The Nastiest 10 Food Additives: How to find and avoid them.

Food Additives are increasingly sneaking into our favorite foods. And most of us are not realizing the dangerous consequences of consuming these artificial chemicals.

We must learn to automatically look at the ingredient lists of our everyday products and understand all the elements that make up this list. In most countries food preservatives are still coded (E-number) and people have no clue of what they are eating. If you want to know what those E numbers stand for, click here.

If any of the following 10 nasty preservatives shows up in the ingredient list of a product you regularly consume, I recommend that you don’t buy it anymore. Leave it on the supermarket shelf and look for a natural and safer alternative.

These nasty 10 have been linked to cancer and other severe health problems.

ham_011-Sodium Nitrate/Nitrite

E-250 to E-252

Used to stabilize food color and add  artificial flavor.

It is found in many products such as meats, ham, bacon, sausages, hamburgers, smoked fish, etc.

When grilled it’s even more dangerous -it transforms into a reactive compound that has been directly linked to cancer.

2-Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

E-621

A very common flavor enhancer used in a wide range of foods. It adds a meaty salty flavor to many processed foods and is commonly used in meats, soups, Asian food, sauces, dressings, potato chips, frozen foods, etc.

It has been linked to brain damage, asthma, headaches, stomach disorders, fatigue, depression, and obesity among others health problems.

3-Aspartame

E-951

Artificial sweetener found in “diet” products, low-calorie desserts, gelatin, drinks, etc.

Also known as Nutrasweet or Equal in the U.S.

Studies have shown that lifelong consumption may increase risk of cancer or other neurological problems.

4-Food Colorings: Blue 1, 2; Red 2, 3; Green 3; Yellow 6

gummy_bears

These colorings are found in thousands of products, and they have all been linked to cancer.

Some examples of Blue 1 and 2 are found in beverages, baked goods, candy etc and it has been found to cause cancer in mice.

Red 2 and 3 are widely used, some examples are to dye cherries, fruit juice, candy, baked goods and have been linked to thyroid tumors.

And the widely used yellow 6 (eg.beverages, gelatin, breads, baked goods,sausage, candy, etc) has been linked to tumors of the adrenal grand and the kidney.

5.Potassium Bromate

E-924

pandemolde

It’s very common in industrial breads, white flour, and rolls to add volume to baked goods. Most bromate breaks down into a harmless form, however, small amounts can create a risk for people. California now requires a cancer warning on products with this ingredient.


6.Propyl Gallate

E-310

It prevents fats and oils from going bad and it’s found in many products, such as meats, soups, gums, etc.

It has been linked to cancer and you should avoid it.

7.BHA and BHT

E-320 and E-321

Butylated Hydoxyanisole (BHA) and Butylated Hydozyttoluene (BHT) are used to prevent foods from oxidizing and keeping fats and oils from going rancid. They are found in countless products such as dry cereals, potato chips, vegetable oils, etc.

They have been linked to cancer in numerous studies.

8.Olestra

Olestra is Procter & Gamble’s synthetic fat that is not absorbed as it passes through the digestive system, so it has no calories. It’s found in chips and diet foods/beverages.
Olestra can cause diarrhea, loose stools, abdominal cramps, flatulence, and other adverse effects. Those symptoms are sometimes severe. Even more importantly, olestra reduces the body’s ability to absorb fat-soluble carotenoids from fruits and vegetables.

9. Acesulfame-K

E-950

Found in baked goods, chewing gum, and gelatin desserts.
It’s a new additive and there aren’t  many studies to confirm its safety, if possible try to avoid it.

10. Partially Hydrogenated Vegetable Oils

Found in margarine, crackers, fried restaurant foods, baked goods, icing, microwave popcorn, etc.

Vegetable oil (liquid), can be made into a semi-solid form by reacting it with hydrogen. Partial hydrogenation reduces the levels of polyunsaturated oils – and also creates trans fats, which promote heart disease.

Harvard School of Public Health has issued a warning regarding the consumption of margarine, snack foods and other foods containing hydrogenated oils.

If you don’t eat butter, there are some alternatives to hydrogenated margarine, my favorite is Earth Balance.

The Genetically Modified “Frankenfish” Salmon soon in a plate near you

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has partially approved the AquAdvantage Salmon, a genetically engineered salmon that grows twice as fast as normal. The FDA states that the GM salmon is “safe and unlikely to harm the health of the consumers or the environment.”

The AquaAdvantage salmon has been developed by AquaBounty a biotech company based in Waltham, Massachusetts. Their GM salmons have an added growth hormone from the Pacific Chinook salmon and a promoter gene from an ocean pout that allows the fish to produce growth hormone all year long instead of only during the Spring and Summer months. The fish grows to market size in 16 to 18 months rather than three years.

Genetically modified Salmon next to normal Atlantic salmon

Genetically modified Salmon next to normal Atlantic salmon

Aquabounty has reassured this salmon is safe for consumption and poses no threat to the environment as they intend to only develop sterile females.

Environmental and advocacy organizations such as Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth or Food and Water Watch oppose what they call the “Frankenfish”. They are concerned that it could cause human allergies and the eventual contamination or decimation of the natural salmon population if it escapes and breeds in the wild.

The Monterey Aquarium revealed that current methods used to produce sterile fish are less than 99% accurate. That would mean that one fish in every hundred would not be sterile and could be reproductively viable. Another concern is that production of GE salmon, even in its early stages, is likely to involve the production, shipping and growing of hundreds of thousands of eggs and fish which could also be accidentally released into the wild.

 According to its opponents, the escape of reproductively viable GE salmon into the wild is very likely to occur. If this were to happen, the consequences are very hard to predict.

 Another unsettling aspect of the commercialization of the modified salmon is that consumers would not necessarily know how to distinguish it from regular farm raised salmon. Labeling of GM foods is not required by federal law, so consumers would not know how to spot the modified salmon in their grocery stores or restaurant menu.

 If the AquaAdvantage salmon is finally approved, it would be the first genetically modified animal approved for food consumption anywhere in the world.

The FDA has opened its report for public comment and will review the situation before making a final decision. The consultation will finalize at the end of February 2013, so now its the time for the public to state any concerns here.

 

Lessons from Sandy: extreme weather will be the new normal

In a recent forum held at the Harvard School of Public Health four expert panelists discussed the most important lessons learned from Hurricane Sandy.

Daniel Schrag, climate scientist and Director of the Harvard Center for the Environment said that “Hurricane Sandy has been connected by the public to climate change in a way that other storms have not.”

This storm has brought the conversation of our vulnerability and need for adaptation to climate change back to the table.

Schrag explained that even if Sandy was thought to be an unusual event, storms like this one will become more frequent due to global warming and climate change. “Sandy got stronger as it moved from the Carolinas up to New Jersey, when it should have been the opposite”. Normally storms weaken when they move north. Water at that time of year is usually pretty cold and storms should disperse when coming into contact with the chilly waters. But the water temperature off the coast of New Jersey on October 29th was 4C warmer than normal. This pool of warm water gave the storm and extra kick bringing it from 75 mph to 90mph.

Hurricane Sandy's Path

Hurricane Sandy’s Path

The panel also explained that super storms like Sandy might hit the Northeastern US more frequently that before due to increased melting of the Greenland ice caps.

The hurricane took a left turn at the Jersey shore, which is quite rare. Less than 10% of storms move from east to west, normally they would head north and move eastwardly out to the sea. The hypothesis is that the retreat of Arctic sea ice and melting of Greenland are in fact steering storms towards the Northeastern coast of the US.

“If this proves to be the case, if  we really are starting to steer storms towards the East coast, that’s a much bigger deal than any kind of intensification. We have a lot of storms per year, so this could be really bad.”  Schrag said.

Jerold Hayden, professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University agreed with Schrag that after natural disasters “we rebuild, but we don’t necessarily rebuild better”. We need to start spending money today if we want to prepare for the next storms and sea level rise of the future, and we need to tell people not to develop where they where developing before.

The panel agreed that “immediate post Sandy is an incredible opportunity in terms of thinking of what kind of investments to make in order to make our systems more robust.”  Many of these measures can be simple and localized. Rising power supplies to higher floors, or adding pumps in place so that we can pump out water from flooded areas in a day or two after a storm are local ways to achieve more resilience.

Schrag warned to those relying too much on technology and predictions that “however good our models are in predicting storms, I promise there will be surprises. No matter how well prepare, there are going to be brakes”.

Sandy is just the beginning of a new climate era. Extreme weather is going to be the new normal, and we must adapt to this new reality if we don’t want to end up with water up our necks.

Move over palm oil, make room for the vegetable oil of the future: Algae oil.

Move over palm oil, make room for the vegetable oil of the future: Algae oil.

If we open our fridge, bathroom cabinet or laundry room and take a close look at the products we keep in there, we have a very high chance of finding palm oil in at least half of them. In most ingredient lists, palm oil often hides behind the “vegetable oil” pseudonym, which makes it hard to identify.

Palm oil has taken over most of our every day products. It’s in our shampoos and soaps, cleaning agents, in our chocolate, margarine, spreads, soft drinks, baked goods, ice creams, chips and potato fries, and even in our powder milk.

PalmOilProducts

OK, so what is so bad about Palm oil? The problem is that it comes with a side of deforestation.

In a previous article linking palm oil and deforestation, I explained how huge palm oil monocultures are rapidly substituting Indonesia’s old growth forests, pushing some of the last Orangutans, and countless of other species to the brink of extinction. Deforestation is also placing Indonesia as one of the top CO2 emitters in the world –not from burning fossil fuels, but from the massive CO2 levels released from deforestation–.

The last orangutan populations in the world are found in Indonesia and Malaysia the two largest producers of palm oil in the world. Over 80% of the palm oil produced in the world comes from Indonesia, and the vast majority has been produced at the expense of some of some of the last old growth tropical rain forest in the world.

Despite this gloomy future, our thirst for vegetable oil is just going to increase. But maybe we can feed it with a different and more sustainable type of oil.

And here is where Solazyme, a San Francisco based biotech company comes into play. Solazyme produces high quality algae oil that is not only much more sustainable but also healthier than palm oil.

As stated in Solazyme’s website:

“Solazyme has pioneered an industrial biotechnology platform that harnesses the prolific oil-producing ability of microalgae. We use standard industrial fermentation equipment to efficiently scale and accelerate the microalgae’s natural oil production time to just a few days. Our platform is feedstock flexible and can utilize a wide variety of plant-based sugars, such as sugarcane-based sucrose, corn-based dextrose, and sugar from other biomass sources including cellulosics. By growing our proprietary microalgae in the absence of light using fermentation tanks to convert photosynthetic plant sugars into oil, we are in effect utilizing “indirect photosynthesis.”

solazyme

In March of 2010, Solazyme entered into a research and development agreement with Unilever, the world’s largest consumer of palm oil, to develop oil derived from algae for use in soaps and other personal care products. The agreement followed the culmination of a yearlong collaboration between Solazyme and Unilever, in which Solazyme’s renewable algal oils were tested successfully in Unilever product formulations.

What is more, Solazyme algae based oils have been proven to offer superior health benefits when used as substitutes for vegetable oils in food products. These benefits include reduced calories, saturated fat and cholesterol, and functional benefits such as enhanced taste and texture for low-fat formulations, while also providing lower cost handling and processing requirements.

Many experts regrettably say that orangutans and Sumatran tigers are walking extinctions. But if companies like Solazyme are able to turn sustainability into profit, they might still have a chance.

Is your skin clean? Toxic Cosmetic Ingredients you should avoid

Our skin is the largest organ in our bodies and everything we put on it gets rapidly absorbed, including toxins.

Sze Fei Wong/Istock

Sze Fei Wong/Istock

We are constantly bombarded by the media to use the latest shampoo if we want to have voluminous and shiny hair, fragrant deodorant to attract the ladies or gents, or creams that will make our skin “healthy” and clear.

We buy all these products thinking they are “good” for us and apply them daily, trusting that the long and unpronounceable list of ingredients are not hiding anything that could potentially harm us.

But, do you really know what is your soap, shampoo, moisturizer, makeup, deodorant and lipstick? Do you know what you are applying to your body daily?

Let’s take a look at some of the most common and potentially dangerous ingredients that are hiding in our everyday personal care products:

1- Parabens (Methyl, Propyl, Butyl and Ethyl Paraben):

Parabens are one of the most common cosmetic preservatives, they are used to inhibit microbial growth and extend shelf life. Unfortunately it can cause skin rashes, and most importantly, it has been found in great concentrations in human breast tumors. There are no studies yet that confirm that parabens can cause cancer, but the fact that some cosmetic firms are stopping the use of this ingredient and labeling their products “pareben free” makes me want to get very far away from them.

2-Synthetic Fragrance:

Fragrances used in cosmetics are usually synthetic and can have as many as 200 ingredients even though we just see “fragrance” in the label. Synthetic fragrances can cause severe or chronic headaches, allergies, dizziness, rash, coughing, skin irritation and hyperpigmentation.

3-Phthalates

Phthalates are found in many soft and flexible plastics as well as in many care products such as shampoo or nail polish. They are usually a “hidden” ingredient in “fragrance” and can be identified as DBP (di-n-butyl Phthalate) or DEP (diethyl Phtalate) in a cosmetic ingredient list.

Phtalates have been found to be hormonal disruptors (specially in men). They cause infertility, low sperm count and structural abnormalities in animal’s reproductive organs. Some studies also link phthalates to liver cancer (the U.S. Center for Disease Control).

Image via Time, Inc.

4-Imidazolidinyl Urea And DMDM Hydantoin

Often used as preservatives, both these chemicals release formaldehyde, which can be toxic. They can be found in shampoos, conditioners, bubble baths, baby wipes and other skin care products. They may be listed as 2-bromo-2-nitropropane-1,3-diol, Diazolidinyl urea, DMDM hydantoin, Imidazolidinyl urea, Quaternium 15, etc.

Exposure to formaldehyde may cause allergic reactions, hormonal disruption, affect the reproductive health, nervous system damage and suppressed immune system among others.

5-Triclosan

Triclosan is a common antimicrobial agent that is found in antibacterial soaps, many deodorants, toothpaste and other cosmetics.

It has been linked to hormone disruption and the emergence of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Along with its negative health effects, triclosan also impacts the environment, ending up in lakes, rivers and other water sources, where it is toxic to aquatic life.

Triclosan has proved to be both dangerous and unnecessary—in 2005, the FDA found no evidence that antibacterial washes containing triclosan were superior to plain soap and water for protecting consumers from bacteria.

Triclosan also accumulates in fatty tissues. Studies have found concentrations of triclosan in three out of five human milk samples as a result of exposure through personal care products containing triclosan.

6-DEA (diethanolamine), MEA (monoethanolamine), TEA (triethanolamine)

These are used as foaming and emulsifying agents in lotions, shampoos, facial cleaners, conditioners, gels, moisturizer and soaps. They are used for the consistency and texture they give to these products even though they can be highly toxic.

They can cause allergic reactions, eye irritation, dryness of the hair and skin. But most importantly, there are numerous studies that associate DEA and TEA with various types of cancer in lab animals.

Look out for Cocamide DEA, Cocamide Diethanolamine, DEA Lauryl Sulfate, Diethanolamine Lauryl Sulfate, Lauramide DEA, Lauramide Diethanolamine, Linoleamide DEA, Linoleamide Diethanolamine, Oleamide DEA, Oleamide Diethanolamine, TEA or Triethanolamine on product labels.

According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), “There is sufficient evidence of a carcinogenic effect of N-nitrosodiethanolamine — .” IARC recommends that NEA should be treated as if it were a carcinogen in humans. The National Toxicology Program similarly concluded: “There is sufficient evidence for the carcinogenicity of N-nitrosodiethanolamine in experimental animals.”

7-Sodium Lauryl/Laureth Sulfate

This is a cheap and harsh detergent used in many shampoos and soaps for its ability to foam. Often derived from petroleum, it causes eye irritation, dry scalp, skin rashes and other allergic reactions. It’s used in thousands of cosmetic products and while its level of toxicity is still debated, some claim that it contains endocrine disruptors and may be contaminated with 1,4-dioxane (a potential carcinogen). And while it may not be toxic on its own, in combination with other ingredients, it can can form carcinogenic compounds. Also,recent studies done in Japan show that it can damage DNA in cells.
By Corbis
8-Lead and Other Heavy Metals

Lead may be a contaminant in over 600 different cosmetic products, and has been found in most lipsticks and nail polish.
In October 2007, the Campaign for Safe Cosmetics tested 33 popular brands of lipsticks.The results showed that 65% of lipsticks contained lead. Lead-contaminated brands included L’Oreal, Cover Girl and even a $24 tube of Christian Dior.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration released a study in 2009 that found lead in all samples of lipstick it tested, at levels four times higher than those previously found.
FDA found the highest lead levels in lipsticks made by three manufacturers: Procter & Gamble (Cover Girl brand), L’Oreal (L’Oreal, Body Shop and Maybelline brands) and Revlon. Yet FDA has thus far failed to take action to protect consumers.

Mercury is also present in many eye shadows and mascaras but no detailed studies have been conducted yet.

Also, many deodorants  and anti-prespirants still use aluminum which has been linked to breast cancer in numerous studies.  Please look up your deodorant’s ingredient list and if it has any aluminum based compounds replace it for an aluminum free alternative (there are many available everywhere and are just as effective).

These are just a few of the “hidden” toxic ingredients in our every day personal care products, and just like with everything that we eat and drink, we must read ingredient labels before putting anything in our bodies.

Applying some of these chemicals  everyday for 5,10, 20  or more years must have some negative consequence to our health and we should be less trusting of ingredients that we can’t recognize or  understand.

Sources:

Engulfed by Plastic

Plastics are part of most of our daily activities. From the moment we wake up and use our plastic toothbrush, soaps and cosmetics from plastic containers, drink and eat foods also kept or wrapped in plastic, and go to work in front of our plastic computers and sit on our plastic chairs. We then go shopping and use plastic bags to transport stuff contained in plastic, drink from plastic bottles, and use our plastic TV’s and phones.

Only in the U.S. we use 60,000 plastic bags every 5 seconds! (By Chris Jordan)

And when we are done we just throw the plastic “away” and buy some more the next day, and the next, for the rest of our lives.

2 million Plastic Bottles are used in the US every 5 minutes (By Chris Jordan)

But where does plastic come from?

The process of making plastic begins with carbon from petroleum, natural gas or coal. Elements can be combined in different ways to achieve a  different type of plastic. The final product can range from a hard and shatter proof plastic container to a soft and flexible plastic wrap.

Plastics are durable, cheap, light and can be made into almost anything.

And it’s these useful properties which make plastics so harmful when they end up in the environment. Plastics do not degrade and stay in the environment for ever. Plastics “photo-degrade”, a process in which it is broken down into smaller and smaller pieces, all of which are still plastic particles, eventually becoming individual molecules of plastic.

It makes no sense to make disposable items such as water bottles or plastic bags that we are going to use for only a few minutes out of a material that is going to last forever in the environment.

And where does all this plastic end up?

Most of the plastic we use ends up in one of the overflowing landfills around the globe, but a lot of it ends up in the oceans. Only a small fraction gets recycled.

Plastic trash is found in the most remote parts of our oceans

Our oceans are becoming plastic dumps and marine life is taking a big toll.

Hundreds of thousands of sea turtles, sea birds, seals, whales and other marine mammals die every year from eating discarded plastic bags or plastic pieces mistaken for food.

Plastic bags look like jelly fish to most marine life

Sea turtles mistake plastics for food

Plastics are found even in the most remote parts of the ocean.

There are areas in the ocean where plastic accumulates more than in other places due to the ocean currents. One of the most studied is the “Great Pacific Garbage Patch”.

The Great Pacific Garbage Patch is an area of the Pacific Ocean created by the currents of the North Pacific Gyre. It’s a plastic soup that has concentrations in some areas of plastic 40 times greater than that of plankton. That means there is 40 times more plastic than food for the marine animals to eat. Scientists estimate its size as twice the area Texas to the size of the continental United States.

These pictures show examples of marine life impacted by plastics (the photos have not been manipulated):

Albatros Stomach filled with Plastics

Plastic Seal

Turtle in Plastic Ring

What can we do!?

It’s almost impossible to avoid using plastics, but there are a few things that we can easily do to stop dumping plastics into the environment

- Stop buying plastic water bottles, bring your own water bottle around and use water filters at home. It’s even better for your health since plastic bottles can leach nasty chemicals into the water.

You can get some cool bottles at KleanKanteen or Sigg.

-Stop using Plastic bags. Use reusable bags instead! Whether you are shopping for groceries, clothes or  anything else always bring your own bag.

You can get really nice reusable bags at any grocery store, but any bag that you have around the house will do. This are also some alternatives: Ecobags, Chicobags, Reuseit, and SnackTaxi for your sandwiches and lunches!

-Buy Less Packaged Food: Buy in bulk or get food and goods that come in the least amount of package as possible.

-Use soap bars and be mindful of the plastic containers that you buy and if possible avoid them.

-Recycle: Get a recycling bin from your local recycling program or go to Earth 911 a website that allows you to put in your zip code and any material you want to recycle. It will give you the phone number of the nearest facility in charge of collecting that material.

Sources:

Bag it the Movie

Algalita Marine Research Foundation

Chris Jordan

OCEANA

GREENPEACE

NOAA

Will REDD help save our Forests?

REDD, or Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation is a very controversial measure. Environmentalists don’t seem to agree if it’s a good idea due to its lack of clarity.

Deforestation and forest degradation account for 20% of global greenhouse gas emissions. That is more than the entire global transportation sector combined.

Deforestation in Amazon, Brazil

Rainforests provide essential ecosystem services; they absorb CO2, release oxygen, regulate global rain and humidity patterns and are home to most plants and animal species in the planet.

Therefore what REDD stands for is in theory wonderful. Reducing deforestation is key in order to fight global warming.

REDD’s basic premise is that if  industries in developed nations want to continue releasing large quantities of CO2 into the atmosphere they would have to pay for parts of tropical rainforest or rainforest “regeneration projects” in other parts of the world such as Brazil or Indonesia.

REDD is presented as an “offset” scheme of the carbon market and will produce carbon credits. Carbon offsets are “emissions-saving projects” that in theory compensate for the polluters’ emissions.

REDD detractors state that offsets allow polluting governments and corporations -which have the historical responsibility to clean up the atmosphere- to buy their way out of the problem with cheap projects that exacerbate social and environmental conflicts in the South.

Other major concerns in the REED program are the lack of agreement on the definition of forest degradation, the specific factors causing deforestation, or the funding sources and administrators.

Most local NGO’s agree that indigenous people or local organizations  should be the ones involved in forest regeneration projects  instead of foreign organizations or centralized governments who are often out of touch or easily corrupted.

According to Greenpeace Forest campaigner ” The market oriented draft, which focuses more on investment rather that reducing deforestation, only benefits big companies which huge emissions”.

Greenpeace also explains that from an environmental perspective, REDD will not save the climate nor protect forests, nor will it stop dangerous emissions levels. In fact, they state that REDD will offer polluting industries a way to avoid emissions reduction through cheap offsets and allow them to actually increase pollution.

Orangutans face extinction due to deforestation. REDD could help save them if implemented correctly by preserving the last Indonesian rainforests and tackling the root of their habitat loss: expansion of palm oil plantations.

Jane Goodall is among one of the REDD supporters, and she believes REDD is a great idea because saving parts of rainforests will be able to promote conservation and biodiversity.

Many argue that she is just “desperate” and “naive” to think that REDD will work to save large areas of rainforests or promote forest regeneration in a sustainable and effective manner.

REDD could in fact be a wonderful measure. But all players need to agree on basic principles. Also funding sources and administration must be open.

REDD should never be used as a cheap way to pay off extra CO2 emissions. Fines should be much higher for corporations who pollute more than established. The fine money could in turn be used to buy land to be kept untouched by developers, or to promote sustainable forest regeneration projects where indigenous people should be heavily involved.