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SAFETY & HEALTH: Nutrition

Food Additives You Should Avoid

The next time you shop for food in the supermarket, look out for … not food, but toxic Additives.


A recent CAP survey found that most supermarket foods are unnatural. They are highly processed and are made up of hydrogenated fat, bulking agents, processed starches, sugars and salt, mixed together with an array of chemical additives.

There are even “foods” that are made entirely from chemicals.


Chewing gums, for example, consist almost completely of artificial ingredients.

What really is the food we eat? The average supermarket has about 18,000- 30,000 different food products on its shelves, and most consumers have no idea what they are made of.


For decades now, the food industry has continually created new chemicals to manipulate and transform our food. Nearly 3,000 additives and preservatives are used in food today – to mimic natural flavours, colour foods to make them look more “natural” or ‘fresh’, preserve foods for longer and longer periods of time and create altered versions of breads, crackers, fruits, vegetables, meats, dairy products and many more commonly eaten foods.

Such manipulation of our food can have a profound effect on our body’s unique biochemical balance. In the short term, some of these chemicals may cause headaches; low-energy levels; or poor mental concentration, behaviour, or immune response.

Chemicals with long-term effects could increase your risk of cancer, cardiovascular disease and other degenerative conditions.


Avoiding toxins in your diet is thus an important first step toward enhancing your health and lowering your risk of disease.


Know what you are eating. But reading the label alone is no good if you don’t know what the chemicals are, and what they can do to you.

Utusan Konsumer exposes the dirty secrets of the food processing industry and examines the key additives that may undermine your health.



Preservatives are widely used in the food industry to extend the shelf life of food. With preservatives, food can last much longer without going mouldy or becoming infected with bugs and bacteria.


Unfortunately, the chemical characteristics that make preservatives effective in killing bacteria and other organisms in food can affect our health.


Sulphur dioxide and sulphites

This is a gas that is formed when sulphur burns. It also occurs naturally. It dissolves in water to form sulphurous acid. The acid forms a series of salts called sulphites and metabisulphites, which are used as food preservatives.

Sulphites prevent vegetables and fruit from going brown after they have been peeled, and keep vegetables looking fresh even when they are old and stale.

Dried fruit slices can be kept standing for hours in a sulphite solution until the sulphur dioxide has completely penetrated the slices.


Health effects

Sulphur dioxide – linked to mutations and cancer

Sulphites – severe asthma attacks, stomach problems, blurred vision, dizziness, irregular breathing, breathlessness and nervous irritability.



They can be found in virtually all cooked and cured meat, sausage, bacon, ham, frankfurters, hot dogs, corned beef, luncheon meat and pate. They give ham, hot dogs and bacon a pinkish colour. Without them, ham and other processed meats would be grey instead of pink.


Health Effects

Convert in the body to a highly toxic substance, nitrite, which affects the red blood cells, causing breathing difficulties, dizziness and headaches. When nitrites combine with other chemicals in the stomach, they can form chemicals called nitrosamines, one of the most potent causes of cancer scientists have ever identified.



Benzoic acid or its salts, the benzoates, are used to stop bacteria, fungi and yeast from growing in processed foods. They are used in fruit juices, pickles, sauces and toppings, margarine, jam, figs, coconut milk, concentrated tomato juice, preserves and carbonated drinks.


They are also used as a preservative in other additives such as flavourings and colourings.


Health Effects

Provoke allergies, asthma, skin reactions, hyperactivity, gastric irritation and migraine; and affect the natural balance of bacteria in the intestines. Benzoic acid enhances the action of carcinogens in the body.


Source: Utusan Konsumer June 2003, Published by Consumers’ Association of Penang


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