We have all heard the adage “you are what you eat.” Yet do we even know what we are eating nowadays? Most of the population eats food containing a long list of strange ingredients and additives. Many of us are unfamiliar with these compounds that play an integral role in our body functions and DNA. The media (often incorrect) tells us to trust these additives and the companies who sell them to us. Can we trust the sources paid by the same people who sell these compounds? The dangers of artificial sugars and food additives seem to hide in a cloud of misinformation. Well, we are here today to tell you just exactly what is in your food.
The word food additive means something added to food to enhance its flavor or preserve it. Reading that might make you wonder what the big deal is. Vinegar, salt, and sugar have been added to food for centuries! The insidious additives are the ones we make in a lab. The commercial food industry does not want you to know these may be making you sick, and big pharma profits from your illness. These chemicals may cause dementia, cancers, GI issues, the list can go on and on. These chemicals are MSG, food coloring, artificial sugars, and much more.
Many of us have heard of these additives and may not know what exactly is going on when we consume them into our bodies. Let us start with MSG (monosodium glutamate), which can show up in food as Maltodextrin, carrageenan, seasonings, and spices (Karr. 2019). MSG is known as a flavor enhancer and is naturally found in foods like tomatoes, seaweed, parmesan, etc (Karr. 2019). However, these foods contain compounds that slow the rate of metabolization. Like many things found in nature, we have figured out how to make it in a lab and make it stronger. It is this MSG that we should be weary of. MSG is a known excitotoxin, a compound that stimulates receptors and damages them. Excitotoxins have been found to promote cancer growth and metastasis (Karr. 2019). MSG works on the glutamate receptors; these receptors mediate fast excitatory synaptic transmission in the central nervous system (Traynelis et. al. 2010). When you consume MSG these glutamates can increase in the blood up to 20 fold (Karr. 2019). This overstimulation can lead to disastrous effects. One factor is you won’t be able to receive the same stimulus or excitement from normal foods. Another is overstimulation of glutamate receptors could lead to explosive diarrhea, dyspepsia, or irritable bowel syndrome (Karr. 2019). If that was not a shocker maybe this will be. Research has shown that increase glutamate exposure may open up your blood-brain barrier leading to a higher risk of dementia.
We have seen them in every colorful food we enjoyed as children, and in the beverages, we enjoy as red40, yellow 5, yellow 6, “natural” color. What exactly are these food dyes, and what do they do? “The FDA currently certifies nine synthetic dyes—FD&C Blue 1, Blue 2, Green 3, Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5, Yellow 6, Citrus Red 2 (used only on orange peels), and Orange B (which is no longer used because of safety concerns but is not banned)” (Nicole. 2013). There is much debate on the efficacy of food dyes both natural and synthetic. A review done by Sarah Koblewski, and Michael. F. Jacobson showed there may be something to be concerned with. “Red 3 causes cancer in animals, and there is evidence that several other dyes also are carcinogenic. Three dyes (Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) have been found to be contaminated with benzidine or other carcinogens. At least four dyes (Blue 1, Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6) cause hypersensitivity reactions. Numerous microbiological and rodent studies of Yellow 5 were positive for genotoxicity.” (Koblewski, Jacobson, 2012).
I hate to break it to you but that diet coke is not better for you than standard coke! Artificial sweeteners were once heralded as the magic fix to America’s growing sugar addiction, and diabetes epidemic. Oh, boy were we wrong about that one. Aspartame commercially known as Nutrasweet, equal, sugar twin is one of the most reviewed sugar alternatives. “Aspartame (APM) is an artificial sweetener used since the 1980s, now present in >6,000 products, including over 500 pharmaceuticals. Since its discovery in 1965, and its first approval by the US Food and Drugs Administration (FDA) in 1981.” (Soffritti, et al. 2014) Aspartame is associated heavily with oxidative stress which reflects the imbalance of free radicals and antioxidants in the body. High oxidative stress can lead to systemic inflammation and a cascade of other illnesses. Aspartame (α-aspartyl-l-phenylalanine-o-methyl ester), an artificial sweetener, has been linked to behavioral and cognitive problems. Possible neurophysiological symptoms include learning problems, headache, seizure, migraines, irritable moods, anxiety, depression, and insomnia. (Choudhary, Lee, 2018) One of the most alarming things to me about aspartame is that it can be broken down into formaldehyde a preservative and toxin to humans (Karr. 2019)
Truthfully, I could go on and on about other food additives that are known toxins but that would be endless. With the information, I have provided you in this blog you can start to make more conscious decisions on what you put into your body. Sadly reading a nutrition label is only so effective. It is up to us as consumers to know what is in the foods we eat and do our due diligence on compounds, and companies. Many food additives can be found abundant in nature, so it’s not that all of them are bad. There is rarely a defined line of good and bad in nutrition. Always remember to practice discernment when making your purchases at the store. Until next time keep vibing and thriving.
Traynelis, S. F., Wollmuth, L. P., McBain, C. J., Menniti, F. S., Vance, K. M., Ogden, K. K., Hansen, K. B., Yuan, H., Myers, S. J., & Dingledine, R. (2010). Glutamate receptor ion channels: structure, regulation, and function. Pharmacological reviews, 62(3), 405–496. https://doi.org/10.1124/pr.109.002451
Nicole W. (2013). Secret ingredients: who knows what's in your food?. Environmental health perspectives, 121(4), A126–A133. https://doi.org/10.1289/ehp.121-a126
Kobylewski S, Jacobson MF. Toxicology of food dyes. Int J Occup Environ Health. 2012 Jul-Sep;18(3):220-46. doi: 10.1179/1077352512Z.00000000034. PMID: 23026007.
Soffritti M, Padovani M, Tibaldi E, Falcioni L, Manservisi F, Belpoggi F. The carcinogenic effects of aspartame: The urgent need for regulatory re-evaluation. Am J Ind Med. 2014 Apr;57(4):383-97. doi: 10.1002/ajim.22296. Epub 2014 Jan 16. PMID: 24436139.
Arbind Kumar Choudhary, Etheresia Pretorius, Revisiting the safety of aspartame, Nutrition Reviews, Volume 75, Issue 9, September 2017, Pages 718–730, https://doi.org/10.1093/nutrit/nux035
Choudhary AK, Lee YY. Neurophysiological symptoms and aspartame: What is the connection? Nutr Neurosci. 2018 Jun;21(5):306-316. doi: 10.1080/1028415X.2017.1288340. Epub 2017 Feb 15. PMID: 28198207.