Food additives dizzying, but simplicity can help


It is estimated there are more than 14,000 chemicals found in and added to our American food supply today.

In the process of bringing food to your table, many chemicals are used for a variety of reasons. Besides the residual chemicals from the farm such as anti-sprouting agents in potatoes, systemic insecticides and fungicides, we also have chemicals added for a variety of other reasons.

Chemicals are added to preserve the product, to color it, to enhance its flavor, to thicken it and to prevent caking just to mention a few.

Various chemicals are even added in certain bottled products just to prevent foaming when the product is bottled. In addition to substances that are added to the food itself, there are also chemicals that the foods come into contact with from packaging such as plastics, and machine-cleaning agents.

When I started reporting on this subject more than 40 years ago, the number of additives was around 5,000, and since then the number has more than doubled.

Although I can’t tell you exactly which of these can harm you — no one really can — you should be aware that these chemicals could have short-term and long-term reactions as well as interactions. It is not improbable that two or more harmless chemicals can interact to form a deadly one such as nitrates plus amines forming carcinogenic nitrosamines.

The question that you may ask about these additives is, “So what? Isn’t the FDA protecting us? Aren’t they all safe?” The answer is definitely no.

There are three ways that these chemicals might affect us.

Immediate reactions — Let’s assume that you ingest a chemical that has been incorrectly added to your food. For example, a machine malfunctioned in its preparation and released an inordinate amount of a chemical into a batch of food. That chemical might show no effects in small amounts, but could be toxic beyond a certain limit. When the FDA receives reports of this, they will more than likely have a recall of that batch of food. The FDA has done a good job in protecting us from this sort of mishap.

Long term reactions — With certain chemicals, reactions might not occur immediately. In other words, it may take repeated doses of the same chemical over a period of time for the cumulative effect to become apparent. Or, perhaps a single dose of a chemical will cause the reaction, but only after it has been in the body for a long period of time. In either case, this type of problem is a difficult one to trace, if indeed it can be traced at all.

Obviously, the FDA is not able to protect us from this type of problem. It is not unreasonable to assume that there are many food additives that fall into categories of being carcinogenic (cancer producing) or causing liver or kidney damage when consumed over long periods of time.

Interactions — The third problem involving interactions of chemicals should offer us the most concern. In other words, if indeed there are 14,000 added chemicals in our foods, and knowing that chemicals have the ability of interacting one with another, the potential number of interactions can be staggering.

Now, of course, I’m not saying that all of these resultant compounds would be toxic, but surely with that potential number, a good many of them might be. For example when eating a sandwich, what happens if the sodium steryl lactylate in the bread combines with the sodium nitrite in the ham, and the calcium disodium EDTA in the mayonnaise? Might there be some interactions? Your guess is as good as mine and equally as good as that of the FDA.

Now, you’re saying to yourself “OK Dr. T., what am I supposed to do about this”?

First of all eat mostly fresh foods and as few “prepared” foods as possible. If it’s in a box or a can, you can be sure that there are additives.

Second, become a label reader. Choose foods with the least additives. Ingredient labels list additives in order of their abundance, from the most to the least.

Let me say that again: Become a label reader!

Retired chiropractic doctor Francis Trapani’s background includes active practice for 41 years; investigative reporting for many years on stations KTRG and KPOI on Hawaii radio and exercise/fitness yoga TV broadcasts on channel KHVH, also in Hawaii. He has written three books and is working on a fourth; a yoga self-help manual “The Doctor Prescribes Yoga.” For more information, go to


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