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Chemicals in Your

Processed Foods

Srinivasan Nenmeli Ph D

I was triggered to write this article after
hearing that many of my friends and relations
have struggled with cancer as terminal illness.
Many of them were in their forties. An old
medical handbook says that cancer is an old age
disease. Not any more.
While there could be genetic causes for
certain incidences of cancer, I tend to infer
that in most cases, cancer is induced by
certain chemicals we ingest into our body. The
association of certain carcinogenic substances
have been identified---for instance asbestos
with lung cancer, smoking products also with

lung cancer and so on. Atomic radiations,

including Xrays and gammma rays, even UV rays
can cause cancer.
There are several insidious chemicals that
are added or formed during food processing that
could cause cancer. They are not labeled as
'carcinogenic' because there is no 'definite
proof' that they cause cancer; or there is no
'one to one correlation" between chemical x and
disease y---as scientists would like to show.
It is difficult to establish such a
relationship, even if Chemical x is administered
in large doses, because many of them act over a
long time.
There is a common belief that several of these
chemicals would be decomposed or digested or
'metabolized' in the liver and intestines. Note
that some of the decomposition products may be

toxic as well and we hope that they are filtered

and eliminated by he kidneys.
Such things rarely takes place because your
liver may not be healthy,already weak and
diseased or over loaded with too many chemicals
to process. Similar bad conditions may exist
with your kidneys.
We normally ingest more than one chemical
with our foods. When a dozen chemicals are
acting together, how are we to find "one to one
correlation" between a chemical X and disease
When such correlations are not available, FDA
and other agencies label such substances as
" Generally Recognized As Safe" or GRAS
substance or additive. We shall see some listing
later in this article. How do we 'recognise "
them as safe? To say the least, this is

quibbling with words--- for hiding our ignorance

or faulty reasoning or lack of data. Most
manufacturers of processed foods get away with
their bad practice [of adding these chemicals
for commercial reasons ] under the
classification of GRAS for their additives.
[Two of the most pernicious substances added in
most processed food are:
1 Mono sodium glutamate [MSG] and their
2 Aspartame [ an artificial sweetener ] .
Both are labeled as "GRAS" by FDA.]
I recall the long legal battle that took place
in the late sixties about MSG between a
well-known big time soup manufacturer and
certain complainants. The soup maker lost the
case at that time and had to destroy millions of
cans of their product.

Note that food makers can still hide their

poisonous chemicals with other names: MSG can be
called " yeast extract' which still contains
High fructose corn syrup [HFCS-90] may be
included simply as 'fructose'. These are means
to hide from the consumer the precise chemicals
that are added intentionally..
What are the commercial reasons for adding these
harmful substances?
Let us see some of them:
1 MSG and its variants are added for increasing
the flavor of foods. {example: crackers and
MSG was developed by Kikunae Ikeda in Japan in
early 1900's from sea weeds. Soon it was
synthesized in large quantities.They were added
to canned foods for Japanese army rations.The

taste was labeled as "umami" by Ikeda. During

world war II, MSG was added to canned soups for
US soldiers.
Then it became widespread;many of your crackers
and soups may still contain MSG or its
variants.It is labeled as natural flavor
agent.MSG can cause several heart related
Note that there are several variants of MSG that
can be added: hydrolyzed soy protein which
contains free glutamic acid. One food activist
[Vani Hari] found them in abundance in certain
pizzas.What is worse--this MSG can create
craving for more pizzas.

2 HFCS is a cheap substitute of sugar; found
as " fructose" in many breakfast cereals.

3 Aspartame is an artificial sweetener which

reduces calorie intake...therefore added to diet
sodas, low-cal or sugar free cookies, puddings,
muffins and other food snacks.
This is called 'excito-toxin ': refer to Dr
Blaylock's book : " excitotoxins--the taste that
Aspartame accumulates in the body. The list of
symptoms and health problems due to aspartame is
pretty long.

Direct evidence vs circumstantial evidence:

In legal practice, direct evidence [eye
witnesses, murder weapon , direct documents] may
not be available. Then the lawyers build the
case on the basis of circumstantial
evidences--some reports, corroborative
statements, certain alibi and so on.
Likewise in finding the effects of harmful

chemicals we have to use circumstantial evidence

or epidemiological data. Only through such
'evidences' we can track and find the culprits
among the supposedly harmful chemicals.
Direct studies linking a chemical x with a
disease may not be undertaken---they are costly
and time consuming. Therefore very few studies
are done on these chemicals on humans though a
few animal studies may be done. So we are left
with approvals and acceptance based on
GRAS=="generally recognized as Safe".
Many activists who speak against food makers
on the addition of harmful chemicals to their
products base their arguments on 'circumstantial
evidences' only. In many cases, on legal
grounds, food processing companies are able to
continue adding the harmful chemicals.

A list of harmful chemicals added to various

processed foods:
1 Brominated Vegetable oil ---used in some sodas
and this is not approved by FDA. Dr Mehmet Oz
called it " number one shocking health threat in
your food." It has been shown that this chemical
causes heart damage in research animals.
2 High Fructose Corn Syrup ---commonly added in
cookies, beverages and candies--instead of sugar
or sucrose to reduce the cost.There are three
grades HFCS 55, HFCS 40 and HFCS-90 [a k a
'fructose']During the manufacturing process,
HFCS may contain dicarbonyls and hydoxy methyl
FDA has classified this chemical as GRAS since
The consumption of HFCS has been stead Obesity

is the common result,

especially in children and adults. ily increasing in the


3 Sodium nitrate/nitrite---preservative used in
canned foods, processed meats.
4 Trans fats --from partially hydrogenated
vegetable oils ---banned in many countries.
But you may find trans-fats in certain
labels;avoid such food stuff.
5 BHA/BHT [Butylated hydroxy anisole /butylated
hydroxy toluene ; Both are waxy compounds added
to fats to reduce or retard rancidity.They are
food additives ,E 320 & E321.
Based on experiments with animals, BHA is
"reasonally anticipated to be a human
carcinogen".BHT has been linked to cancer,asthma

and hyperactivity in children.

Dr Benjamin Fiengold made extensive studies in
early 1970's , that BTA/BTH , and also
artificial colors and artificial flavors can
cause hyperactivity in children, now called
6 Pesticides --the residues of pesticides ,,
especially in fruit items continue to be a major
concern .The high use of pesticides in third
world countries poses a major threat to health
7 Coloring agents--there are several synthetic
coloring agents ,whichFDA and other agencies for
are certified for u
se by food manufacturers. They are widely used
in candies, soft drinks and baked goods.Many of
them are having several bad effects, but are

certified for use by the food industry. Dig

deeper to find the details.For instance Red-40
and Blue-1 have been linked to cancer.Several
others are linked to hyperactivity in children.
8 The Parabens--This is a family of
compounds-methyl paraben, propyl paraben,butyl
paraben and so on---all synthetically produced
from a cheap petro-chemical---benzoic acid.
They are excellent preservatives. They destroy
bacteria and fungi --much like chlorine
compounds. So they are added to many
products---soaps,shampoos, deodorants, shaving
gels, moisturizing lotions, even toothpastes.
They come in contact with your skin. They are
also added to food stuff. The main purpose ---to
increase the shelf life to several
months,sometimes 2 to 3 years, so that you can

get these products at cheap prices stored in

your supermarkets.
What is wrong with them ?.The parabens may cause
skin irritations and some are allergic to
them..But this is the least trouble. The
parabens are found in breast tumors. One
researcher liked breast cancer to arm-pit deo
dorants containing parabens.[University of
Reading, UK study.] But we are not sure. There
is no causal relationship again --some experts
Parabens mess up the reproductive
hormones--estrogen -like action and can lead to
early puberty in girls. Tokyo Metropolitan Lab
for Public health found that parabens caused
reduced sperm production in rats. Parabens are
absorbed, metabolized and excreted. But do you

want to overload your intestinal system with

these chemicals.? Among parabens, methyl
parabens are worst offenders and have been
banned in some countries in EU.
{Read the article: Paraben free
products--should you care? Los Angeles Times,May
Fortunately there are a number of paraben free
products available...Look for them. New products
with organic preservatives are found in the

The bottom line is that you, the consumer,
should read the food labels for ingredients

and look for harmful chemicals and avoid

such food items. The task is not easy
because many items have nearly 10 or more
ingredients. Ask the manufacturer for
details. Check with information available in
the open literature.
Since the prospect of manufacturers
disclosing all information and removing
these chemicals is remote, it is for the
consumers to check and eliminate these items
from your shopping cart or bag.
Many of the substances classified as GRAS
could also be called "generally recognized
as unsafe"! "GRAU".
Meanwhile educate others on the problem of

finding one-to-one correlation between a

chemical and the diseases caused by it.Look
for circumstantial evidence against these
suspicious chemicals.
It is possible to reduce the risk of
suffering from several diseases, including
cancer, by careful study of the literature
and eliminating those processed food items
containing harmful chemicals from your
Supplemetary reading:
Read books and articles by Andrew Weil M D
frank speaking doctor..rom your food.
About the Author:

The author has degrees in Chemistry,

Metallurgy and then doctorate in Engineering