Safety of Additives

I want to chat about a lot this week, but for today, I want to share some information on additives in foods.

Food additives are regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA).  ANY additive that is intentionally added to food is subject to a premarket review and approval by the FDA.  There are exceptions, but the one that stands out most is when a substance is generally recognized as safe (GRAS).

GRAS – Generally Recognized as Safe

Directly quoting the FDA, GRAS means a substance is “generally recognized, among qualified experts, as having been adequately shown to be safe under the conditions of its intended use.”

That sounds good and fine.  But who are these qualified experts and who is doing the research to adequately show safety of a particular substance?  Any guesses?

It’s the company trying to introduce that substance.  Yes, the company trying to add a substance into their food product determines whether that substance is safe and meets the qualifications for GRAS. Can we say conflict of interest?

And then there’s a kicker: It is VOLUNTARY to submit the company-decided GRAS determination to the FDA for review.  A company is not required to tell the FDA that it is adding something new to a food.

REALLY?  Yes, really.  It’s true.  It is unbelievably true.

Of course, every food additive is not going to yield detrimental effects on health.  Nonetheless, I think it’s a good idea to minimize your risks where possible.  Especially considering the lazy regulations regarding GRAS and how long an unhealthy additive can be in the food supply before the government even acknowledges a problem.

For instance, let’s revisit how the government handled partially hydrogenated oils:

These boogers were introduced into our food system with Crisco in 1911.  It wasn’t until the 1990s that the accumulating data could no longer be ignored.

Over TEN YEARS later in 2006, the FDA required a new line on the nutrition label designating how much trans fat was in a product.

SEVEN YEARS AFTER THAT, the FDA (finally) made a preliminary decision to revoke their GRAS status in 2013.

TWO YEARS AFTER THAT, the FDA (finally) confirmed the decision to ban trans fats in 2015.

And then the food industry has until 2018 to actually remove them even though there is NO SAFE LEVEL OF CONSUMPTION.

C’mon now.  The system is not working very effectively. I can’t blindly trust it.

So what are we to do?

First and most importantly:  Read labels, especially the ingredient list.

Research any ingredient that you don’t know.  Gather information from different sources.  Make your own decision based on your research.  Keep learning and keep researching.  New information comes out every day!  Take an active role in your own health rather than mindlessly eating what the food industry serves you.

The second thing you can do is to choose simple whole foods.  Doing so will minimize the number of additives in your diet.

The food industry often complicates fairly simple foods by adding unnecessary ingredients.  For example, let’s look at my favorite brand of cottage cheese.  It has three ingredients:  Cultured skim milk, cream, salt.  Another popular brand has these ingredients:  Cultured pasteurized grade A skim milk and cream, whey, contains less than 2% of modified food starch, salt, calcium phosphate, xanthan gum, guar gum, natural flavor, Vitamin D3.

Why does the other brand have so many extra ingredients?  I’m always going to choose the brand with lesser and simpler ingredients, regardless of if the additives in the other brand are harmless.

Before I end the post today, I want to make an important clarification that “natural” does not always mean safe and man-made does not always mean unsafe.  That goes for much more than just food.

So keep that in mind when doing your research on additives.  If you find an all-natural additive or one derived from an all-natural source, dig a little deeper before immediately deeming it safe.  🙂

Be a hopeful skeptic!  Happy Monday!



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