It’s confession time – candy is popular in my house. We seem to always have enough to power a small town of starved kids at any given moment. And none of this stash of candy is actually *bought* by us. It just seems to appear on the counter every weekend.
Every so often and after every festive celebration like Easter, Halloween and Holi I look over the kids’ candy haul and check for food additives.
What are Food Additives
Food companies add chemicals to our food to retain freshness, to make it look attractive and to enhance flavour or texture. Candy, to be honest, doesn’t need any enhancement – it is pretty seductive already – but most sweets seem to have a whole lot of additives.
Most of these additives are approved for human consumption but as a mother though I am concerned about two things:
Who is responsible for the testing of additives?
In North America, it seems to be mostly up to the food manufacturers (or people hired by the manufacturers). Ever heard of the fox guarding the hens? After testing the results are submitted for certification.
Who is certifying these additives?
Because of a loophole in the law, companies can declare, on their own, that an additive is safe and start adding it to food without even informing the government. While these ingredients are required to be listed on package labels, they may appear simply as “artificial flavorings” or “artificial colouring.”
This ambiguity has me convinced, as a mother it is my responsibility to educate myself and since I don’t intend to live on a farm, grow my own corn, to feed my chickens, who will lay fresh eggs for breakfast every day, I have to accept food additives as the norm.
So what can I do to minimize my kids’ exposure?
Abstain of course, but since candy seems to magically appear in our home every week I have been unsuccessful at that. The other option is to make sensible choices.
Here is my list of the WORST culprits that exist in many of the foods we consume every day, not just the candy.
1. Artificial Sweeteners – the biggest one is Aspartame (E951) often marketed as Nutrasweet and Equal. It is found in foods labeled “diet”, “no sugar added” or “sugar-free”.
Added to: yoghurt, beverages, gum, flavoured water, jello, cereal to make the diet version.
2. High Fructose Corn Syrup – a highly refined artificial sweetener, it is found in almost all processed foods. It contains no nutritional value other than calories (unlike raw sugar and honey) and is widely used because it is cheaper than sugar.
Added to: soft drinks, cookies and granola bars.
3. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG / E621) – used as a flavor enhancer.
Added to: canned soups, salad dressings, chips, frozen entrees and many restaurant foods.
4. Trans Fats – used to enhance and extend the shelf life of food products.
Added to: deep-fried fast foods, processed foods made with margarine or partially hydrogenated vegetable oils, chips and crackers, baked goods.
5. Artificial Food Dyes – used to make foods more attractive to children. There are companies that are starting to use beets for red colour and turmeric for yellow. Hopefully, this trend will continue.
Watch out for: Blue #1 and Blue #2 (E133), Red dye # 3 and Red #40 (E124), Yellow #6 (E110) and Yellow Tartrazine (E102)
6. Brominated Vegetable Oil (BVO) – is the ingredient that Coca-Cola and PepsiCo recently promised to remove from all their beverages. I don’t understand though why this chemical is still added in food in NA when it was banned in Europe many years ago.
Added to: sodas, sports drinks, baked goods, juices.
7. BHA and BHT (E320) Butylated hydroxyanisole (BHA) and butylated hydrozyttoluene (BHT) – are preservatives used to keep foods from changing color, flavour or becoming rancid. They can be replaced by safer alternatives or spices that will perform the same function. So why aren’t more companies doing it?
Added to: potato chips, gum, cereal, frozen sausages, enriched rice, lard, shortening, candy, jello.
What can we as concerned consumers do?
- Look for labels with fewer and simple ingredients.
- Buy organic where possible – yes, it is more expensive. The good news is the prices have been coming down steadily in the past 5 years. As consumer demand increases there will be more variety available and the price will come down.
- Vote with your wallet – if people don’t buy foods riddled with dubious additives, companies will eventually stop making them.
I wish it was possible to live the clean and healthy life of our grandparents but the world has changed irreversibly since then. What we can do is to make educated decisions that will help make the world a healthier place for our children. Change is slow to come but companies are listening. Look at Coca Cola’s response to BVO in its beverages. They removed it. Nestle recently removed all artificial colours from its candy in the UK. President’s Choice, Canada’s #1 supermarket chain announced in October that it would take all artificial ingredients away from its packaged foods.
Change is coming. I am optimistic.
Updated Nov 1, 2015