As a parent, you do everything possible to protect your child — including providing her or him with healthy snacks and meals. But how healthy are these choices, really?

Packaging can be misleading at best, and the latest information passed around via word of mouth can end up being as frustratingly inaccurate as a game of telephone. In the world of preservatives, some choices are better than others. For many people, being unclear about the worst additives can make or “break” a child’s healthy status.

Food additives may be impossible to avoid, but they’re certainly not all created equally. From sodium nitrate to propyl gallate, the following preservatives should be avoided at all costs: They’re just not worth it.

While your children may adore the foods that tout these preservatives, it’s often impossible to see what the long-term impact will be until it’s too late. In the new year, make the switch to avoiding certain preservatives and help ensure a longer, healthier life for your family and your child.

1. Sodium nitrate

Considered the worst of the worst by many a nutritionist, sodium nitrate’s sole job is to keep food color looking vibrant. It’s found in cured meats like bacon, corned beef, hot dogs, smoked fish, and lunch meat, and it doesn’t actually do anything to preserve the real color of the food.

However, it does turn into a “reactive compound” which has been shown many times in tests to cause cancer. The nutrition factor of cured meats is iffy enough, so there’s no need to add an extra grenade into that mix.

2. Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)

You’ve probably noticed Chinese restaurants will proudly tout “No MSG” on their windows, but do you know why that’s a good thing? At core an amino acid, it’s often found in Asian salad dressings, frozen meals, soups, and chips and is known to cause headaches and nausea.

Will MSG kill you? Probably not, but the last thing any parent needs or wants is a cranky child because of a pounding headache or feeling nauseated. Plus, it’s a relatively easy one to avoid.

3. Aspartame

Previously the king of artificial sweeteners, it’s still found in a variety of sugar-free treats, including diet soda. Aspartame has been linked to cancer in a number of studies, and there are plenty of safer options on the market — including real sugar in moderation.

The stevia leaf (and products made from it such as Truvia), is a more natural option. Read labels carefully, and if diet soda is in your regimen of treats, you should recognize that there are plenty of Stevia-sweetened options.

4. Certain food colorings

Specifically Blue 1 and 2, Red 3, Green 3, and Yellow 6 are potentially dangerous for the whole family. However, when it comes to pulling rank, the specified red, green, and yellow are the most troublesome.

Meant to preserve the color in items like baked goods, candy, fruit cocktails, and drinks, they’ve also been shown to cause bladder cancer in humans and thyroid tumors in rats. It’s best to avoid them and opt for a treat that’s all-natural, if perhaps not quite as festively colored.

5. Olestra

Maybe you haven’t noticed this (yet), but certain potato chips (the ones most likely to laud their “low-fat status”) may also come with a warning about excessive diarrhea, the famed anal leakage, or another not so tasteful note.

That’s because olestra, a synthetic fat, does a great job at blocking fat from being absorbed … but at a price. It can lead to a severely upset stomach, and it’s even more dangerous in kids whose systems are still developing. As for adults, it’s up to you if you want to risk it, but olestra victims say it’s not worth it.

6. Potassium bromate

While this one’s rare in the preservative world, it’s still legal. It’s used to make breads fluffier and more appealing. In California, there’s a cancer warning label on every item that uses this preservative, which means you should read the labels carefully no matter where you live.

Experts say that even a small amount of potassium bromate can put a person at risk.

It’s easy to shop for the cheapest, fall for marketing tactics, or stick with what “you’ve always bought.” But a little information and label scanning can do wonders; consider tacking this onto your New Year’s resolution list this year.

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