All posts by MaryAnn Marks


Harmful FDA Approved Food Additives

What is a food additive?

A “food additive” is defined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) as any substance that directly or indirectly becomes a component or otherwise affects the characteristics of any food. This includes any substance used in the production, processing, treatment, packaging, transportation, or storage of food.

Food additives are used to maintain or improve safety, taste, texture, freshness, appearance, and nutritional value. The use of these additives is skyrocketing due to the increased production of prepared, processed, and convenience foods.

How are additives approved for use in foods?

To market a new food or color additive or for an alternative use, a manufacturer or other sponsor must first petition the FDA for its approval. Under the Food Additives Amendment, ingredients that are Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) were exempted from the regulation process. GRAS food ingredients are generally recognized by experts as safe based on their history of use in food before 1958 or based on published scientific evidence. Among the several hundred GRAS substances are sugar, spices, vitamins, salt, and monosodium glutamate (MSG). As you'll see in this article, not all of these additives are as safe as GRAS status would lead you to believe.

What is a “direct” food additive?

According to the FDA, “direct food additives are those that are added to a food for a specific purpose in that food.” For example, using trisodium phosphate (TSP) in meat and poultry products to retain moisture and protect the flavor, using monosodium glutamate (MSG) to enhance the flavor or using carrageenan as a thickening agent.

The FDA maintains a database called “Everything Added to Food in the United States” (EAFUS) that contains over 3,000 ingredients approved to be added directly to food but does not require all of these ingredients to be listed on the label.

Several of these food additives are harmful and cause serious health issues!

Let’s take a closer look at a few dangerous, yet so-called safe, direct food additives, one of which can even be hidden on the label. Click on the name of each to be taken to a separate article where you can find out more about that additive's health risks and how to avoid it.

  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) – The FDA does not require manufacturers to label foods with MSG unless the “added ingredient” is 99% pure MSG. The FDA does not require MSG to appear on the label if MSG is produced as a result of protein hydrolysis or a byproduct of protein processing. Furthermore, a product labeled “No added MSG” may still have MSG or free glutamic acid as a result of protein processing, as long as pure MSG was not added.
  • Carrageenan – Must be called out on the label. Long term use can cause chronic inflammation, which is the root cause of all chronic diseases. It's prevalent in ice cream, packaged meats, alternative dairy, and non-dairy products.
  • Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) – Prevalent in breakfast cereals: must be called out on the label. Long term use can lead to kidney damage, among other health concerns.

What is an “indirect” food additive?

“Indirect food additives are those that become part of the food in trace amounts due to its packaging, storage or other handling but are not intended to be directly added to, become a component of or have a technical effect in or on the food,” according to the FDA. As an example, minute amounts of packaging substances may find their way into foods during storage, such as the well known example of plastic particles that seep into the water you drink from plastic water bottles.

Another lesser known example is “modified atmosphere packing” where oxygen is replaced with carbon monoxide so meat forms an attractive, bright red color and doesn’t oxidize as quickly. The carbon monoxide by itself isn’t harmful but this reaction prevents the meat from browning naturally with age, so it’s difficult to tell how fresh it really is. The meat could possibly already be spoiled when you purchase it because it still “looks good.” For this reason, the use of carbon monoxide in modified atmosphere packing is banned in the European Union (EU), but the FDA still permits this practice in the United States.

What to do to avoid these harmful food additives and packaging practices?

The long term damaging effects of these so-called generally recognized as safe food additives and food packaging practices the FDA is allowing the food industry to use should open your eyes to the fact the FDA does not have your best interest in mind. This means you have to take it upon yourself to “know what’s really in your food”… as Mira would say.

Start by avoiding all processed and packaged foods and instead eat whole (unrefined and unprocessed), organic (chemical-free and non-GMO) and nutrient-rich food that comes from as close to home as you can find.

Buy your meat, poultry, eggs and dairy from your local farmer whenever possible. This way you can make sure the cows are grass-fed/grass-finished and organic (not shot up with any hormones or antibiotics), the chickens are pasture-raised throughout their entire lives and neither animals are fed any grains.

  • Eatwild.com is a good site to find local farmers who sell grass-fed meat, poultry, eggs and dairy.
  • Realmilk.com is a good site to find local farmers who sell raw milk, meaning it’s not pasteurized (another harmful manufacturing process).
  • Findrealfood app is an app for your phone that finds “real” food (raw dairy, grass-fed meat, etc.) based on your specific location.
  • Check out Mira's Resources Page for a wealth of valuable information on where to find high quality products that Mira recommends.

Stay abreast of food recalls using the Foodsafety.gov site. There is an option on the left of this website called Get Automatic Alerts that will send you an email every time a new recall is announced.

Why Is Trisodium Phosphate (TSP) Added To Our Food?

Trisodium phosphate (TSP) is an industrial cleaning product used as a degreasing agent, mildew remover and lead abating agent and to clean interior and exterior walls before painting. Because of its alkalinizing cleaning properties, TSP was used in dishwashing soap and laundry detergent until it was phased out in 2011 after the EPA found it was harmful to the environment. The Clean Water Act, published by the EPA, lists TSP as a “Hazardous Substance” while the Center for Disease Control (CDC) recommends to “Avoid All Contact.” The CDC lists these TSP ingestion symptoms: abdominal pain, burning sensation, shock, or collapse.

If the EPA says TSP is hazardous to the environment and the CDC tells us to avoid all contact, why does the FDA allow it in our food and personal care products?

Why is TSP used in our food?

TSP is most commonly used to reduce the acidic nature of foods, especially breakfast cereals, as it modifies cereal color and aids in the cereal’s flow through the extruder. Other uses are:

  • Added to meat to retain moisture during storage and cooking.
  • Acts as a leavening agent to “fluff up” foods like cakes, breads and baked goods.
  • Added to cheese to help keep its shape and melting properties.

TSP is also used as an antimicrobial cleaner for washing produce. Poultry is dipped in a TSP solution to potentially kill off bacteria.

Why should you avoid food with TSP?

Studies have shown that ingesting high levels of phosphate (the major mineral in TSP) can cause kidney damage, soft tissue calcification and removal of calcium from bones. Chronic high levels of phosphate intake can result in osteopenia and ultimately osteoporosis. TSP also irritates the stomach and intestinal lining as well as reduces lactic acid in muscles.

What foods commonly contain TSP?

Breakfast cereals seem to be the products that most commonly contain TSP. Note that you may also see Sodium Phosphate, Disodium Phosphate or Tripotassium Phosphate on the label instead of Trisodium Phosphate. These also cause the same health problems as TSP.

Products Commonly Containing TSP
Breakfast Cereals
Other Foods
Personal Care Products
  • Cheerios* – all types
  • Cinnamon Toast Crunch
  • Cocoa Puffs
  • Cookie Crisp
  • Dora the Explorer Cereal
  • Golden Grahams
  • Kix – all types
  • Lucky Charms
  • Raisin Nut Bran
  • Reese's Puffs
  • Heart Healthy Cereal
  • Trader Joe's O's – all types*
  • Mom's Best Cereals
  • Honeycomb
  • Trix
  • Spongebob Squarepants
  • Wheaties
  • Total Raisin Bran
  • Lunchmeat
  • Ham
  • Other processed meats
  • Processed cheese
  • Cheese sauces
  • Rice syrup
  • Canned soups
  • Cake mixes
  • Bread
  • Pizza dough
  • Other baked goods
  • Toothpastes for adults, kids and babies
  • Mouthwash
  • Hair coloring and bleaching products

* These cereals have either trisodium or tripotassium phosphate (TPP). TPP is just as harmful as TSP.

Check out this slideshow of popular breakfast cereals that contain TSP.

The FDA has approved 70 mg/kg of body weight as the maximum tolerable limit of TSP that a person should ingest per day. (For a 150 lb person, this translates to 4,772 mg/day).

With TSP in all of these foods, we have no idea if we’re ingesting more than the maximum tolerable limit. So just to be safe, stay away from all foods containing TSP.

Avoiding Chinese Food But Still Consuming MSG?

If you think MSG is only in Chinese food, think again. This toxic flavor enhancer is allowed by the FDA to be hidden under dozens of ingredient names and is in all sorts of processed foods, especially canned goods, soups and low-fat foods as well as restaurant foods, beverages, chewing gums, supplements and even in packaged meats!

The side effects of MSG can be widely varied, making it difficult to connect ingestion with side effects.

People who ingest even small amounts of MSG are experiencing these side effects:

  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Migraine headaches
  • Heart palpitations
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Blurred vision
  • Joint pain
  • Sharp rise in blood pressure
  • Rapid drop in blood pressure
  • Stiffness in joints
  • Achiness all over body
  • Dizziness and loss of balance
  • Light headed
  • Depression
  • Frequent need to urinate
  • Swelling of the face
  • Pain or tightness in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Numbing or burning sensation in mouth

What is MSG?

The amino acid called glutamic acid (aka glutamate) exists naturally in very small amounts in certain foods such as cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms and broccoli. In its natural and whole-food form, glutamate is important to the health of our brains, gut, immune system, kidneys and pancreas. The food industry chemically concentrates glutamate, freeing it from its whole food form, turning it into monosodium glutamate (MSG) and adding it to food to enhance the flavor. This allows us to consume glutamate at much higher levels than our bodies are designed to handle, resulting in serious brain issues that can even lead to death, particularly in athletes who typically have low levels of magnesium.

A recent scientific study done on rats has shown a direct link between MSG and female infertility. The study (from the International Journal of Current Microbiology and Applied Sciences) found that not only did those rats given MSG have a significant body weight increase, the MSG induced considerable structural changes in their ovaries such as degenerated follicles and congested blood vessels of the ovaries. These abnormalities usually lead to anovulatory infertility.

How is MSG hidden on the label?

MSG occurs naturally during the chemical processing of ingredients such as hydrolyzed protein, autolyzed yeast and soy extracts. While the FDA requires that these products be listed on the ingredient label, they DO NOT require the label to specify that they naturally contain MSG. Foods with any ingredient that naturally contains MSG cannot claim “No MSG” on their packaging, but they can say “No added MSG”, even if the MSG is naturally occurring. These are marketing tricks that you need to watch out for.

What can you do to avoid buying products with MSG?

Buy only whole, unrefined, unprocessed, organic food and stay away from food with the following ingredients on their label:

Additives that ALWAYS contain MSG
Additives that OFTEN contain MSG
Additives that MAY contain MSG
  • Monosodium glutamate
  • “Hydrolyzed” anything
  • “Hydrolyzed” any “protein”
  • Plant protein extract
  • Sodium caseinate
  • Calcium caseinate
  • Yeast extract
  • Autolyzed yeast
  • Yeast extract
  • Gelatin
  • Anything “protein”
  • Soy protein
  • Whey protein**
  • Soy sauce
  • Anything “enzymes”
  • Carrageenan
  • Bouillon and broth
  • Stock
  • Any “flavors” or “flavoring”
  • Natural flavor
  • “Malt” or “malted” anything
  • Maltodextrin
  • Seasoning and spices
  • Citric acid, citrate
  • Anything “ultra-pasteurized”
  • Brewer’s yeast
  • Pectin
  • Corn starch
  • Corn syrup
  • Modified food starch
  • Lipolyzed butter fat
  • Dextrose
  • Rice syrup
  • Brown rice syrup
  • Milk powder
  • Reduced fat milk
  • “Low fat” or “no fat”
  • Anything “enriched”
  • Anything “pasteurized”
  • Vinegar

** Non-hydrolyzed whey from organic grass-fed cows processed by low-temperature filtration or ion exchange is acceptable.

Hydrolyzed proteins can be found in bouillon products, dressings and dressing mix products, flavoring base and seasoning products, frozen food products, gravy mix products, prepared salad products, ready-to-eat meal products, sauce and marinade mix products, snack and snack mix products, soup/soup mix and dip/dip products, spread products and stuffing products.

Check out this slideshow of popular processed foods that contain MSG.

Reading the label to avoid MSG is also important for personal care products, such as shampoo, cosmetics, etc. as they may contain hydrolyzed proteins which we have learned is a code name for MSG.

For those who are significantly sensitive to MSG, check with your pharmacist as some medications use MSG as a binder or filler. If your medication does have MSG, the only way to avoid it is to consider using a compounding pharmacy.

What can you do to avoid MSG at restaurants?

MSG use in restaurants is widespread. To be proactive, ask your server which menu items are MSG-free, and when ordering, request that no MSG be added to your meal. Assume that any soup made at a restaurant has MSG or at least high amounts of table salt (which contains aluminum and should be avoided at all costs).

The only place where you “know what’s really in your food”, as Mira would say, is in your own kitchen.

Carrageenan Causing Serious Health Problems

The FDA continues to list carrageenan [kar-uh-gee-nuh n] as a Generally Recognized As Safe (GRAS) food additive despite decades of scientific studies proving that it causes gut inflammation, intestinal lesions, ulcerations and even malignant tumors. Many individuals who experience belly bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and inflammatory bowel disease notice a dramatic improvement in their symptoms after removing carrageenan from their diet. Continued consumption of carrageenan can cause chronic inflammation which is the root-cause of all chronic diseases, such as heart disease, stroke, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, and even cancer.

A study done in 2012 by the University of Illinois at Chicago proved that the consumption of carrageenan contributes to diabetes as it impairs glucose tolerance and increases insulin resistance.

What is carrageenan?

The food industry extracts carrageenan from red seaweed using an ionic salt of alkali metals that washes out everything that will dissolve in water leaving behind the carrageenan and other insoluble matter like cellulose. This form is called “food-grade” or “undegraded” carrageenan. When processed with acid, carrageenan is degraded to a low molecular weight. This “degraded” carrageenan is not allowed to be used as a food additive due to its known harmful effects, but because it works so well at causing inflammation, scientists for drug companies often use it to induce inflammation in lab animals to test their anti-inflammatory drugs. The problem here is that when “undegraded” carrageenan hits our stomach acid, scientists are concerned that it may become degraded, exposing us to the toxic form of carrageenan.

Why is carrageenan in our food?

The food industry uses carrageenan as a thickener in non-fat and low-fat foods, as a stabilizer in beverages that naturally separate, as a binder in low-sodium and low-fat deli meat and to improve tenderness and maintain juiciness in pre-cooked poultry. It’s found in many processed foods, even in organic food! Below are examples of products and a few brand names commonly containing carrageenan. For a more extensive list of brand names with and without carrageenan, see The Cornucopia Institute’s Shopping Guide to Avoiding Foods with Carrageenan.

Products Commonly Containing Carrageenan
Dairy Products
Non-Dairy Products
Processed Foods
Infant Formulas
  • Chocolate milk
  • Cottage cheese
  • Cream
  • Eggnog
  • Ice cream
  • Frozen desserts
  • Shelf-stable milk box
  • Sour cream
  • Yogurt
  • Almond milk
  • Coconut milk
  • Soy milk
  • Rice milk
  • Soy cheese
  • Coconut water
  • Coffee creamer
  • Coconut yogurt
  • Pizza
  • Frozen turkey
  • Can soups
  • Deli meat
  • Dips
  • Juices
  • Nutritional drinks
  • Cereal bars
  • Puddings
  • Frozen foods
  • Nutrition bars
  • Currently all ready-to-drink (liquid) infant formula, except Gerber Good Start, contains carrageenan.
  • Avoid carrageenan in infant formula by buying organic powdered formula.
A Few Brand Names Containing Carrageenan
Meat & Fish Products
Ice-Cream & Frozen Desserts
Non-Dairy Products
  • Aidells - sausage and lunchmeat
  • Aldi - Fit & Active turkey breast and ham, Lunch Mate smoked ham
  • Butterball - chicken breast strips
  • Columbus Naturals - oven roasted turkey
  • Hormel - Natural Choice deli meats
  • Kroger - raw chicken
  • Oscar Meyer - Deli-Fresh
  • Vita - herring in real sour cream
  • Ben and Jerry’s
  • Blue Bell Creameries*
  • Blue Bunny
  • Breyer’s
  • Chapman’s
  • Ciao Bella Gelato
  • Coldstone Creamery
  • Dairy Queen
  • Double Rainbow Sorbet
  • Edy’s
  • Friendly’s
  • Hood
  • Kemp’s
  • LaLoo’s goat milk ice cream
  • Lopez Island Creamery
  • Perry’s
  • Publix
  • Purple Door Ice Cream
  • Sassy Cow Creamery
  • Schwan’s
  • Snickers Ice Cream Bars
  • Tillamook
  • Turkey Hill - premium flavors only
  • Almond Breeze
  • Almond Dream
  • Coconut Dream - coconut beverages
  • Earth’s Own Almond Fresh - almond milk
  • Engine 2 Plant-Strong - almond milk
  • Pacific Foods
  • Rice Dream
  • Silk
  • So Delicious
  • Soy Dream
  • Starbucks (soy milk, coconut milk and cream almost always contain carrageenan, varies by store)

* Blue Bell Creameries was shut down for significant Listeria poisoning and reopened in August 2015.

A majority of the above information came from the Carrageenan 2013 Report published by The Cornucopia Institute.

What can you do to avoid carrageenan?

Make your own ice cream and nut milk!

Homemade Vanilla Ice Cream

Recipe from Nourishing Traditions by Sally Fallon

Makes 1 quart

  • 3 egg yolks (organic and pasture raised)
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup (organic)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (organic)
  • 1 tablespoon arrowroot powder (organic)
  • 3 cups heavy cream (organic and raw, not pasteurized)

Beat egg yolks and blend in remaining ingredients.Pour into an ice cream maker and process according to instructions. For ease of serving, transfer ice cream to a shallow container, cover and store in the freezer.

Homemade Almond Milk

Makes about 4-5 cups

  • 1 cup almonds (raw and organic, unpasteurized if possible - must come from outside the U.S. or from a local farmer who doesn’t sterilize them as all almonds produced in the U.S. are now required to be “sterilized”)
  • 3 - 4 cups water (filtered or spring - no tap water!)

For a sweeter taste, add one of these options:

  • 1 tsp honey (raw and organic)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract (organic) or 1 Madagascar vanilla bean (organic)

Soak almonds for 8 - 12 hours in filtered water. Rinse and drain almonds thoroughly. Blend almonds and 3 cups of water (and optional sweetener) in a blender on high for about 2 minutes until nuts are pulverized. Add more water if a thinner consistency is desired. This step is optional, as the small particles remaining are just fine to consume… strain through a nut bag or cheesecloth to remove the small particles.