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Six Dangerous Food Additives to Avoid

By Mary Serphos
Certified Health Coach and Licensed Psychotherapist

When lunch time hits and you sit down with your drink and bag of chips, do you really know what you’re ingesting? It’s time to take a deeper look into all those hard to pronounce ingredients lurking in your food which may taste good but can have lasting negative health consequences.

The word “additive” is misleading, it gives the impression that something has been added to help make food better for you. In reality, additives are used to extend shelf life and to create the crave-worthy flavor that makes you want to eat more and more. But many of these additives, fillers and preservatives can cause severe harm to your health, not to mention exacerbate toxicity and weight gain. Here is a list of dangerous additives to cut out for good.

Artificial Sweeteners such as Aspartame, Equal and NutraSweet:

Commonly found in “diet” carbonated beverages/soda, aspartame is an artificial sweetener labeled as “sugar free” and surprisingly is 180 times sweeter than sugar. These sweeteners have been linked to weight gain and diabetes. Among other symptoms like headaches and memory loss, studies have also linked the additive to cancer.

Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil:

Partially hydrogenated vegetable oil is found in margarine and used in many baked goods, crackers, snack foods, salad dressings, fried foods and microwave popcorn. This type of oil is a trans fat which is created when vegetable oil is converted into a solid by adding hydrogen. Trans fats increase cholesterol levels in the body and may exacerbate the onset of heart disease, breast and colon cancer and atherosclerosis.


Artificial Food Coloring:

Blue #1, Blue #2, Yellow #6 and Red #3 are used in numerous food products, such as sodas, baked goods, candy, certain cereals and sausage. The Center for Science in the Public Interest reports that all four of the food colorings have been found to contain cancer-causing properties. They have also been found to exacerbate hyperactivity and ADHD in children.
Soda Additive known as BVO:

Many citrus flavored cans of soda, as well as other carbonated beverages and sports drinks use brominated vegetable oil, which is an altered form of vegetable oil that has had atoms of the element bromine added to it. This may sound fairly benign but it’s actually a toxic flame retardant, used to keep the artificial flavoring from separating from the rest of the liquid. This hazardous ingredient, sometimes listed as BVO, can cause bromide poisoning symptoms like skin lesions and memory loss, as well as nerve disorders.


MSG is an amino acid used as a flavor enhancer found in soups, chips and many restaurant foods. Here in Costa Rica, it is found in flavor packets such as “Maggi” brand, bullion cubes and other condiments. MSG is known as an excitotoxin, a substance which overexcites cells to the point of damage or death. MSG is addictive and disengages the “I’m full” function, which explains the effects of weight gain and obesity. Studies have shown that MSG causes brain-cell damage, nausea, headaches, chest pains and weakness.

Nitrates and Nitrites:

A common preservative usually added to processed meats like bacon, ham and hot dogs. Studies have linked sodium nitrate to various types of cancer. In addition to concerns about cancer, increased nitrate and nitrite intake has been linked to deaths in Alzheimer’s, type 2 diabetes and Parkinson’s patients. Despite the risks, the valuable use of nitrates and nitrites as inhibitors of botulism warrant their acceptance as food additives. 

The next time you reach for a soda or packaged food with these common food additives, think twice about the health consequences. Remember to read labels and shop for whole foods that are as organic as possible. The more real, unprocessed foods you eat, the better off you are.


More Health News

Old Wives' Tales and Common Beliefs: Do They Really Work?

"Don't worry, you'll be as good as new after I give you this massage (a common Costa Rican practice known as "sobar")," a boy's grandmother tells him after a few days of heavy eating (and not exactly fruits!).

Brown Rice Puts White On the Run

White rice has long been the cornerstone of most Latin and Asian diets. Yet it is the unadulterated version of this staple that is causing a global stir. White rice is brown rice – stripped naked. 


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