with all those weird sounding ingredients on food labels?
And why are they in our food? I had the opportunity to hear
from experts on this topic in a recent webinar sponsored by
the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the world’s
largest organization of nutrition professionals.
additives are substances which are added to food to
positively affect its characteristics, explained Roger
Clemens, DrPH, Adjunct Professor at the USC School of
Pharmacy. Some protect our food from bacteria and mold.
Others enhance quality or stability. Baking soda and
B-vitamins are additives in bread, for example. And vitamin
D is routinely added to milk.
what about those "other" additives, such as
preservatives that prevent bread from molding? Believe it or
not, says Clemens, preservative substances make our food
more safe, not less.
acid, for example, is an antimicrobial substance that
protects food from dangerous bacteria. It was originally
isolated from berries that produce this substance to fight
off microbes in their natural environment. We might see this
preservative on a food label as potassium sorbate, sodium
sorbate or calcium sorbate. Even with its scary sounding
name, food scientists say these additives are
physiologically inert, meaning they do not affect the body
any more than other organic ingredients.
to pronounce words are not necessarily bad, say nutrition
experts. Chemical names for ingredients are actually
preferred, because they are more specific, according to an
article in Food & Nutrition magazine by registered
dietitian Kathleen Zelman. (She’s also the nutrition
director of the online medical site, WebMD.)
example, we may not get freaked out to see folic acid on an
ingredient label, since that is a well-known B-vitamin
(B-9). But what about "thiamin mononitrate"? It’s
another B-vitamin (B-1).
we run away if we saw "methyl anthranilate" on an
ingredient label? I hope not. It’s actually the chemical
name for a compound that helps give flavor to fresh
went on to describe the strict safety requirements in place
for food additives. And he reminded us to consider the
threshold of risk that determines if something is harmful or
not. In other words, the dose makes the poison.
for example, contains ingredients that — in high doses —
would be considered carcinogenic (cancer-causing), explained
Clemens. These substances are not a concern however, because
they are present in such low doses. In fact, because of its
numerous other beneficial substances, cabbage is actually
considered a cancer fighting food.
— used to preserve processed meats like bacon — have
been termed "probable carcinogens." But sunshine
is also in this category; if you get too much, it could
by the way, is a natural ingredient in soil and plants, says
Clemens. And it’s found in foods such as celery, lettuce,
spinach, beets, meat, fish and dairy foods. In fact,
products labeled "nitrate-free" are often
preserved with celery juice, a nitrate-rich plant. What’s
the take away? Not all our assumptions about food additives
are based on science, say food and pharmacy experts. One
hundred years ago, our number one killer was poisoning
caused by toxins in our food, registered dietitian Amy
Myrdal Miller told us. Today the United States has the
safest food supply in the world.