Food additives are added to food during processing, typically to enhance color or freshness. While some of them are natural, many aren’t and all those unnatural additives have nasty side effects. Think about the artificial sweeteners hiding in diet soft drinks, or the emulsifiers (used to keep food from separating) in the salad dressing sitting in your refrigerator. Just these alone destroy gut health.    That’s just the tip of the iceberg and most aren’t even tested for safety at all. 
The Dirty, Ugly Truth About Food Additives
Food additives aren’t inert ingredients; they’re active and can present a real health risk. If you know the reasons why food additives are dangerous, it may help you steer clear of certain foods that may contribute to longterm health concerns. So while there are more reasons than we could count as to why you should avoid food additives altogether, here are three of the most pressing.
1. Food Additives Damage Your Heart
A recent study suggests eating lots of phosphate-rich foods like soda, processed cheese, baking powder, and many processed foods increases production of the FGF23 hormone, which can put a strain on the heart.  Research from the American Heart Association also suggests men should cut processed red meat out of their diets because of an increased risk of heart failure. 
2. Food Additives Disrupts Hormone Balance
Like I mentioned above, the FDA doesn’t really regulate what’s in our food. That said, a recent study found propyl paraben, an endocrine disruptor, in many American snack foods.  Banned from food in Europe, it’s still used in some cosmetics and personal care items all throughout the world. This hasn’t, however, stopped the US from putting it in what we eat. While the FDA has maintained for decades it is Generally Recognized As Safe (how reassuring), studies suggest it can act as a weak synthetic estrogen and diminish fertility. 
3. Food Additives Make for Unruly Kids
Recent research out of Australia even suggests some additives — even the ones in those “healthy” snacks — can lead to mood swings and irritability in kids. For instance, cultured dextrose (also known as calcium propionate) — one such additive in healthy breads and wraps — can cause “irritability, fatigue or insomnia.”  There’s even some evidence suggesting that hydrolyzed vegetable protein — a “natural” substitute for MSG – can even cause problems.  The best thing to do is to make sure you’re reading those labels and keeping snacks as simple as possible; or, better yet, make your own from scratch with organic ingredients.
Things to Keep in Mind
There is some recent talk by US organizations suggesting the FDA’s food additive process violates the law.  But we shouldn’t be surprised when we’re discussing the food industry’s slow action against dangerous ingredients. Trans fat, for instance, was just banned after years of research found that its indescribably harmful. If you purchase processed foods of any type, try to find ones that are additive free or at least made with natural preservatives. Or, forgetting the packaged options altogether and snacking on raw fruits and vegetables can help reduce your exposure. 
What do you do to avoid additives? Leave a comment and share your tips.
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- Shell, E. R. Artificial Sweeteners May Change Our Gut Bacteria in Dangerous Ways. Scientific American. 312 (4).
- Chassaing, B. et al. Dietary emulsifiers impact the mouse gut microbiota promoting colitis and metabolic syndrome. Nature. 519.
- Quinn, E. & Young, C. Why the FDA doesn't really know what's in your food. Center for Public Integrity.
- Andrukhova, O. et al. FGF23 Regulates Renal Sodium Handling and Blood Pressure. EMBO Molecular Medicine. 6.
- Kaluza, J. et al. Processed and Unprocessed Red Meat Consumption and Risk of Heart Failure: A Prospective Study of Men. Circulation: Heart Failure. 7.
- Sciammaco, S. Analysis Finds Hormone Disruptor Used In Cosmetics In Nearly 50 Different Foods. Environmental Working Group.
- Smith, K. W. et al. Urinary Paraben Concentrations and Ovarian Aging among Women from a Fertility Center. Environmental Health Perspectives. 121.
- Food Intolerance Network. 280-283 Propionic acid and its salts: the bread preservative. Food Intolerance Network.
- Dengate, H. Complaint to AAAC. Food Intolerance Network.
- Center for Science in the Public Interest. FDA Food Ingredient Approval Process Violates Law, Says CSPI. Center for Science in the Public Interest.
- Curl, C. L. et al. Estimating Pesticide Exposure from Dietary Intake and Organic Food Choices: The Multi-Ethnic Study of Atherosclerosis (MESA). Environmental Health Perspectives.
†Results may vary. Information and statements made are for education purposes and are not intended to replace the advice of your doctor. If you have a severe medical condition or health concern, see your physician.