I came across a small gem of a book recently. The Pantry Principle, by Mira Dessy contains everything you ever wanted to know about food additives, flavorings, fake sugars, colors, stabilizers, preservatives, emulsifiers and other “non-food” ingredients – but were afraid to ask. In this book she highlights not only the additives you’re familiar with, but others that may not be on your radar. Yet.
So packaged food eaters beware: here’s a hint of just a scant few of the items that lurk beneath the label in your packaged food products. And for those who are trying to get your friends and family off of packaged foods and on to a whole foods lifestyle, here’s some more ammunition!
Since we’re all familiar with the big offenders such as MSG, I thought I’d pick out a few about which you might know less. Take the case of the chemical used to create the yummy, buttery taste of microwaved popcorn. The chemical of concern is known as diecetyl and it’s been linked to lung disease in the factory workers that process it. Microwave popcorn lung, or more specifically “bronchiolitis obliterans” syndrome is not just limited to factory workers, however.
Diacetyl is so toxic that the U.S. Dept. of Labor issued a warning notice about its use in 2012, the same year a study published in Chemical Research in Toxicology suggested that diacetyl can cause an accumulation of amyloid-B protein, which has been positively linked with Alzheimer’s disease (More, et. al, 2012). Books like Dessy’s are helping to raise awareness of this health menace, and legal judgments are now pending that may finally reduce to the use of this toxin. In the meantime, please read the labels of your microwave popcorn – or better yet, make your own (using non-GMO corn, please).
This leads me to another additive, which still seems to be enjoying immense popularity in both the cosmetics and the food industry.
Propylene glycol is an emulsifier, used to help foods from separating (think oil and water). Many emulsifiers possess anti-caking or anti-foaming properties and are used in whipped goods, while others control the rate of crystallization in foods such as peanut butter. Propylene glycol has a nefarious past as a compound used in antifreeze, and animal studies from decades ago suggest that it can cause depression of the central nervous system (Miller, et al, 1981). It can also be a cause of allergy and asthma in children and create a variety of skin problems. Unfortunately, its name may not always appear on the label since it is covered under an FDA ruling known as “incidental food labeling”, a sleight of hand that allows manufacturer to skip any mention of it on the label. If you buy commercial products like ice cream, national brand yogurts, cakes and other sweets, beer, salad dressing and baking mixes, you can be pretty sure you’ll be ingesting some propylene glycol along with your meal.