Not every additive in processed foods is harmful or dangerous, but these dozen dirty food additives might be cause for concern.
The magic of food science has had a huge positive effect on our modern food systems and markets, by allowing foods to be preserved longer, to taste better, to look better, to feel better, to be nutritious, and to be easier to prepare.
Sure, it would probably be better for all of us to eat foods that are sourced close to home, prepared from simple basic ingredients, and served right after preparation, much as our ancestors did in recent history. But to imagine that every single one of us wants to do that, or knows how to, or has the time, is quite idealistic, and the huge aisles of prepared and processed foods at the grocery store bear testament to the fact that many of us just want to buy the food, not make it.
To supply people with all of these 'food products', the food industry has been developing a full toolkit of food additives that can do everything from change the flavor or consistency of a food to make it last for years and years without going bad.
Unfortunately, in with the some 10,000 food additives that are currently allowed and being used in foods in the US are some bad characters, which are either linked to serious health issues, are possibly cause for concern, or are banned or restricted in other countries. If you regularly eat processed foods, which is probably most of us at least part of the time, how can you know which food additives are safe to ingest, and which ones ought to be avoided?
The food companies certainly won't tell you, and any country whose regulations allow for 10,000 kinds of food additives to be served to their population isn't going to be very forthright about it, but thanks to the work of the Environmental Working Group (EWG), we now have a list of 12 'legal' food additives that we ought to avoid.
According to the most recent research by EWG, here are their "Dirty Dozen" food additives:
1. Nitrites and nitrates
2. Potassium bromate
3. Propyl paraben
4. Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)
5. Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)
6. Propyl gallate
8. Secret flavor ingredients
9. Artificial colors
11. Phosphate-based food additives (Watch List)
12. Aluminum-based additives (Watch List)
Some of these food additives are probable human carcinogens (nitrites), others are known endocrine disruptors (Propyl paraben), some are linked to a severe respiratory condition (diacetyl), and others are just plain ambiguous in origin (artificial colors and flavoring ingredients). EWG has links to a full breakdown on each of these dubious food additives at their Dirty Dozen page, and for on-the-go reference, the organization's Food Scores app or web database offers guidance in avoiding these in your diet.