You can be pretty sure that the great Greek doctor and philosopher, Hippocrates, wasn't referring to breakfast at IHOP or Doritos for lunch when he suggested we let our food be our medicine. Rather, he implied eating simply and naturally, so that we nurture our bodies with an array of vitamins, minerals, proteins and fibers found in a well-balanced unprocessed diet. When we eat clean whole foods, we’re not only staying healthy by consuming vital nutrients, but we're also staying healthy by avoiding potentially harmful food additives.
Processed foods are now often more widely available than fresh options, and cases of food additive allergies are on the rise. Detecting allergies to food additives can be even more difficult than detecting basic food allergies (which affect over 3% of the population), because a product containing food additives typically has many ingredients, making it complicated to pinpoint the exact culprit.
You may have food additive allergies if you regularly suffer from asthma, skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis or hives, headaches, sinus congestion or more serious problems such as tinnitus, lupus or fibromyalgia.
Preservatives are the most common food additives. These are usually in the form of sulfites, which keep food fresh longer, and parabens or benzoic acid, which slow the decomposition process. (Vitamin C and salt can do this as well without the side effects.) They're found in sodas, snack foods, meats and even wine.
Flavor enhancers, such as monosodium glutamate (MSG) and aspartame are what you'll probably find in your afternoon guilty pleasure of diet soda and BBQ potato chips. Aspartame, the artificial sweetener in diet sodas has been linked to serious conditions such as cancer, infertility and migraines. MSG, the salty flavor enhancer, has been linked to headaches, burning sensation in chest and difficulty breathing.
Nitrites, which are usually added to give meat a "healthy" coloring, can cause asthma rashes and have been linked to cancer.
It's difficult to know the long-term effects of regular exposure to food additives, as never before in history have humans consumed them on this scale. There are schools of thought suggesting that many common ailments are actually food additive reactions.
What we do know is that avoidance and a diet rich in fresh, organic and minimally processed food is your best bet. Like Hippocrates suggested, food is so powerful it has the ability to heal us. Likewise it clearly has the power to poison as well.
Keeping your diet simple reduces your risk of complications and allergies. In Defense of Food author, Michael Pollan has a great rule of thumb: if it was made from a plant, eat it; if it was made in one, don't.
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