What Hidden Nasties Are Lurking in Your Food?

Speed-Read-a-Food-LabelThey’re in that list of 150 ingredients on the bag of chips you’re holding, lurking around, just waiting to damage your health!

The signs are subtle, but if you look closely enough, you’ll see them. Trying to hide about halfway down on the label, a “partially hydrogenated” this or an “artificial” that.

However these simple and seemingly innocuous ingredients do pose a risk to your health and well being.

Criminal Intent: Like most crimes, this one started out innocently enough. For decades, we have craved faster, easier and simpler foods, and in many cases, these fugitives filled the bill. Some were introduced as preservatives to extend a food’s shelf life, others to make it a more desirable colour.

But the greatest irony was when these “criminals” crept into foods, ostensibly it was to make them healthier, lower in calories and fat. Only later did we learn that nothing could be further from the truth. And now, the villains are everywhere.

Be A Crime-Stopper: Just because these food fugitives are running rampant, there’s no reason to give up hope. We’ve assembled a crack team of detectives to hunt down the ten most unwanted food additives and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.

Now these investigators are sharing their crime-stopping tips with you.


High Fructose Corn Syrup

High fructose corn syrup is a highly refined sweetener. You’ll find it in just about every processed food but most notoriously fizzy drinks, sweetened cereals, yogurt, biscuits and ketchup.

It can even hide in secret hideouts, in foods that aren’t sweet, such as breads, crackers, crisps, canned vegetables, spreads and dressings.

Crimes Against Humanity:

HFCS’s NO.1 crime is its sheer pervasiveness: According to the April 2004 issue of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 20%of our carbohydrates and 10% of our total calories come from corn syrup alone.

But beyond that, many experts believe it’s guilty of even more serious travesties. “HFCS can increase fat gain because it’s more readily converted to fat in the body and doesn’t trigger the normal cues that tell us to stop eating,” says Senior Science Editor JimStoppani, “This leads to overeating.”

Sneakiest of all, HFCS has the ability to blend in, conform to its surroundings and evade capture.

“What makes it a bad actor is that it’s added sugar by another name,which means it’s disguised,” says David L. Katz, author of The Way toEat.

“Many ingredient lists include sugar multipletimes, but each time by a different name: sugar, corn syrup,high-fructose corn syrup.¬†The deception is what makes it especially bad.”

High fructose corn syrup packs on the pounds faster than any other ingredient, increases your LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels, and contributes to the development of diabetes and tissue damage among other harmful effects. This is one nasty food additive.

Crime-Stopper Tips:

“In every food category, there are alternatives free of HFCS, and these tend to be lower in sugar content and less processed overall,” Katz says. So instead of fruit juices, eat whole fruit.

Instead of white bread, choose natural wholegrains. Opt for olive oil and vinegar instead of bottled salad dressings.

Artificial Colourings

They’re in about every coloured food item you can imagine.

And no,those jelly beans aren’t pink and green and blue because of the amount of fruit in them. Artificial colouring is the culprit, and it lurks in most sweet foods that you may consume every day.

Its secret hideouts include fizzy drinks, colas, fruit juices, jams and preserves and even some processed package meals.

Crimes Against Humanity:

Not serious crimes to some, but best to avoid them nonetheless.

Watch out for these bandits:

Blue #1 and Blue #2, some evidence shows that E133 (Brilliant blue) may be a mild carcinogen. These colours are banned in Norway, Finland and France as partners in crime B1 and B2 may cause chromosomal damage.

Red #3 and Red #40 (E124, EI27) (Erythrosine – a red dye) may be connected to thyroid tumours as studies on laboratory animals showed links with thyroid cancer, chromosomal damage and problems with brain-nerve transmission.

Controversially, in the US E124 was banned in 1990 from use in many foods and cosmetics, however this dye continues to be on the market until supplies run out.

Yellow #6 and Yellow Tartrazine (E110, E102) have been banned in Norway and Sweden. These nasties increase the number of kidney and adrenal tumours in laboratory animals and may cause allergic reactions.

Actually, food colourings worst crimes are against children. In a study published in the June 2004 issue of Archives of Disease in Childhood, children had “significantly greater increases in hyperactive behaviour” when givenan active drink containing these food additives.

Studies also show that artificial colourings are linked to behavioural problems in children and may lead to a significant reduction in IQ.

Crime-Stopper Tips:

Avoid artificially coloured drinks and sweets.


Artificial Sweeteners

Anything that’s sweet and says “sugar free”, like diet drinks, gum and sweets contains this culprit.

Artificial sweeteners appear in a lotmore items than we think, and they are not shy in adding huge amountseither. Even your toothpaste may not be safe!

Crimes Against Humanity:

Fraud at least in the sense that artificial sweeteners trick you into thinking all sweet things are okay. “Some recent animal studies suggest that unbundling sweet taste from calories can interfere with the systems we use to gauge calorific intake; in other words, animals that drink artificially sweetened beverages get fat,” Katz explains.

“I think intense artificial sweeteners propagate a sweet tooth that damages the overall dietary pattern in a number of ways.”

Not only this, but Aspartame (an artificial sweetener (E951) more popularly known as Nutrasweet and Equal) accounts for more reports of adverse reactions than all other food additive villains combined. It may produce neurotoxic effects such as dizziness, headaches, mental confusion, migraines, and seizures and should definitely be avoided if you suffer from asthma, rhinitis, or urticaria.

Crime-Stopper Tips:

”Avoid fizzy drinks altogether,” recommends Katz. “Drink water,soda water, mineral water, soda water with fruit essence and teas.”


surprised-woman-examing-food-labelButylate Hydroxyanisole (BHA) and Butylate Hydrozyttoluene (BHT)

You may not have heard about these additives but they are inside many foods that you may have in your cupboard. Snack foods, baked goods and sweets are offenders in these horrific crimes.

Butylated Hydroxyanisole(BHA) (E320) is also contained in meats, butter, nuts and dry mixes, so you have to be careful not to consume this culprit. This common preservative keeps food from changing colour, changing flavour, or becoming rancid.

Crimes Against Humanity:

Other than being hard to say (and even harder to spell), not too many.Butylated hydroxyanisole, used to retard rancity in fat-and oil-containing foods, may have been wrongly convicted.

Though some studies suggest it has cancer-causing properties in high doses, “It’s my opinion that the concentrations of BHA nowadays used in food, drugs and cosmetics are probably harmless.” says Jon Chipko.

Best to keep an eye on this offender none-the-less as more research is definitely required to determine its safety.

Crime-Stopper Tips: Stick to fresh, unprocessed fruits, vegetables and meats.


Monosodium Glutamate (MSG / E621)

The infamous MSG. This culprit likes to hide out in Chinese food and soy sauces (hence the early phrase “Chinese restaurant syndrome”). Monosodium Glutamate is also contained in commercial soup stock, bouillon cubes, and tinned,processed and frozen meats.

Crimes Against Humanity:

MSG’s biggest crime is that is inspires you to commit further misdeeds. “Used widely as a flavour enhancer, MSG adds two flavours -salty, from the sodium, and umani which is a meaty/savoury taste sensation, from the glutamate.” says David Katz.

“We get way too much sodium as it is, and the flavour variety stimulates appetite and weight gain.”

Besides making you pig out, MSG has also been attributed to a laundry list of health risks, most notably bloating, fatigue,headaches, nausea, vomiting and other assorted unpleasant afflictions. I know that if I come into contact with this criminal, I will be feeling the after-effects for days!

Crime-Stopper Tips:

Make sure your favourite Chinese Restaurant is MSG free – you don’t want to associate yourself with them if they are harbouring this fugitive. Stick to foods with short ingredient lists. And “stimulate the taste buds with natrual herbs and spices.” adds Jon Chipko.



This nasty culprit likes to hide out in soap, toothpaste, haircare products, deodorants and lotions. Its secret hideout is in marinated fish products, salad dressings and processed vegetables.

Crimes Against Humanity:

This group of chemicals (used as preservatives) have an effect similar to oestrogen in the body, which can lead to higher fat and lower muscle mass.

There’s another risk women should be aware of: “In a study, chemists examined tumour tissues from 20 women with breast cancer.

Traces of parabens were found in 18 of the samples, though no cause and effect relationship was established,” says Chipko.

Crime-Stopper Tips:

Look for the ingredients that end with “paraben” (methylparaben,propylparaben, ethylparaben, butylparaben, benzylparaben) and avoid them if possible.


Refined Grains

Its top hide-aways are white bread, white rice, pasta and other noodles, crisps, crackers and some breakfast cereals. It also likes to secretly hide in brown bread, which is often made with white flour and coloured brown, as well as coucous.

Now, think about this to catch this culprit; what do all these products have in common? They all contain refined grains of course!

Crimes Against Humanity:

Too many grains (especially refined, processed grains) cause systemic inflammation and irritation, so healthwise it is NOT a good idea to let these arsonists reign in your body.

The jury is still out on refined grains as far as body-builders areconcerned. “They’re the nest postworkout carb source because you wantan insulin spike to occur after training to drive glucose and aminosinto muscle to stimulate protein synthesis,” says Jim Stoppani.

Adds Chis Aceto: “The downside is they tend to have fewer vitamins, minerals and fibre than their whole-grain counterparts.

Plus, they can cause surges in blood-sugar and insulin levels attimes other than after exercise, when you don’t want the spike. thisnot only increases the appetite but also leads to icnreased formationof fat-stroying enzymes.

And consider this irrefutable evidence: the US 2005 DietaryGuidlines suggest that half our grain servings be whole grains. Most of us don’t meet these recommendations.”

Crime-Stopper Tips:

In addition to choosing fresh fruits and vegetables as carbohydrates sources, here is another trick for cracking the code: go for products which have the word “whole” on product labels.


Trans Fats

It likes to hide in all the foods that we love to eat; biscuits,crackers, cake mix, cake icing and commercially fried foods such as doughnuts, chips and onion rings.

However, this tricky culprit also likes to trick us and hide in low-fat foods, such as dried soups, hard margarines, coffee whiteners, and fried fish and shrimps.

Now what is this crafty additive? It is trans fats, one of the worst additives that you can possibly consume.

Crimes Against Humanity:

With trans fats, it’s more a case of “crimes against nature”. “Trans fat is often referred to by nutrition experts as ‘Frankenfat’ because it’s something of a chemistry experiment gone bad,” says Katz. “Transfat has desirable commercial properties – long shelf-life, high melting points – but very harmful health effects. It increases inflammation,damages blood vessels and raises cholesterol.”

Trans fats may also interfere with muscle growth and increase muscle breakdown.

Yet trans fat’s crimes may be even more serious. “Trans fats acturally cause you to store fat and increase inflammation,” says Jon Chipko, founder of BodyGoals, a sports-performance centre in New Jersey. “A new study linked trans fats not only to heart disease but also to certain cancers.”

Crime-Stopper Tips:

This fugitive is one of the easiest to bust: “Look for ‘partially hydrogenated oil’ on the ingredient list,” advises Katz. “If you see it, step away from the box and nobody will get hurt.” That’s right, put down that margarine and escape, quickly!


Sodium Sulphite (E221)

This fugitive is constantly been found hiding away in wines and other processed foods. This sneaky criminal can creep up in snack bars like Kellogs K-Time Twists.

Crimes Against Humanity:

Watch out for this crook if you have asthma. The Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) on sodium sulphite states that although this additive is only moderately toxic in large amounts,sulphites can pose risk to some asthmatics producing central nervous system depression, broncho-constriction and anaphylaxis.

Not only this but some individuals are said to be dangerously sensitive to minute amounts of sulphites in foods, wines and some bronchodilator medicines preserved with sulphites. Symptoms may include broncho constriction, shock, gastrointestinal disturbances, angio oedema, flushing, and tingling sensations.

Crime-Stopper Tips:

Avoid processed foods, read labels and only enjoy wine in moderation. If you’re asthmatic, pay extra close attention to where sulphites could be lurking in your foods.

Sulphur Dioxide (E220)

A preservative derived from coal tar, this nasty is typically hiding away in beers, soft drinks, dried fruit, cordials, wine, vinegar, and potato products.

Although, in the United States of America, the Federal Drugs Administration have outlawed this fugitive from hiding out in raw fruit and vegetables because of it’s toxic effects.

Crimes Against Humanity:

E220 has been convicted of many a crimes such as provoking gastric irritation,nausea, diarrhoea, skin rash, asthma attacks and and this additive may be difficult to metabolise for those with impaired kidney function.

Another important reason to avoid E220 is that it also destroys vitamin B1 (thiamin) and vitamin E, and the International Labour Organisation says anyone suffering from conjunctivitis, bronchitis, emphysema, bronchial asthma, orcardiovascular disease should completely avoid.

Keep this fugitive away from your children.

Crime-Stopper Tips:

Avoid fizzy drinks and cordial. Opt for preservative free and aged wines as the sulphur compounds are readily broken down and aged red and white dry table wines will be much lower in E220.

Also, all wine (even preservative free) contains some sulphur dioxide as 10-50 parts per million can be produced naturally by the yeast fermentation.

250 ppm is the maximum allowable in table wines in Australia and 350 ppm in dessert wines. This can be added in the winemaking process, depending on the philosophy of the winemaker. If you are an asthmatic it is best to try and avoid this fugitive all together.


reading-food-labelsArmed And Ready!

To be the ultimate crime-stopper, pick up a copy of The Chemical Maze Shopping Companion to guide you through the maze of food additive and ingredients.

Also included are common ingredients in cosmetics and personal care products.