EWG Releases New "Dirty Dozen" Guide to Food Additives

EWG Releases New "Dirty Dozen" Guide to Food Additives
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EWG Releases New "Dirty Dozen" Guide to Food Additives

Read on to learn all about the food additives you should avoid, and which foods they can be found in.

Nitrates and nitrites

Nitrates and nitrites help to give cured meats like salami and ham a fresh and pink appearance because they prolong the shelf life of many foods. Unfortunately, when consumed they can set off a reaction to create cancer-causing compounds. Several studies have linked nitrites to cancer and scientists at the Word Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer declared that nitrates and nitrites are likely human carcinogens.

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Potassium bromate

Potassium bromate helps to strengthen the dough in bread and crackers. It also helps dough to rise. Baking is meant to make the compound non-carcinogenic, but some British research has suggested that trace amounts are still found in bread. The state of California classifies potassium bromate as a carcinogen and the international cancer agency considers it a possible human carcinogen. The United Kingdom and Canada prohibit the use of it, but the U.S. still allows it to be added to flour.

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Propyl paraben

Even though the government classifies probyl paraben under the "generally recognized as safe" (GRAS) guideline, several studies have shown that it disrupts endocrine processes, lowers sperm count in men, decreases fertility in women and can even accelerate the growth of breast cancer cells. It acts as a preservative in tortillas, muffins and food dyes and people can even be affected by it during food processing and packaging.

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Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA)

The National Toxicology Program considers BHA as "reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen" and the international cancer agency classifies it as a possible human carcinogen, but the FDA still classifies BHA as "generally recognized as safe." Higher doses of BHA can lower testosterone and the thyroid hormone thyroxin, but still the endocrine-disrupting chemical can be found in chips and preserved meats.

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Butylated hydroxytoluene (BHT)

A chemical cousin to BHA, BHT is added to food as a preservative often along with BHA. While not listed as a carcinogen, BHT has been found to cause cancer in animals, even harming the motor skills and coordination of rats.

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Propyl gallate

Used as a preservative in products like sausage and lard, propyl gallate is "generally recognized as safe" even though studies associated the chemical with tumors in rats. There isn't enough data on propyl gallate to properly demonstrate any link to cancer, but it should be studied further.

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Found in chocolate, bread, cereal and sports drinks, theobromine is "generally recognized as safe," however the FDA found that the typical consumption of the chemical was five times higher than the levels reported as safe. According to the EWG, even though the FDA has some serious concerns with theobromine, the chemical is still being used without the FDA's oversight.

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Secret flavor ingredients

The words "natural flavors" and "artificial flavors" appear on thousands of different foods even though the word "flavor" doesn't mean much on a food label. The vagueness of the words allows companies to use "incidental additives" that they don't need do disclose openly. Many "natural" flavors can actually contain BHA!

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Artificial colors

According to the EWG, artificial colors increase the appeal of foods without much nutritional value. According to a National Toxicology Program study, caramel colors III and IV could cause tumors. Several studies have even found that synthetic colors alter the behavior of children, potentially causing hyperactivity. This has been an ongoing debate.

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Diacetyl is used as a butter flavoring in microwave popcorn, which has been associated with an irreversible respiratory condition known as bronchiolitis obliterans. Diacetyl also flavors dairy products like yogurt and cheese, "brown flavorings" like butterscotch and maple and even fruit flavorings like raspberry and strawberry. The flavoring is harmful not just to consumers, but to the workers who use it as well. There have been several cases of production workers coming forward with respiratory-related illnesses.

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Found in over 20,000 products on the EWG's Food Score database, phosphates can be used to leaven baked goods and to make processed meats more tender and moist. Many fast foods contain phosphates too. For people with chronic kidney disease, high phosphate levels are associated with heart disease and death. Several studies have linked phosphorous levels in blood to heart disease and heart disease risk.

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Aluminum additives

While aluminum can occur naturally in food, most people consume aluminum through food additives. Look out for sodium aluminum phosphate and sodium aluminum sulfate, which can be used as stabilizers in many processed foods. There is no direct link between aluminum food additives and harmful neurological effects, but many studies have resulted in potentially troubling findings, which warrants keeping aluminum food additives on a "watch list."

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You may be familiar with the Environmental Working Group (EWG) because they release a list of the most pesticide-filled produce every year called The Dirty Dozen. They also establish the produce that contains the least amount of pesticides in a list called The Clean Fifteen.

Now, the EWG has released a totally new list that outlines the food additives out there that are the biggest health concerns. Make sure to check the nutritional labels for the following food additives before buying food products, because as the EWG points out, many of them have been associated with some pretty troubling issues, and these additives can sneak into all sorts of processed foods and drinks.

Check out the slideshow above to learn all about this new list of food additives to avoid.

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