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Bringing Balance: Food Additives

Monosodium Glutamate or “MSG”: Used in canned veggies, processed meats, some takeout Chinese food, sauces, and sometimes hidden in unlikely foods like gum and roasted almonds, MSG contains a substance called glutamic acid that has been linked with lots of nasty side effects including migraines, upset stomach, diarrhea and mood swings.  Glutamic acid is also found in the following common ingredients, to name just a few: yeast extract, anything “hydrolyzed”, glutamate, calcium caseinate, autolyzed yeast, gelatin, textured protein, soy protein, and soy protein concentrate and isolate.

Sugar, a.k.a: barley malt, high-fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, corn syrup solids, beet sugar, caramel, dextrose, ethyl maltol, fructose, fruit juice concentrate, glucose, golden syrup, lactose, malt syrup, maltodextrin, refiner’s syrup, honey, maple syrup, sorbitol, and sucrose, again, just to name a few.

Transfat, a.k.a partially-hydrogenated oils, often found in margarines, spreads and processed snacks.  Check the ingredient list — Canadian manufacturers are not required to list the transfat amount in a product’s nutritional information if it is less than .2g per serving.  If you are eating a product that contains partially-hydrogenated oils but “no transfat”, you are in fact ingesting transfat, and if it’s an everyday food in
your household, you may want to consider looking for a healthier alternative.

Artificial Food Dye, a.k.a:  Colour. In Canada, manufacturers can use a number of different colours and list them collectively, while in the U.S., they are required to specify dyes used, i.e. Yellow #5, Tartrazine and Sunset Yellow.  This can make it very difficult to avoid certain dyes if your child has a sensitivity or allergy.  Did you know that several large manufacturers have replaced artificial dyes with natural colours in their products being sold in the UK, but not in their North American version? This is a result of consumer pressure by parents in the UK. 

Here’s an excerpt from Health Canada’s website that you might find interesting in this regard:

In addition to reports on allergic reactions, a United Kingdom team of psychologists and paediatricians recently reported in the scientific journal Lancet (McCann, D. et al., Nov 03, 2007) that there may be a link between the ingestion of mixtures of certain food additives and hyperactivity in schoolchildren. Despite a lack of consensus on conclusions derived from this study, the  UK Food Standards Agency proposed that manufacturers voluntarily remove the colours sunset yellow, quinoline yellow, carmoisine, allura red, tartrazine and Ponceau 4R from food and beverage formulations (quinoline yellow, carmoisine and Ponceau 4R are not permitted for use in Canada).

Health Canada scientists reviewed the results of the UK study and agreed with the conclusions of the UK Committee on Toxicology that the results of this study are consistent with, and add weight to, previous published reports of behavioural changes occurring in children following consumption of particular food additives which included a number of azo food colours. ….Due to the multiple factors affecting susceptibility to the effects of azo colours, susceptibility would differ widely with the individual.  It is therefore proposed that clear labelling of food colours is the best option for risk management of behavioural effects attributable to food colouring agents.  Improved labelling provides consumers the choice of avoiding specific components in their diet. (source: http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/consult/_feb2010-food-aliments-col/draft-ebauche-eng.php)

If we want change, we need to lobby for it, just like parents did in the UK. I know it may seem impossible to make the “right choice” all the time when it comes to processed products, but remember, it’s a matter of balance. Choose whole, unprocessed foods most of your time, and just do your best when it comes to your family’s processed snacks and foods. If you are trying to avoid or reduce artificial 
additives, try reading labels in the natural food section, where the ingredient lists tend to be a bit more “real”.


Wendy McCallum, LLB, RHN, is passionate about providing busy parents with the tools & support they need to feed their families wholesome food, so everyone can play, learn, and feel better!  She is a mother of two terrific HRM kids, aged 7 &8.  For information and recipe ideas, visit her website.

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