Food Additives: Unforbidden Fruit

After an exhausting British Airways flight from London Heathrow to LAX, followed by a tiresome drive to Palos Verdes, I finally came home. The ivy-green couch in my living room awaited my arrival, too. Once I dropped my luggage somewhere inside the house (needless to say, I cannot remember), I headed to the couch and lay upon its soft, sleepy pillows and plush, fulfilling my wish for comfort and calm.

Although I was comfortable, my sense of calm would soon cease. It began with a glance toward the coffee table, located in front of the couch; there laid a recent issue of Consumer Reports. My lazy arm somehow reached for the magazine and grasped it. While I was looking at the cover, one of the headlines, entitled “What U.S. Food Companies Won’t Tell You About Their Products,” instantly caught my eye as well as my curiosity. I flipped several pages in order to locate the article. Once I found it, I started reading.

The article proved to be much more enlightening than expected. It shed light upon how food companies in the U.S. put artificial coloring, flavoring, high-fructose corn syrup and other processed ingredients in food products. If that was not disturbing enough, these food products containing these processed ingredients can cause a wide variety of behavior and health problems.

After I finished reading the article, nothing else but anger and astonishment aroused me. Questions raced through my mind: How can we Americans let food companies get away with using Red 40, Yellow 1 and 2, or sodium benzoate into food products, which can be harmful to our health? Do we not have a say on what should go into our nation’s food? Do we even give second thought before a first chew or bite?

To me, it seems that many Americans either blink a blind eye while slurping Lucky Charms or Kool-Aid or slyly ignore reading the ingredient list to avoid guilt. However, we Americans need to be more aware of these processed ingredients in our nation’s food products, whether we find them in our Kraft macaroni and cheese or Flamin’ Hot Cheetos. We have to realize that these processed ingredients are bad for our overall well-being. Numerous studies have proven that artificial ingredients can cause a wide variety of behavioral and health problems. Harvard and Columbia University researchers performed 15 studies in which confirm that people with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) will experience worse symptoms after eating foods with artificial ingredients and substances. Also, some studies have concluded how some food dyes, such as Red 3, Red 40, Yellow 5 and Yellow 6 are linked with cancer. Even high-fructose corn syrup has links to heart and liver disease as well!

Awareness is one step, but we should take more steps to ban these artificial substances.  Recently, the British government has banned artificial colorings in food products. The ban was established after two British studies, conducted in 2004 and 2007, discovered that children who ate or drank food with artificial colorings and other additives tend to be more hyperactive. When they were given food or drink free from artificial coloring and additives, the children were less hyperactive.

We, the American public, should not be the only ones to be aware of these artificial substances. Some food companies should gain a conscience and use natural substitutes and colorings instead of the artificial lternatives. Some food companies argue that it is cheaper to use dyes instead of natural dyes. They also say that the artificial dyes do not cause any harm, although studies proved otherwise.

Interestingly, the U.K. and other European countries have pressured food companies to use natural colorings in their products. In the U.K., Coca-Cola contains vegetable extract while the strawberry milkshake at McDonald’s uses beetroot juice as a natural coloring. If the U.K. and other European countries successfully forced food companies to use natural colorings, why can’t the U.S. do the same?

In truth, we cannot truly deny ourselves Oreos, Doritos or any other junk food products, but we can change and regulate what ingredients come into our food products. We Americans really need to be more politically active. If we want this ban to happen, it would take a huge collaborative effort to ban artificial ingredients and colorings. Petitions or letters to Congress can draw awareness to stop food companies from using additives. Boycotts against other companies can be issued as well.

Ashley Brennan is a fourth-year English major.  She can be reached at abrennan@uci.edu.