Do Your Part: Five chemicals to avoid in foods
Food manufacturers aren’t going to advertise the fact that controversial chemicals are actually in their food. If you want to be informed and eat better, here are five chemicals to avoid in food so you can eat without worry:
Sodium nitrates and sodium nitrites: These two similar ingredients are used in many processed meat products (think hot dogs, bacon, and lunch meats) because they act as food preservatives. However, both have been linked to different types of cancer.
A better bet is to opt for meats labeled “nitrate-free” or “nitrite-free”.
Aspartame: This artificial sweetener is found in thousands of diet drinks and foods. While it’s been around for decades, it is one of the most controversial ingredients in our food chain. Some research suggests it is actually linked to many medical problems and even weight gain.
Check with your doctor about making the switch to a new ingredient available known as Stevia. It’s a natural zero-calorie sweetener that comes from the stevia plant.
Food dyes and colorings: More and more parents are becoming increasingly concerned because of research that suggests food dyes are linked to hyperactivity in children. Think about all the artificially colored food items on the market such as juices, boxed foods and bakery items.
The safer choice is to avoid foods with numbered dyes on the ingredient list. Also, seek out organic foods, which don’t contain synthetic food dyes and colorings.
BHA and BHT: Butylated hydroxyanisole and butylated hydroxytoluene are two similar additives that are common food preservatives.
They work by preventing fats and oils from spoiling, so you’ll see them used in chips, cereals, and even chewing gums. The concern is that they may cause cancer or alter behavior.
These additives aren’t banned from foods but they do have to be on the label. Also, remember that it’s usually “junk food” that contains BHA or BHT.
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA): While PFOA is not added to our foods, many of our foods are contaminated with it. That’s because it’s used in food packaging and cookware. This chemical is linked to cancer and once it’s in your body, it can stay there for years.
PFOA is used in many microwave popcorn bags and certain nonstick cookware. If you want to keep it out of the foods you eat, consider banning microwavable popcorn from your home and using nontoxic cookware such as glass or stainless steel.
Remember, eating better begins with knowing what you actually eat. Inspecting the ingredient list is always your first line of defense. And, when possible, go the organic route.
It’s another important way to do your part to eat better while keeping unnecessary, sometimes dangerous chemicals out of our environment.
Terri Bennett is a veteran TV meteorologist, syndicated columnist and host of DoYourPart.com, where you can find everyday green living ideas that are better for you and the planet. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.