Hmmm, well this definition from Wikipedia doesn't bode well for food additives:
"Food additives are substances which are added in small amounts to processed foods for a specific purpose. Food additives have been used for centuries. Salt, sugar and vinegar were among the first and used to preserve foods. In the past 30 years, however, with the advent of processed foods, there has been a massive explosion in the chemical adulteration of foods with additives. Considerable controversy has been associated with the potential threats and possible benefits of food additives.In several cases, artificial food additives have been linked with cancer, digestive problems, and neurological conditions such as ADD. They can be also linked with diseases like heart disease, obesity, rapid heartbeat and more. Though some people feel organic additives are preferable to artificial ones, others point out that "natural" additives themselves may be harmful in large quantities (such as salt) or may contain natural toxins, such as chemicals made by plants to defend themselves. The U.S. Food Labelling Regulations (1984) describe an additive as:
'any substance not commonly regarded or used as a food, which is added or used in or on food at any stage to affect its keeping qualities, texture, consistency, appearance, taste, odour, alkalinity or acidity or to serve any other technological function in relation to food.' "
So, which additives in particular should we be avoiding? I am by no means a doctor, so this is simply a list of what I'm going to start with - anyone reading this should do their own research and make their own decisions.
Acesulfame K - artificial sweetener often used with Sucralose in sweets, soft drinks, etc. Two rat studies suggest the additive might cause cancer - it has also been linked with thyroid problems in rats, rabbits and dogs when used in large quantities.
Artificial coloring - studies show potential for causing cancer, regardless artificial colorings are typically only used in foods with minimal nutritional value
BUTYLATED HYDROXYANISOLE (BHA) - BHA retards rancidity in fats, oils, and oil-containing foods. While some studies indicate it is safe, other studies demonstrate that it causes cancer in rats, mice, and hamsters. Those cancers are controversial because they occur in the forestomach, an organ that humans do not have. However, a chemical that causes cancer in at least one organ in three different species indicates that it might be carcinogenic in humans.
Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil - Vegetable oil, usually a liquid, can be made into a semi-solid shortening by reacting it with hydrogen. Partial hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils - and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease. A committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) concluded in 2004 that on a gram-for-gram basis, trans fat is even more harmful than saturated fat.
MSG - this is in a suprising number of foods out there! I saw it on a bag of chips just yesterday! So for all the hype that it isn't used, it's still in a lot of food items!
Sodium Nitrite - Adding nitrite to food can lead to the formation of small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals (nitrosamines), particularly in fried bacon. Nitrite, which also occurs in saliva and forms from nitrate in several vegetables, can undergo the same chemical reaction in the stomach. Companies now add ascorbic acid or erythorbic acid to bacon to inhibit nitrosamine formation, a measure that has greatly reduced the problem. While nitrite and nitrate cause only a small risk, they are still worth avoiding.
I got this information from an interesting website: http://www.cspinet.org/reports/chemcuisine.htm
I plan on checking out the food in our pantry for this manageable number of additives to avoid. Perhaps I'll add more down the road, but I feel this is a good start!