by Mary Dallman

Why are people turning to natural foods nowadays? Is it possible that they know something that we do not? If so, what is it that they know?

Sometimes, nothing can beat the aroma of french fries from McDonald's or a Breakfast Buddy from Burger King - there is nothing, when you are hungry and in a hurry, that beats a hot meal, already prepared, served to you in exchange for a few dollars from your pocket. No dishes to clean, no mess to tidy up, nothing to put back in the refrigerator. Fast, easy and hot, this is the way we've come to expect our food to be: offered to us with a smile, when we want it (usually right now), with a minimum of fuss and bother.

It's the same thing that makes a Hot Pocket enticing to hardworking parents: Get in your car, go to the supermarket, pick up a box of Hot Pockets, pop ‘em in the oven or microwave, and you can't be accused of being a bad parent because you're feeding those kids the best you can.

Aside from the fact that fast foods are easy to obtain and that we've come to expect them, there is an aspect of these foods that is downright frightening: the chemical additives that are added to them (to make them taste good or look better or smell enticing). Here are some of the additives added to your favorite foods, and a few of their known effects:

1. MONOSODIUM GLUTAMATE (MSG): Commonly associated with Chinese take-out food, this flavor-enhancing amino acid in commercially-produced, refined form, can cause a myriad of problems because it is in free form; that is, not delivered along with other constituents that negate its adverse effects. Glutamine (as Glutamic Acid, a naturally-occuring amino acid found in many foods, including carrots and whole grains), is a neurotransmitter that allows cells in the brain to communicate with each other. MSG is known as an exitotoxin (along with cysteine and aspartate). Exitotoxins, when ingested in their chemically-purified form in abnormal quantities, can cause neurons in the brain to become overstimulated and die.

Further, MSG crosses the blood-brain barrier. Contrary to popular belief, this network of blood capillaries, which usually keeps toxic substances from coming into contact with the brain, is not present around the hypothalamus, the circumventricular organ (part of the brain stem) and the pineal gland. MSG is often disguised on processed food labels as textured vegetable protein (TVP) or plant protein extract. The word hydrolyzed always refers to MSG. MSG is added to frozen foods because they would taste extremely bland if it wasn't. Frozen foods taste bland because freezing breaks down enzymes and co-enzymes that give fresh food its unique taste, and destroys some of its food value. MSG's popularity is due to its ability to render such compromised foods more palatable. However, instead of attempting to revive food flavor by tricking our tastebuds into thinking we are eating fresh and wholesome foods, we are further compromising and even endangering our families' health.

For a list of food additives to which MSG is commonly added, and the names it hides behind on labels, please see Mark Gold's [MSG File].

Common adverse reactions to MSG: chest pain, drowsiness, burning sensations (back of the neck and chest), plus tingling and weakness in the upper back, arms and neck. MSG's toxicity is cumulative, so even if you do not react to it immediately or notice any strange sensations that you can attribute to its ingestion, it could still be causing problems, albeit ones that develop slowly.

2. ASPARTAME: Used in sugar substitutes such as Nutrasweet and Equal. Approved by the FDA in 1993 for inclusion in all foodstuffs with no restrictions [this means it can be added to foods that do not require labeling, such as fast food items], and an ingredient in sugar-free sodas, this chemical changes to formaldehyde, phenylalanine and methanol in the human body, or when a product containing it is heated to more than 86 degrees F (30 degrees C).

Formaldehyde is typically used to preserve dead bodies, and methanol is a deadly neurotoxin, commonly known as wood alcohol. Gulf War Syndrome could be due to the heating of Nutrasweetened soft drinks in the high temperatures of the Saudi Arabian desert, and the subsequent degradation of Aspartame into formaldehyde and methanol (phenylalanine is also an amino acid crucial to the production of neurotransmitters). For more information, please read [ Diet Drinks: Gulf War Syndrome In A Can?]

Over 92 known side-effects are caused by ingestion of Aspartame (known to the Food and Drug Administration), including vomiting, anxiety attacks and tinnitus (ringing in the ears). Ingestion of Aspartame-containing foods has resulted in several deaths. It's even a component in most chewing gums. For more information on health problems related to Aspartame, please read Patricia Ziliani's article, [ ENVIRONMENTAL TOXINS]

Symptoms may be delayed or immediate. Like MSG, its effects are both immediate (in particularly sensitive people) and delayed. The U.S. Air Force has warned its pilots against drinking diet soft drinks sweetened with Aspartame before flying, as several commercial pilots have experienced grand mal seizures while in the cockpit (Flying Safety, May and August 1992).

3. SULFITES: Used to preserve foods (especially dried fruits), occurring naturally as a result of fermentation in alcoholic beverages (wine & beer). Although sulfites have been used since Roman times as a preservative, many people have an allergic reaction when they ingest sulfites. They are particularly implicated in worsening asthma.

Sulfiting agents are used to help prevent spoilage and discoloration and were banned by the Food and Drug Administration in 1984 for use on foods that are meant to be consumed raw, such as salad bar items (vegetables and fruits), but are still legally used in processed foods. They are still illegally used in some restaurant salad bars. They are also added to some commercial cookies, crackers and cereals.

4. NITRATES AND NITRITES: These two ingredients are used extensively in cured meats - luncheon meats, ham, hot dogs and the like. They are implicated in research studies as a cause of cancer in laboratory animals. However, the FDA and food industry manufacturers continue to say the risk is slight.

They are also used as flavor enhancers and colorants. Even though the public became aware of their cancer-causing possibilities years ago (these two ingredients form nitrosamines in the human body, which are carcinogenic), the furor has died down due to continued downplaying of their risks by both the industries that utilize them the most and the FDA.

While it may be true that you are at a lower risk ingesting foods containing these ingredients if you don't consume them on a daily basis, if you have sausage with your breakfast, eat a salami sandwich for lunch and ham for dinner, you are exposing yourself to high amounts of these known cancer-causing factors. And if you eat like this every day, your chances of developing the dreaded C disease go up exponentially.

5. rBGH - Recombinant Bovine Growth Hormone, or rBGH, is a genetically-engineered drug that is injected into milk cows to increase milk production. It passes into the cow milk the same way that pesticides pass into human milk. Monsanto, one of the conglomerates that manufactures rBGH, gave data to the FDA based on a different recipe for rBGH than what they now produce. Some of the issues surrounding rBGH are that:

(1) We have enough milk in this country as it is--too much in fact; surplus milk is purchased by the Federal Government with your tax dollars (by an Act of Congress many years ago to keep dairy farmers afloat);

(2) This growth hormone causes mastitis, an infection in the cow's udder, requiring even MORE antibiotics (which also pass into the milk) to be given to cows;

(3) rBGH causes IGF-1 or Insulin-like Growth Factor, to increase; this is a known cancer-promoting substance in humans. IGF-1 is present in the rBGH milk that humans consume--it's also present in human milk, but its levels are much increased in rBGH milk. It is important to note that rBGH passes through the digestive system and is not eradicated by pasteurization, so with every mouthful of yogurt, every slice of cheese, every pat of butter, you possibly expose your body to a hormone genetically-engineered for cows.

There are, of course, many food additives not mentioned above, such as BHA and BHT, FD&C dyes, and parabens that cause reactions in humans. These reactions include hives, nausea, diarrhea, headaches, severe contact dermatitis, lowered blood pressure, abdominal cramps, and the list goes on.

Please try to avoid consuming food items that contain these additives for your own well-being. Control over your health is as close as making careful selections of what you consume every day. Be an informed, label-reading consumer, and don't expect the FDA to police every mouthful for you.

An excellent resource on the dangers of food additives, upon which much of this article is based, can be found at [Public Awareness Page], by Costas Giannakenas MD., PhD.

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