Musings on Food Additives

in All Posts
Good morning! I hope you have today off, and if you don’t, I hope you secretly slack off a little behind your bosses’ back–after all, it is Labor Day!

I woke up around 7:30 (guess my body doesn’t know we don’t have to work today!) and made myself a delicious breakfast.

Breakfast- Banana and Pineapple Oatmeal Pilaf

I love Kashi Pilaf with my oatmeal! I make a big batch and then keep it in the fridge, so I don’t have to deal with cooking it when I want breakfast. The addition of pineapple to this breakfast gave the dish a light, tropical feeling. Perfect for the last days of summer.

My Banana and Pineapple Oatmeal Pilaf contained: 1/4 cup milk, 1/4 cup water, 1/4 cup Pilaf, 1/4 cup oatmeal, 1 sliced banana, and 1 pineapple ring. I sprinkled 1/2 tablespoon of brown sugar on top.

On the side, I had an iced coffee with half and half and Stevia.

Last Night’s Dinner

My hunger was strange last night. I felt bloated and full all day, and I wasn’t really craving “dinner foods.” I split up my meal in parts and ate as we hung around the house with some friends.

First up… juicy watermelon (my first of the season; I’m behind on the times!).

Then I made melty cheddar sandwiches (made from a 4-inch multi-grain hoagie roll). I had two with tomato slices.

Last, I tried a new kind of Greek Yogurt– Cabot. I picked up the Vanilla Bean flavor at the store and it was so delicious and creamy. I could see vanilla specks in every single spoonful.

Musings on Food Additives

I had been rushing at the grocery store and hadn’t really read the ingredient list for the Cabot Greek Yogurt. I usually buy Plain Nonfat Yogurt, so I didn’t even think to check it out. I took a careful peak at the container while munching on the yogurt and saw this:

Ingredients: Pasteurized milk, cream, milk protein concentrate, modified corn starch, carrageenan, pectin, vanilla bean flavoring, live active yogurt cultures (L. bulgaricus and S. thermophilus).

And I thought… “Hmmmm…. Modified Corn Starch doesn’t sound very natural. I wonder if it’s like HFCS?!

I did some research on it this morning and here’s what I learned: “Modified corn starch (also called modified food starch) is an additive that’s made by treating starch, which modifies one or more of its physical properties. This change may affect the texture, how fast it dissolves, or how easily it can be digested. The starch can come from corn (as stated) but can also be made from wheat, potato, rice, or tapioca. It’s added to foods to act as a thickener, to acquire a certain texture, or to keep foods moist. Modified food starch is typically added to processed foods such as sauces, pie fillings, and gravies. They’re not healthy in the respect that they don’t add any nutritional value to food, but they aren’t harmful. People who have gluten allergies should stay away from this ingredient though, unless a food containing it is labeled ‘gluten free.'”

Basically, modified corn starch is just a thickening agent, and although it is not natural, it is probably not harmful.

This got me thinking about other food additives. I try to avoid monosodium glutamate (MSG, which can also be called Hydrolyzed Vegetable Protein, Hydrolyzed Protein, Hydrolyzed Plant Protein, Plant Protein Extract, Sodium Caseinate, Calcium Caseinate, Yeast Extract, Textured Protein, Autolyzed Yeast, or Hydrolyzed Oat Flour… WHEW!! That’s a long list of sneaky code names to remember!) and artificial sweeteners (aspartame, acesulfame-K, saccharin, sucralose, and maltodextrin).

….but what else should we be looking for in the ingredients list?

The Center for Science in the Public Interest has a great list of food additives that are considered safe and that should be avoided. In addition to MSG and artificial sweeteners, here is a quick summary of additives that should never be consumed:

  • Artifical Colorings — specifically, Blue 2, Blue 3, Green 2, Yellow 6, and Red 2. Evidence exists that these colorings can cause cancer.
  • Butylated Hydroxyanisole (BHA) — BHA retards rancidity in fats, oils, and oil-containing foods. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services considers BHA to be “reasonably anticipated to be a human carcinogen.” Nevertheless, the Food and Drug Administration still permits BHA to be used in foods. (THANKS!)
  • Olestra — Olestra can cause diarrhea and loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Olestra also reduces the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids (such as alpha and beta-carotene, lycopene, lutein, and canthaxanthin) from fruits and vegetables. Those nutrients are thought by many experts to reduce the risk of cancer and heart disease.
  • Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil/Hydrogenated Vegetable Oil — Food label code for “trans fat.”
  • Potassium Bromate — This additive has long been used to increase the volume of bread and to produce bread with a fine crumb (the not-crust part of bread) structure. Most bromate rapidly breaks down to form innocuous bromide. However, bromate itself causes cancer in animals. The tiny amounts of bromate that may remain in bread pose a small risk to consumers. Bromate has been banned virtually worldwide except in Japan and the United States. In California, foods containing this substance are required to have a cancer warning label.
  • Propyl Gallate — Propyl gallate retards the spoilage of fats and oils. Consumption has been linked to an increased cancer risk.
  • Sodium Nitrate — Meat processors love sodium nitrite because it stabilizes the red color in cured meat (without nitrite, hot dogs and bacon would look gray) and gives a characteristic flavor. Sodium nitrate is used in deli meats and dry cured meat, because it slowly breaks down into nitrite. Adding nitrite to food can lead to the formation of small amounts of potent cancer-causing chemicals (nitrosamines). I just checked our deli meat and it contains Sodium Nitrate. We’ll never buy this brand again!

Although it’s virtually impossible to avoid food additives, it’s helpful to be armed with a list of the additives you should ALWAYS avoid. I’m going to print the Center for Science in the Public Interest list and put it in my wallet. Every time I’m at the grocery store, I find myself wondering if an additive is safe or not. It will be helpful to have a resource to turn to immediately!



  • Heather May 12, 2010, 7:37 am

    there is SO MUCH GREAT INFORMATION in your posts from 2008.
    i know i probably sound like a broken record, but reading all your musings really does lend arguement to why I use your blog as a research point for so many topics.

    Seriously. I know your degree is in non-fiction creative writing – and I must say…it seems that degree was MADE FOR YOU. You are so good at this, Caitlin. The way you say things never bores me and I never feel like the information is presented “over my head” where I have to reread things to understand what the heck you are trying to tell me. And you are so good at pointing your readers to the SOURCE of your information.

    I have never before thought “how in the world did Caitlin get so many readers, because you have clearly proven yourself in the HLBlogging Professionalism [totally just made that up.] but as I read through your VERY FIRST few months of posts, it’s so uber-clear [made that up too] that you are a pro for a reason.

    Yesterday I tweeted [twittered/twitted/sent a tweet] a photo of a thank you note I wrote to the owners of one of my favorite local businesses, encouraging my followers to reach out with a quick thank you to a business they truly enjoy and appreciate. I TRULY ENJOY AND APPRECIATE HTP.

    thank you for all the effort you put in – not only today, as you blog full time, but also way back in the begining and all throughout the working multiple jobs, building your family business, taking classes, writing a book, and living your life. You help people. You teach people. You are awesome.

    • Heather May 12, 2010, 7:38 am

      PS – today I read September. get excited.

      • caitlin May 12, 2010, 10:55 am

        thank you heather!!!:) that means a lot to me.

Previous post:

Next post:

Healthy Tipping Point