Artificial colors and ingredients are used in all kinds of processed foods,
but the tide may be slowly turning. Recently, several food chains and
manufacturers announced they would eliminate artificial ingredients from
“Everyone should aim to eat a diet rich in whole foods, with minimal
amounts of processed food,” says
Regina Chinsio-Kwong, DO, a family medicine physician with
Mission Heritage Medical Group in Mission Viejo. “Many processed food labels may list natural and
artificial ingredients. The difference between the two is that natural
ingredients come from foods that you can eat, while artificial ingredients
are not derived from natural sources.”
Artificial ingredients have been added to food for many reasons, including
taste, appearance and enhanced shelf life, but those benefits are counterbalanced
by studies that say artificial ingredients may not be great for your health.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has listed the following ingredients
as safe, but a growing number of consumers are keeping an eye out for
these kinds of ingredients on food labels:
They may make your food look good, but your health—well, that’s
a different story. Red 40, Yellow 6 and Blue 1 are among the dyes found
in a wide variety of foods to enhance their color. Some studies have found
that consumption of these food dyes may lead to hyperactivity or behavior
issues in children.
Processed meat gets its staying power from this preservative, which can
also have long-lasting effects on your health—sodium nitrate may
increase your risk of heart disease and diabetes.
This flavor agent is formally known as monosodium glutamate and can be
found in canned goods, processed meats and Chinese food. Some people have
reported reactions to MSG that include headaches, nausea, numbness and
This group of ingredients, which includes aspartame and saccharin, is usually
used to replace sugar in diet foods, providing a sweet taste without any
calories. However, some studies find that people can consume more of these
artificially-sweetened foods, which puts them at greater risk for obesity.
Other studies suggest possible risks for type 2 diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene help preserve food.
Some animal tests have found they could interfere with blood clotting
and cause tumors, but that the doses would have to be much higher than
normal human consumption.
Dr. Chinsio-Kwong says that even though the ingredient lists on packaged
foods and chain restaurant menus may be changing, the nutritional profile may not.
“You’ll still have to be aware of sugar, fat and calories,
as those may not be affected by any ingredient substitutions. That’s
why whole foods and made-from-scratch meals should be your first choice
when it comes to meal planning.”
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