Eating Plenty of Healthy Fats: Great sources of good fats are raw nuts, avocado, olive oil, and fatty fish.
  • Avoid Highly Processed Foods:  This is hard to do when we feel so rushed all of the time, but start small and build as you can.
  • Keep Your Body Hydrated: If you want to know more about the importance of hydration, check out our previous blog


Remember, making lifestyle changes is a process. It takes time, commitment, and some patience. There is no set diet that works for everyone. We all need to figure out what our bodies respond to (positively and negatively), what we enjoy, and how to create a balance that leads us toward our goals. 

If you want to learn more or talk through your concerns and questions, feel free to reach out to me. I’d love to connect!